How To Handle Subjective & Contradictory Feedback

Reviews on my debut book, The Preacher’s Bride, have been pouring in over the past month. At latest count, my book had 40 reviews on Amazon, approximately 40 various blog write-ups (see my Books Page for the list of links), 19 on GoodReads, 8 on Shelfari, 9 on Barnes&, and 16 on (Not that I’m keeping close tabs or anything!)

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the reviews—talk about a quick pick-me-up! THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who’s taken the time to publicly share their thoughts! I’m grateful and humbled by the praise.

As I’ve soaked in the reviews, I’ve realized a few things more clearly than I had previously, namely that readers are subjective.

Yes, I know. Most of us are already well aware of the subjectivity that exists in the world of books and publishing. And yet, I’m learning just how diverse readers can be in their views, to the point that the reviews seem to contradict one another. Here are just a couple of examples from reviews on The Preacher's Bride:

• Different views on how I portrayed the historical details of the book:

“I love the historical era of the 1600's in England. I could just see the towns and the townspeople of that era come to life!”

“The time period was also a bit difficult for me to get into . . . I just kept imagining a medieval town with dirty, raggedy villagers and evil villains terrorizing woman and shooting flaming arrows into thatched roofs.”

• Different opinions on the opening chapter:

“I had a hard time, in the very beginning, getting into the book as, to me, it was just a little bit slow.”

“I was immediately captured in the first chapter” and “I couldn't put this book down starting at page one.”

• Different opinions about the heroine:

“She can be pretty submissive; that and her overwhelming desire to get married and have babies are a bit irritating to this modern woman . . .”

“I absolutely loved Elizabeth's character throughout this entire book. She's witty, outspoken and a very smart woman.”

• Different opinions about the page-turning effect of the book:

“Hedlund . . . writes well of life in Puritan England, though the middle drags . . .”

“It's a fast-moving page-turner. I read it (all nearly 400 pages) in a little over a day, using every available moment.”

Isn’t it interesting to see such opposite views on the same things? What the differences teach me (and can teach all of us), is that subjectivity is alive and well. And here are a few things about subjectivity that we should keep in mind:

1. Watch for trends in the feedback.

If reader after reader indicated that my opening was slow, I’d sit up and pay attention. But if most of the feedback tells me that I did a good job, then I won’t worry about a few opinions. We can’t live to please everyone. We’d lose the essence of who we are in the process. But we can (and should) pay attention to those glaring issues that people bring up more frequently.

2. Make sure to chuckle over the contradictions.

In other words, we can’t take the feedback personally. I truly do chuckle over the contradictions. I let them remind me of the uniqueness of all my readers, the varying tastes and preferences, and the different personalities. Not everyone is going to fall in love with my book. And that’s okay. Not everyone is meant to.

3. Know whose feedback matters the most.

Many different people have reviewed my book—book buyers, librarians, professional book reviewers, other published authors, etc. Of everyone, I value the input of my talented editors at Bethany House the most. Their goal in all of their editing is to help me craft a story that will please my readers. Ultimately that’s what we want—to provide our readers with a completely satisfying experience, so that they say what one of my reviewers said: “A story that draws the reader into the heart, THE PREACHER'S BRIDE is a historical gem that will not be leaving my favorite shelf.”

4. Get back to work and do the best we can.

When it’s all said and done, I read the reviews, enjoy them, and then put my head down and get back to work on the next book. And that’s all any of us can do—just keep on working hard to improve our writing skills and story-telling abilities.

What about you? Have you ever had contradictory opinions about something you’ve written? How did you know what to listen to and what to discard?

*Thank you to Jeannie Campbell for sending me the above picture, taken at the Borders in Eureka, CA! Thank you for getting excited and drawing stares!


  1. I have had SOOOOOO many contradicting opinions and I seriously think they slowed me down and prevented me from writing from my heart, because I tried to listen to EVERYBODY. I have now learned that I should stay true to myself and eventually someone will love what I love too.

    And ... OMG, Jody! I'm getting published!!! I talk all about it on my blog today if you're interested! Would absolutely LOVE for you to stop by! :o)

  2. This is very timely since I received the comment sheets from my first writing contest on Friday.

    I wasn't expecting to win, but I wasn't prepared for some of the feedback. After I cried for a while, I put it away until Sunday night when I could sit down with my husband and go over it.

    Each manuscripts had two judges. In some areas, their comments were almost opposite.

    Together, my husband and I, identified the overall theme of the feedback and which details were addressed by both judges.

    I feel better about it now. I was able to separate valid points about the writing from the personal reading taste of the judges. That is the information I plan to use when I revise for my next submission.

  3. This is such a great way to look at it. Thank you for your openness and honesty throughout the process. It is more helpful than you know!

  4. You know what? Other than what my publicist or friend(s) have sent me, I do not read reviews -ever - anywhere - I have no idea what I have on Amazon (although my brother and my son called me and said "Did you know on Amazon..." and I said, "I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR LALALALA.." and they said, "even if you have a 4.5 out of 5?" ...."no lalalala"

    I looked at first, but it became too stressful for me to make that the focus. And, as my publicist/editor says, "If we see reviews that have a continued 'theme' then we'll look at that, but otherwise...." So, it's been over a year since I've looked at my books on Amazon, and I don't search out reviews online; I don't go by Goodreads or any of those places anymore and have no idea if my books are even there.

    It's freed me to do what I did with the very first book: write my books the way I love to write them.

    I did smile at your comparisons - I've seen this, too...when I was looking :-D

    SO, congrats on your book and don't forget all those wonderful feelings of being published...and that your book is being read! Very cool!

  5. First, let me just say. A couple of my good girlfriends and I went to Borders on Friday night. And guess whose book was facing out in the Christian book section? Jody Hedlunds! And guess how many books were there?? 5!! All the other books only had one or two. You must be in high demand, girl! And that's in Davenport, Iowa.

    Okay, now that I got that out of my system.

    Um, yes! I've gotten contradictory feedback. Mainly in writing contests. The feedback from judges has been contradictory. And then just more general stuff. Like I let some of my really close friends read my books. They all have different favorites.

  6. Like Katie my conflicting feedback came from a writing contest. I did exactly what you mentioned and looked for similar threads. I do this w/ my critique partners and others as well. And ultimately I trust my gut.

    Reading helps develop muscles essential for discerning stuff like this.

    Great post, Jody & 900 followers, woman--you are the one who's on fire!
    ~ Wendy

  7. Such great points. It must be weird to read such opposite views, but it does illustrate your point quite well.

  8. I love that you chuckle over the contradictions and don't let the negative comments take away from the positive ones! Sometimes we can let one negative comment bring us down (in writing or life in general) instead of letting them roll off our backs. I think it's more difficult to do so when we want acknowledgement from the person(s) giving the feedback.

  9. I'm very glad to hear you're able to chuckle over the contradictory critiques, rather than needlessly fret over trying to please *everyone*. You're right. It *is* impossible to make everyone happy. There will always be people who just want to grump for the sake of grumping, or just really weren't into the genre presented.

    I've had tons of contradictory opinions about things I've written. When that happens I try to figure out where the contradictions are coming from. If someone says they can't relate to my MC, I try to find out if it's because the MC is the opposite gender and fifteen years younger than the reader? Or is it because the MC really is unbelievable?

    Ultimately, I try to take everything with a grain of salt. I take every critique into consideration, and after puzzling it over I genuinely feel there's a problem to be addressed, I look into ways to fix it.

  10. Contradictory opinions? Uh, yeah, I've had lots of those. But the funny thing of subjectivity is that some of it just seems weird or wrong--as if the person just didn't get it. Those are the ones I ignore. They may be honest, but they aren't helpful.

  11. Although I am not published, I definitely know what you mean with contradictory feedback. I spent 3 years in writing workshops in college and got it ALL THE TIME. The feedback that mattered most was the feedback that came form a source I trusted.

    Thanks Jody!

  12. This makes me chuckle. My book won't be out for a while, but I have definitely experienced this subjectivity when I've entered contests. I plan on doing a post about that soon, but on the same contest entry I've gotten:

    "This is the best contest entry I've judged in 20 years" from a pubbed author, "This is exactly what I look for in a first chapter" from an editor. And then "This doesn't really feel like an erotic romance and you need to learn how to use semicolons" from an unpubbed judge. Gah! It's maddening.

    I've learned to follow the advice you suggest--when it's a trend, pay attention. When it's just a contradictory comment here or there, move on.

  13. The rare feedback I get from my non-fiction articles is usually more along the lines of continuing discussion of a topic, not criticism of the writing. I don't know how I'll feel about reviews when that time comes, but I think I'll keep your advice in mind. I like your approach. :)

  14. This is why critique groups and contests are such a great experience when you're unpublished - not only do you learn great tips, but you're prepared for published life. On the same contest entry I had "Can't wait to see this in print!" and "The heroine is icky." (Icky???) This prepared me for those reviews..."fresh, authentic writing" followed by "riddled by cliches." "Too preachy" followed by "not enough talk about God." "Skimmed the romance, loved the combat scenes" followed by "skimmed the combat scenes, loved the romance." So yes, look for trends - and discard the outliers - on both ends :)

  15. Yes, I've received contradictory feedback. In fact, quite often. I try to sit back and see how much and from where it's coming since I'm using the feedback as critique.

  16. I have received so much contradicting feedback (although not in an official capacity), it's hard to sort through it. These are some great tips for dealing with it. Thanks!

  17. It was fun to see the differences in people's comments. Thanks for sharing those, Jody, and for the always brilliant advice. :-)

  18. That's interesting to read those differences in opinion! I've definitely received contradictory feedback on what I've written--particularly in contests. I think number one is a great thing to remember. If there are a lot of people giving you the same feedback or critique, pay more attention!

  19. It's funny to read the different opinions on the very same subjects. But you're right, everyone has different tastes. Which is a good thing, since we're all such different writers!

  20. I expected my book would be tough on a lot of readers, especially since it seemed to be viewed as something akin to paranormal romance rather than a serious sci-fi thriller (with vampires), so a lot of the feedback from people who don't know me or who haven't interacted with me has been mediocre. I think a lot of those people just didn't get it. Oh well. You do what you can, fix things that look like they need fixing, and then move on and do the best you can on your next work.

    Some reviewers also have an idea of what your book SHOULD be like, or what structure it SHOULD have, but you can't let that bother you. It's your story, and you just have to go and tell it your way, even if it is unconventional.

    Best of luck on the future of your writing; sounds like it's going well so far!

  21. Thank you for this! I've had some contradictory criticism for my story and I've wondered how to edit it. Thanks for reminding me to laugh!

  22. I understand what you mean. I had the same type of reactions on my books. And you're right, learn what you can do better on, and then get back to work.

    By the way, I bought the last copy of your book at the Borders near my home. Can't wait to read it. :)

  23. It just shows how diverse readers all. For me, I pay attention to the majority because not everyone is going to feel the same way.

  24. oh, man! I get this at the BETA stage, so I can only imagine what it's like once the books out there. But it seems the majority I've been hearing about TPB has been extremely positive! Great work, Jodi--I can't wait to read it~ :o) <3

  25. Some really good advice here. I like the comments you shared here, and how contradictory they were. Just goes to show how different people's experiences are. Congratulations on the success of the book!

  26. Great blog, and this applies to critique group feedback as well. We can't make everyone happy. If we try, we will end up with a "book written by committee." A monster! Take feedback for what it is and pay attention if more than a few people are telling you the same thing.

    Great post as always!

    Kristen Lamb

  27. My friends and I can read the same book and have wildly opposing views. We, as writers, will not be able to please everyone. It just isn't possible! But we should write the best book we can every time.

    And for the record, I was gripped from page one! Slow middle? Not even!

  28. I only listen to the positive feedback (kidding).

    I mostly go with my gut, but not until I've seriously considered the suggestions or accolades given. Does my gut agree or disagree? Then I go from there.

  29. Hi Jody -

    Yes, I've had contradictory opinions and advice on my writing. I mull over all the input, pray about it, and then make changes as God leads.

    Susan :)


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