Dealing with feedback

Photo by Michael_P on Flickr

Photo by Michael_P on Flickr

There are a lot of blog posts out there on how to handle rejection. But one of the more intimidating experiences for new (and even experienced) writers is dealing with feedback of the solicited kind.

It seems a bit counter-intuitive to be afraid of feedback you’ve actually asked for. Yet I know I have this irrational fear that I will be exposed as a shitty writer, and the feedback will reflect this horrible truth.

And it IS irrational. Even bad stories can be edited into shape. Turds can be polished. But as the writer, you are often too close to see where your story’s flaws lie. You may have a sense that something is not quite working, but you’ll need an outside perspective to help you pinpoint what that is. Feedback is essential. Treasure your first readers.

Some tips for dealing with feedback:

  • Always respond to emails in a timely manner. A polite “thanks for reading” is just courtesy. No matter what you think of the feedback, the reader has taken time out of their day to read and give you their opinion. There have been times where I’ve given a considerable amount of feedback, including line edits, then not received even an acknowledgement email. Needless to say I won’t offer my time to those people again.
  • You don’t have to read the comments straight away. Reply to the email to thank the reader and let them know you’ve received the comments. But don’t force yourself to read the feedback straight away. There’s no reason to rush in: wait a day or two if you need to. Just don’t forget to thank them!
  • When you’ve built up enough courage to read through, open it and read through. Note corrections, comments in the text, and comments in the email. Feel free to fume over their woeful misinterpretation of your words. Roll your eyes at their lack of understanding. Shrug in sheepish resignation at the typos they’ve picked up. Think over the questions they’ve asked. Close the file.
  • After you’ve had time to calm down, open the file and start working on the suggestions. There will be edits you’ll happily accept, some you’ll reject without any worry (if you are working with a professional editor and you want to keep something the original way, write STET in the comments so they know you are intentionally keeping it as is, or they may try to re-edit it. If it’s informal feedback there’s no reason to do this unless you are sending it back for further reading). There will be comments that require more thought. Stop editing and start thinking.
  • You may want to email the reader again and thank them for their insight on a particular problem, or clarify what they found confusing in *this bit*. You may enter into a dialogue which will be helpful, so remember to always be polite and never criticise them. If they haven’t understood something chances are it’s because you haven’t written it clearly enough.
  • If your reader is also a writer offer to reciprocate.
  • It can be nice to keep them updated if you have some success with the story – if you have them on Facebook or twitter, include them in your brag post and maybe thank them for their help in polishing the story.

Remember no matter how harsh the feedback might seem, the person offering solicited feedback is trying to help you produce the best story possible. Approach it in a professional manner and don’t take it personally!


3 thoughts on “Dealing with feedback

  1. I think the biggest one is give yourself permission to be upset… but do it privately. Rant to a friend, rant to yourself… don’t email your reader/editor and tell them how much they’ve missed the point of your work, or worse still – go on social media and run them down. Yes Twitter moves fast but Murphy’s Law says it will be seen by the person in question.

    I also think it comes down to people knowing *how* to give feedback in a way that is objective and provides a road map (*wail* at why people won’t do beta reading courses and learn how!)

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