All Ears - Coping with Feedback

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As Jo and I have just come back from the fabulous Winchester Writers’ Festival where we conducted lots of one-to-one sessions with budding authors, we thought that the subject of ‘feedback’ would be a good one for the blog.

Feedback is something all authors face on a practically daily basis. Even once you’ve got past the various drafting stages of your story with help from family, friends and beta readers there’s still all the feedback you have to process from the industry professionals – namely agents and editors!

Most authors have a love/hate relationship with feedback – on the one hand they want it and appreciate its value, on the other hand it can be tremendously difficult to hear someone criticising a story you’ve spent many precious hours crafting! We are constantly amazed and impressed by the enthusiasm of most authors for receiving feedback, and the positive ways they work with it to improve their novels.

The first thing to remember is that whatever you’re writing, it is yours and yours alone! If you are just writing for the love of it with no particular desire to be published or read outside of your own circle of friends and family then there is absolutely no need for you to take on board anyone else’s feedback whatsoever. However, if like many authors, you’d actually relish the opportunity to see your work in print and have it read by children everywhere then you do need to face up to the editorial process and all the feedback and revisions that it entails.

We know how daunting it is to share your work with others. Often an author’s work has gone through many rounds of drafting before they feel ready to share it with even one other person – let alone send it out to agents such as ourselves! We try to be sensitive when giving feedback and we always keep in mind that it is someone else’s work. We often make suggestions, but we never seek to tell an author what to do!

Here are our top 5 tips for receiving and processing feedback . . .

1)      Don’t ask too many people for feedback – you will only get a confusing sea of different opinions! Choose a select few people whose judgement you really feel you can trust – whether they be friends, other authors or industry professionals in one-to-one scenarios. Make sure you have confidence in their knowledge and expertise and, once you’ve made the decision to ask those people for feedback, steel yourself to listen and keep an open mind. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they say but make yourself think about their comments carefully – especially if they don’t say what you want to hear! And think positive – feedback, even if you don’t agree with it, can often spark brilliant new ideas that prove to be invaluable!

2)      Don’t react straight away. Sometimes it’s easy to feel defensive about your work and immediately seek to justify or explain why you’ve handled a scene in a particular way. You may have had very good reasons for your choices, but if you’re getting feedback that the scene isn’t working properly, then your story may benefit from a different approach. Sometimes feedback is hard to hear because it strikes a chord and highlights something that deep down you always knew wasn’t quite right. Give yourself time to process the feedback and think about how you might make changes to better achieve what you set out to do.

3)      Just because a piece of feedback highlights an issue doesn’t mean you have to deal with it in the way that person has suggested. If a suggestion doesn’t resonate with you, give yourself time to think around the issue and consider different ways of solving the problem.

4)      Be willing to experiment. If someone has suggested something different it can be worth giving it a try – you might surprise yourself with the results!

5)      Don’t dismiss positive feedback! Too many authors focus on criticisms and are so downcast that they overlook all the positive things people have to say. Be kind to yourself and take credit where it’s due. It’s important to enjoy the positive comments as well as working to address any problem areas.

Even the best and most successful authors have to face a rigorous editorial process and usually many rounds of revision with every book they write, so if you dream of being an author – get used to receiving feedback! It is never easy to have something so close to your heart criticised, but if you can listen to the feedback and find ways to work with it, your book will only benefit as a result – which means more chance of publication and more chance for great reviews! Hooray!