In a previous blog, I discussed the steps to go from first draft to done and ready to publish. Step 2 is getting feedback. Whether this is from alpha readers, beta readers, developmental editors, you need to get feedback from people who look out for what readers need to be able to read your work and enjoy it.
You are your book’s first reader, but you wrote it, so, to be honest, you are too close to it to see its problems. That motivation you have for why the FMC make that decision or took that action on page 47? You have it in your head, so you believe it’s justified. But what if you didn’t get enough explanation of that why on the page for the reader? The reader is not in your head. They can’t know some detail is part of your story unless you make it clear, either explicitly or implicitly through story elements on the page.
That said, when you get feedback that says “change this”, “I didn’t understand that”, or “this is terrible”,, your instinct might be one of the following (let me know if you’ve said something else):
- OMG I am never going to write EVER again!
- I’m going to change EVERYTHING they all said, because they’re readers I want to love my book
- They have NO idea what they’re talking about. EVERY word I’ve written is gold!
The Florida Writers Association has a really good blog post that discusses the options when you receive feedback or criticism.
My biggest piece of advice is this:
Ask for what you want
When seeking feedback, you should be clear and ASK for what type of feedback you want.
Alpha readers should be asked: is this interesting? does it seem logical? are there things about the characters or situations that put you off?
Beta readers should be asked: do the characters interest you? were you able to predict the twist? did something surprise you in a good way? is there anything in the story that doesn’t seem to fit the genre?
If you go to a developmental editor, this person should be expected not only to notice any problems with the above, but also to offer options for fixing them. So ask if they have experience in the genre(s) and subgenre(s) you write in.
Now that you’re prepared to get feedback…
What if you get different feedback than you asked for?
Some alpha readers and beta readers are eager to help, but are novices themselves in this process. So they may make comments on something that you didn’t ask about. What to do?
- If you have multiple readers commenting on the same thing: consider it closely.
- If this comment seems to be the only one of its type, you probably can safely discard it.
However, before you completely ignore something, make absolutely sure that it isn’t related to something else that was commented on by multiple people. The reader who made the mention may have seen the earliest spot where the storyline began to get off the rails rather than just the point further down the line where it became obvious to all.
What if the feedback includes a fix?
If the alpha or beta reader give a reason for the problem and the fix, AND they are someone with experience as a writer in your genre, then consider the fix, alongside one of your own. Weigh the effects and decide which works best for you and your writing style.
If they read a LOT in the genre and say something like “I saw this other author do this with that twist…” then consider it, alongside a fix of your own and, again, decide which works best for you and your writing style.
NOTE: Professional developmental editors will often give you several options for fixing a problem because they are trained to see both your style and your story intent. So you may not have to come up with a fix on your own, but still, think carefully through your options, reread and go with the fix that feels most like you.
What questions do you have about handling feedback? Comment with your question below and I’ll answer.