I had a two hour phone call with my editor from Bethany House last week about all of the changes I’ll need to make on Book 2. Fortunately, I’d already gotten an email indicating that my book would need some major rewrites. So during the phone call I could listen to the feedback without falling apart. (I saved the melt down for later when I was on the phone with my mom!)
You might be wondering like I was, what did they find wrong? They’d approved my synopsis and given me the green light on the story. So what needed changing, especially in such a significant way? And how would I decide what I was willing to change and what I’d fight to keep?
When we’re given challenging feedback, how do any of us know when to accept the feedback and when to stick with our gut? After all, so much of writing is subjective. What one person likes another may not.
Here are three tests I’m using for handling my difficult feedback.
1. Know the source of the feedback.
When I turned in my book to Bethany House, six different people read and critiqued it (including my two primary editors). Then my editors had a meeting to discuss the various concerns everyone had, bounce ideas off one another, and decide what things were most important to change.
The people who critiqued my book are not only editing experts, but they also have their pulse on the inspirational historical romance market—especially what kinds of characters and stories fans like. They want to help me shape my book into something readers will fall in love with.
How can I argue with industry experts? How can I disagree with six people?
Here are a few questions we can ask ourselves: What’s the level of expertise of the critiquer? How many people are saying the same thing? Do they have our long term best interest in mind? How well do they know our specific genre and market?
2. Look at where we’re at in our writing careers.
I consider myself a fairly young author. Even though I’ve been writing for years and growing in my skill, I still have a lot learn about writing for publication versus writing purely for personal satisfaction. There’s a huge difference (and I'll have to tackle that subject in a different post!).
I’ve learned that a traditional publishing house invests an enormous of time and money into publishing one little book like mine. Since they’re making such a big investment, they have to make decisions about each book with extreme care. I need to trust their judgment about what is going to make my book more salable.
I’m far from a brand name. I have so much yet to learn about what appeals to readers. And I have still have a long way to go before I move from an average writer to a great one. I’m not at a place in my writing career where “I know better” and therefore I don’t have the right to demand my own way. I’m not sure that I ever will.
Here are a few questions we can ask ourselves: Do I have a teachable spirit? What can I learn from the critique? Maybe I don’t agree with everything, but what's the heart of the feedback? What things are most important to me, and can I hang onto the essence of what's important but still make the changes?
3. Have a really GOOD reason before deciding not to change something.
I want to stay true to my writer's voice. I don’t want others to shape me into something I’m not. However that means I need to have some idea what my emerging voice sounds like (or “personality on the page” as Agent Chip MacGregor calls it).
If we're confident in our writing style, then hopefully we can learn to integrate the changes into our stories but still stay true to our personalities on the page. And if I’m confident, I’ll be open to each suggestion, weighing them carefully, and making sure I have a good reason before rejecting them.
Under-valuing our voice can make us wishy-washy with the changes. Overconfidence can lead us to reject help too quickly. But having the right amount of confidence in our unique voice can help us know what to keep and what to let go of.
Here are a few things we can ask ourselves: Do I recognize my voice well enough to know if the change will stifle it or make it clearer? Am I giving enough consideration to each suggestion or am I passing over them too quickly?
What about you? When you’re given challenging feedback, how do you decide which advice to take or leave? What kinds of questions do you ask yourself? Do you use any of the three tests I've listed?