You’ve spent countless hours writing a story, poured your soul into it and edited it half a dozen times. You finally have a draft that you’re proud of. You give it to a couple of friends to read, and ask them for comments. Instead of getting feedback such as, “It’s brilliant,” though, you get back comments like, “Neat idea. I like your characters. I’m not sure I understand the thing with the bats, though, and you should probably ditch the prologue.” Gah! How could he have missed the significance of the bats? And you spent all day working on that prologue. You can’t just throw it out!
At times like these, it’s important to remember these key principles of receiving feedback gracefully, and using it to your advantage:
Think before you respond. Give the comments a little time to bounce around in your brain. Sometimes when we’re told something we don’t want to hear, it’s easy to reject it out of hand, and perhaps even be a little huffy about it. However, a friend or an editor who will tell you the honest truth about your work is invaluable. If you make a habit of rejecting suggestions without really considering them, people are going to get a lot less interested in making suggestions, and that will be your loss.
Remember that professionals get their work edited. When an author writes something, she tends not to see it as clearly as someone who is reading it with fresh eyes. Every bestselling novelist and literary prize winner has someone to tell her when she’s gone off on the wrong track and point out things that don’t make sense. It’s okay for you to be human too – expected, even.
Consider the source. If your friend is not a professional writer or editor, their opinion may not be all that valuable. Even if the person who is giving you feedback is a pro, they may not be the most qualified editor for your work. All opinions are not of equal value.
Ask for clarification. What’s confusing about the bats? What’s wrong with the prologue? You need to really understand what the issue is before you can evaluate a suggestion and decide whether you want to take it or not. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that adding a couple of sentences will make the thing with the bats crystal clear.
Maybe the problem with the prologue is that it’s kind of slow and detracts from the snappy beginning of chapter one. Alternately, you might discover that the reader didn’t like the prologue because he simply doesn’t like violence, and it contains a battle. No matter what you write, it won’t be to everyone’s taste, so in this case, you may choose to leave the prologue alone.
Say Thank You. Do it even if you think every single suggestion is stupid.