As someone who sang and played guitar in a few different rock bands, feedback often makes me think of that shrill squeal that rips through the PA when you point the microphone at the speakers, or when your guitar amplifier has started picking up alien radio signals. Sometimes there’s just no explaining it. And other times, it’s strangely beautiful and exactly what the song needed. But often, it’s not a sound you want to hear, so to go asking for it might sound a little crazy. Shannon Noel Brady wrote this excellent post on how it’s easy to get defensive about it. But as challenging as it is, it’s really a necessary step.
I’ve gotten back most of the feedback for my book, Headless, from my round two beta readers. (Beta readers, if you don’t know, are those wonderful people who are willing to read your stuff before it’s finished, so they can give you their thoughts on it in the hopes of making it better.) Round one elicited some really great stuff, and the resulting changes created several thousand more words, expanded what needed expanding, tightened what needed tightening, and elucidated what needed elucidating. It also saw a couple name changes and fixing of a Japanese element or two that I didn’t get quite right the first time. For round two, I selected some new readers to get their take on it.
It’s always difficult putting your words out there in front of people. It’s not unlike exposing a raw nerve and asking people to poke at it. It’s not generally pleasant. But I’ve also found that I’ve learned a huge amount from it, and hopefully my writing has improved.
The truth is everyone has an opinion, and they’re not always good ones. People are people, and they like different things. Lord of the Rings has one star reviews on Amazon. This, to me, is unfathomable. But it’s real. Some people would rather read charred turds on molding pages of rat leather than immerse themselves in one of the most brilliantly crafted stories and richly detailed worlds ever imagined. THANKFULLY, these are not the beta readers who read my book.
Again, in the second round, I got some extremely valuable input, stuff that really made me go “hmm… that makes a lot of sense.” Some of the feedback made me want to write a new book based on it, because it was just too big, too drastic of a change, but still a great idea. Some of it I am considering implementing to a degree. Some of it I will definitely implement. Some of it was at odds with what others had said. And some of it doesn’t feel right, so I’ll let it be.
But ALL OF IT was good, and I’m grateful, because it made me think. It made me realize some other paths that I could have taken. It’s given me a better understanding of my own writing and how I want to tell stories.
That is huge. So, strangely, I look forward to exposing that nerve on my next book, to putting my ears up to the hypothetical amplifier and hoping to not go deaf. I’ll probably do it much earlier in the process, so I can be more flexible, more open to changes. Headless has been in the works for a very, very long time. And there are certain things that don’t feel changeable. It’s just… how they happened, after all. It’s hard to change that.