Artwork by RobbyCobalt
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.
3 responses to “Feedback”
After being part of an in-person critique group for 2 years, I found that hearing feedback gets much easier with practice! It’s less scary when it’s just part of your regular process and you know your group wants to help. I’ve received some immensely valuable critiques in my group. Some can be hard to hear, and some don’t make a lick of sense, but for the most part I’m so glad to have that feedback. I’m glad you feel the same way about your beta readers. 🙂 Great post! (And thanks for linking to me!)
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I’ve only been in a writers’ group very briefly, so haven’t gotten a lot of experience with feedback except from close friends, significant others, and (sometimes dysfunctional) teachers. But I hope to build a consistent group of beta readers. I’ve definitely gotten great things from them, and a few things that kind of raise the hackles and make me think, “No, you don’t get it!” But then, like your article suggests, I guess I should look at those things too… Why didn’t they get it? That said… sometimes tastes are just different, and there’s nothing to be done about it. My pleasure for the link! I always enjoy your posts!
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You’re absolutely right that all tastes are different. All critiques are subjective, so what one person says isn’t necessarily right. We get to decide what critique will better our story and what won’t. And yeah, occasionally a person really just doesn’t get it! Not the fault of the story or the writer, it’s just… not for them. 🙂
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