Negative feedback is one of those hard things to deal with. You wrote a story. It’s your baby. No one likes to be told their baby is ugly–not at first anyway. So how do you get to the point where you can say, “Yeah, my baby’s not cute, but it’s my baby and I’m gonna make it better”? Well, that takes time. And practice. And even when you’ve been writing it a while, the sting may not always go away.
For me, the stages of grief go like this:
Outrage–how could you not see my brilliance??
Defensiveness–well, I’m obviously trying to do that here, hello!
Excuses–well, yeah, I know that’s not great but I’m saving it for later.
Acceptance–okay, yeah, that’s not working.
IDEA–Of course that’s not working! THIS is what I need to do.
First, you have to pick good readers whose opinions you trust. Pick people who have similar tastes, so that you know they understand the genre you work in. (If you can pick someone who you think is a little better than you, that’s great, too; they can help you level up!) You also want people who have the best interests of the book at heart. That means no…*
- Grammar Weasels: they nitpick your sentences for grammar and punctuation problems that you can fix later with easy spellchecks
- Smile Fish: they only like happy things in fiction and will try to take out all of life’s unpleasantness
- Me-Mirrors: they only want fiction that reflects their lived experiences and will try to make your fiction more like what they know
- Gloom Squids: they try to interpret everything in melancholy and have a bleak outlook–kinda the opposite of Smile Fish
- Longipus: they’re longwinded and like the sound of their wisdom so much that it’s hard to find the actual useful critique
Second, you also have to be honest with yourself about the feedback you want–and THEN you have to ask for that feedback.
- If you really just need someone to reassure you that your story is interesting enough to hook a reader, ask a friend to read and only tell you if/where they ever wanted to put it down.
- If you finished a story and you aren’t sure about how real the characters feel, ask you readers to report back on that. Or any other specific element questions–does my magic system seem unbelievable? Is the story moving too fast? etc., etc.
- If your reader gives you feedback that’s not useful, whether you asked for it or not, it’s okay to ignore it. Completely, 100% okay to say thanks a lot for your time, and then leave it alone.
Finally…in the immortal words of a rapper guy: Be humble. It’s okay not to write a perfect draft. Even if it’s the tenth one. Or 100th.
Remember, your friends can do their best for you if you know what you want from them–and communicate it to them. And you only know what you need if you’re honest with yourself.
(This is about writing. And it’s not about writing.)
Here’s a list of questions you can ask your beta readers.
Alright, that’s all for now. Happy writing! Have more questions for the “So. You…” column? Drop ’em in the comments below.
*These monsters come from Jeff Vandermeer’s amazing book on writing, Wonderbook.