Top 11 Ways NOT To Respond When Getting Feedback

There are writers who take feedback well, but there are plenty who don’t. Try not to make these mistakes.

1. Take it personally

When you look at the rest of this list? Most of these clearly come from the same place: the real reason a writer will lash out — is when we take critiques personally.

They say “this chapter needs some work” and we hear “you’re a bad writer.” We know intellectually they don’t usually mean that, but in our hearts-of-hearts, it feels like that.

This is why you should sit on feedback. Let it percolate in your brain. Don’t kneejerk react and lash out.

2. Argue with them

Don’t send them a detailed letter countering and justifying why every last suggestion they gave you was wrong, and why you were right in the first place.

Honestly? Don’t argue in their DMs, via Text, on the phone, or in person either. Don’t harass them. Let them be/

3. Tell them they gave you the wrong feedback!

If you don’t tell your critiquer what you’re looking for (pacing, characterization, world building, line edits, what-have-you), and all of their feedback in concentrated in areas you don’t care about right now? It can be frustrating.

The REAL fix is to tell them what you’re looking for when you give them the draft!

4. Skim-read the feedback

Make sure you’re responding to what they actually said!

Always reread to be sure you understood what they were saying and the context. Sometimes, you can read too fast or while fixated on something, and misconstrue the whole thing.

5. Question their grasp on the [English] language

Don’t ask them if [English] is their first language, if they’re dyslexic, or if they grew up speaking the ‘wrong’ dialect.

6. Ignore their feedback

I know I’ve said this before, even if you think a beta is going in the wrong direction, they often are pointing out things that need to be changed, or at least clarified or better justified in the text.

Now, this isn’t saying that you have to agree with them. Especially the critiquers who think they should be rewriting your piece the way they would have written it. This is why getting a single chapter critique before commiting to a full manuscript review can be crucial.

But, if someone has taken the time to read your work and critique it, and you’ve publicly thanked them? While leaving in all the typos and plot holes and things that they pointed out to you?

It can make them look bad, unprofessional, and if they’re paid editors? Lose business.

7. Don’t repay them

Sure, there are awesome people out there who are critiquing your work out of the goodness of their hearts, or a desire to give back, but that’s not usually the case.

Even if you don’t like the advice, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay them, or critique THEIR work in return, whatever you agreed to. You should be a writer of your word.

8. Slam their work

It hurts when someone tells you your writing needs work — especially when they say that your writing needs a LOT of work. But, that doesn’t mean you should trash their writing — be it while critiquing their drafts, bad mouthing them, or 1-starring their published works. don’t do it.

9. Expect the critiquer to know how to fix everything

On the flip side, some writers expect the critiquer to fix everything, and that their novel will be done as soon as they get the feedback. They don’t understand why they would need to edit after clicking ‘accept all the changes’…

Edits are often clunky. Even after I incorporate feedback, I always do a final ‘polishing’ pass over the chapter, just to verify the flow, check the line edits, and make sure that my voice is consistent.

Also, they don’t know your character, your world, and your story as well as you do. Remember their suggestions are merely that. Suggestions. You might want to fix everything they point out — but you don’t have to fix it the way they suggested. Make sure your story stays true to itself.

10. Assume the Edits Guarantee A Contract

Contracts and sales are 10% hard work and 90% timing and luck. No matter how good of a writer you are, nor how good your editor is, there is no way to guarantee a sale — whether you’re going traditional publishing or indie.

11. Don’t Thank Them

Reading someone else’s work, thinking of ways to improve it, and being brave enough to share your thoughts with someone is time consuming, and sometimes emotionally draining.

This person has done work for you. Always thank them. Make sure you’re a writer people want to work with again.


Have you ever had a writer respond poorly to your critiques?
Share your horror stories!
Or? Share stories of writers who did it *right*!

When Writing? Small Changes Can Fix Big Issues

Have you ever gotten feedback from someone who you respect, saying they hated your work? They liked the idea, but think you should have done it a completely different way?

No? Just me?

Recently, I submitted a couple of short stories to different markets, but after a pair of quick rejections, I sent them to friends for another look. Most of the feedback was along the same lines, so I looked at what I could fix and what I couldn’t.

But for the reader who hated the story? We sat down and talked about what they did and didn’t like about the story.

The real issue was the set-up — it was a horror/suspense sort of story and I was giving away too much too soon.

That was entirely in line with other feedback I’d had, although more precise in what parts worked, versus what parts should be changed.

So? I sat on that for a week. I pouted. I thought. I considered if these were even changes I wanted to make.

But my knee-jerk reaction (for once) wasn’t “they don’t get my story”, it was more of a, “I don’t wanna!” mixed with “How do I do that? While making sure the ending is still properly supported” (i.e. doesn’t seem to come out of nowhere).

Last night? I sat down to start on the changes, taking out the heavy foreshadowing (easily found in italics, on their own lines). And replaced those instances with more subtle hints at what lay ahead.

Fifteen minutes later? I was done.

I still need to do a re-read, to make sure the updates are smooth. I still need a second set of eyes (maybe fresh ones to make sure the ending wasn’t too abrupt), but this huge change? That seemed like massive structural issue?

With a few short line changes, I fixed it.

Takeaways?

Remember when setting something up in your writing, be it foreshadowing, backstory, world-building, or more — oftentimes, less is more. You only need enough to spark the imagination and flesh out the world. Not enough to slow the story.


Have you ever been intimidated by a suggested change you agreed probably needed to happen in your work?

Were you ever surprised at how little you needed to change your story to make a completely different impression on the reader?

Tell me about it in the comments below!

Challenges and Anecdotes From Acquiring Editors

Whether you’re looking to break into the editing field, or just learn more about the so-called gatekeepers of the traditional publishing world, it’s always good to know more about what happens behind the scenes.

As a reminder, acquiring editors work for the publishing houses and are the ones who actually make those large-figured book deals — in addition to revising and editing manuscripts.

At WorldCon 2019’s “Editors’ panel: Challenges and Anecdotes”, I got to hear industry veterans Michael Rowley, Eleanor Teasdale, Ginjer Buchanan, John R. Douglas, and David Thomas Moor talk about their experiences.

The Strangest Part of the Job

  • When you’re doing it right, they pay you. – John R. Douglas
  • The need to cheerleader in-house to sell the book you’re working. – Ginjer Buchanan
  • The job is to find joy and passion and beauty and personality. And edit it out. Then, digest the book down to a single line. – David Thomas Moor.

The Biggest Challenges

  • Authors who don’t want to take edits
    • Usually – they don’t want to
    • Occasionally – they try to counter-argue the grammar or the rhythm, etc.
  • When you give your heart and soul and rah-rah to a book and it just didn’t work out. (Thanks to timing, a bad cover, or just fate).
  • The book(s) you didn’t get — that end up best sellers.
    • Other divisions of the same company over-bidding you
    • Get told ‘no’ at the publisher’s meeting (by Marketing/Sales/etc)
    • Ones you passed on
  • Getting the right cover
  • John Douglas tried to win the Game of Thrones proposed series at auction, but George RR Martin accepted the deal that offered $75k in marketing, over the book deal with more upfront money.

Favorite Book They’ve Worked On

Several of the editors refused to “pick between their children”. But, we got a few answers.

  • Maybe Mike Brooks’s Dead Sky – Michael Rowley
  • John M. Ford’s The Dragon Waiting – John R. Douglas
  • Charlie Stross’s Halting State duology. Also, media tie in novels for Quantum Leap. She read fanzines and hired the best writers. Asked them to pitch her — the writers loved the source material and it showed. Working on that was ‘nothing but fun.’ – Ginjer Buchanan

Practical Advice On Breaking In As An Editor

  • Move to London or New York
  • Get any job at a publishing house and work your way up
    • Private assistant
    • Intern
    • Marketing/Sales/etc
  • Take a job at a small press to build your resume
  • Get a degree in English/editing
  • Earn the “Society of Editors and Proofreaders” certificate [UK]
  • Network (conventions/etc)
  • Look on bookseller websites for jobs or [UK] the IPG
  • Luck

As with everything book or writing related, hard work and luck seems to be a large part of it.

Thanks for tuning in. I’ll be back again soon with more writing tips and writerly musings.

How To Beta-Read: One Writer’s Version

I almost entitled this “Beta-Reading: For Fun and Profit” but… I don’t usually profit. At least not monetarily.

I do a fair amount of beta-reading and/or critiquing. One can argue that beta-reading is commenting as a reader, where a critique is focused on craft-level commentary, but honestly, I do both. So, I’m not really going to break them out for the purposes of this post.

I read queries (obviously), synopses, short stories, essays, blog-posts, and, of course, novels. I’ve even been known to critique a non-fiction article, and the recipient claimed my excessive feedback useful, although frustrating because they believed they were closer to done than that…but I digress.

I beta-read for people in the writing groups I participate in, people who have beta-read for me, and for family members. (Or people who submit a query for critique to my QueryCorner at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com)

You’d probably think that my beta-reading follows the survey that I send my own beta-readers. And… you’d be wrong. I follow it about as much as my own beta-readers do.

I use it as a guideline, and I generally keep the concepts in my head, but unless specifically asked, my commentary goes a bit sideways.

That said, what does Morgan’s beta-reading feedback look like?

1 – I can’t skip line edits

Okay, that’s probably a lie. IF, (and only if) I’m sending a single paragraph of general impressions after reading a partial or a short story, I can usually restrain myself.

But? If I’m going line-by-line and putting commentary in there? You’re gonna get at least some grammar edits, word-choice suggestions, and (for right-or-wrong) some comma movement.

2 – I’ll tell you when my eyes glaze over

I am predominantly plot driven. Or emotional journey driven? I want to know what is happening to the main character, what they’re feeling about it, and what they’re going to do next.

If you dwell on backstory, elaborate descriptions, or even fling too much action at me– scene after scene–I’m gonna toss in a note saying something.

I try to be kind, especially if it’s well-written. But you’re gonna see something like, “Can you filter in what she’s doing/feeling during this?” Action filtered into description or backstory helps move the story, emotional processing helps slow the story during too much action. Finding a balance? Is hard.

Pacing is tricky, so I want to help as much as possible.

3 – I’ll point out inconsistencies

I know I’m not getting your rough draft (I hope), and when you edit, sometimes you change things in most places… I’ll point out the spots you missed. Or things you didn’t mention earlier.

4 – I’ll say when you break my suspension of disbelief

If a character starts acting inconsistently? Or wolves show up where lions should be? I’ll say something.

If something or someone doesn’t fit my view of your world, I’ll let you know. It’s up to you to delete it, change it, or set it up better so it fits.

5 – I’ll applaud well-phrased sentences

Be it description, dialogue, or narration, a clever turn of phrase or beautiful imagery will get a shout out from me.

6 – I’ll start talking to your characters

Writing fiction? I have a low bar for getting sucked into stories and swept away by characters.

I’ll start cheering for your characters, putting in guesses about untold backstory and future plot points — both for me to find out if I’m right and so you can see what sort of thoughts your set up has inspired.

And? If I stop putting in edits and start just commenting on your characters and the plot? You’ve got 100% buy-in from me. Your story, my friend, is working.


***

Now, my questionnaire has more points than that, and sometimes I even remember to summarize my feelings on plot/pacing/and characterization at the end of each chapter. But, in general, this is how I edit.

Plus? I’m plot driven. Once I start, it’s unusual for it to take me more than 3 days to get through a piece, unless I don’t get time in the evening to sit down in front of my computer.


***

Have you beta-read? What sort of feedback do you give?
Is there something I should be doing that I’m not? Let me know!

One Method For Incorporating Feedback In Your Writing

If you’re a writer, at some point between you putting the words down and it going out to its intended audience, you’re probably going to solicit some feedback (and if you don’t, you probably should).

Be it from one or all of these:

  • an alpha reader
  • a flock of beta readers
  • a writing group
  • a critique partner
  • a paid editor
  • an agent
  • an acquiring Editor for a publishing house
  • or your mom

you’re likely going to receive some feedback other than, “I loved it! Don’t change a thing!”

But, when that feedback is more nebulous or overarching than typos and wording, it can be tricky to know where to start.

Here are the 6 steps I follow when receiving reader feedback

Step 1 – Read the feedback

You’d think it would go without saying, but it’s easy to get ticked off three comments in, decide that the person who sent the feedback totally doesn’t get your book, your genre, and might not read your language, and storm off.

Luckily, I can calm my knee-jerk reactions by subscribing to what I call:

Morgan’s Rule Of Thirds

  • 1/3rd is line and copy edits – easy to fix or skip if it’s a stylistic thing or they don’t know what they’re talking about.
  • 1/3rd is where the reader didn’t get your story and/or your writing style. You can probably ignore these. (But, don’t delete them just yet….)
  • 1/3rd is the stuff that you thought you’d fixed, but really? You’d just painted over it and called it ‘good enough’.
    • These issues are typically related to the tricky things like:
      • motivation
      • set-up
      • emotional impact

Step 2 – Give yourself time to cool off

Sit on the feedback for a couple hours, or days, or weeks. However much time you need before you open it back up, and can face it without your ego screaming.

Step 3 – Analyse the feedback and fix the little things

Maybe this should be two steps, but as I go through, line-by-line, I usually fix the little things- even if they might get deleted later. The typos and line-edits, so that the feedback is reduced to something I can actually process, without the noise of all the little stuff.

Look not only at WHAT the feedback is saying but WHERE it’s saying it. The reader might have given you edits telling you how to fix it. They are only SUGGESTIONS, not fixes. But look at the scene, the paragraph. Maybe there is something confusing, maybe it wasn’t set up properly and that’s why the reader got confused, maybe you need to move the scene.

Is there some way that you can make it so the way you had it was inevitable — given the world, characters, and issues? Is there a better way to change it, so that the pieces come together more smoothly?

The reader might be wrong about how to fix it, but they often know WHERE something needs to be fixed.

Step 4 – Make the edits

This is where you make the complicated changes — cutting or moving scenes or characters, fixing pacing, adding tension, condensing backstory.

Whatever you’ve decided needs to be done — taking suggestions and doing with them as you will.

Step 5 – Reread and blend the new stuff with the old

Whether you’ve used the suggested wording from your reader or your own phrasing, edits don’t always fit in smoothly with the rest of the manuscript.

After you’ve agonized over the feedback, debated how to integrate it, and finessed it with all of your skills, it’s still gonna need a bit more polish.

You’re gonna need to re-read the lead up THROUGH the outro of the sections you’ve revised. Along the way, you’re looking for:

  • continuity errors
  • awkward phrasing
  • scene pacing
  • repetitious paragraphs or phrases (my favorite)
    • The number of times I’ve added a paragraph to emphasize something, then found I’d already had it in there, nearly word for word a page later — where it fit better in the pacing… Well, let’s just say it’s more than a handful of times.

Step 6 – Send it out again

I like to send it to 2 types of people

  1. People who have read it before, to make sure I didn’t break anything
  2. A new reader, to make sure the confusion points were actually fixed

I write fantasy, so there’s a lot of world building involved, but even if you don’t, you may want to do this. An old reader can spot a lot, but they can’t tell if you’re introducing everything in the right order — soon enough as to minimize confusion, but slow enough as to not overwhelm the reader.

You can only have someone read your story for the first time, once. After that, your world starts to become familiar territory.

***

And that’s it. That’s my editing process. For each and every round.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this post – ’cause I’m ready for step 5 with my current revisions!


Do you have any editing tricks that I missed?

Anything you prefer to do differently?