Every writer receives criticism. And it’s really not a lot of fun. The first thing I want to say, and occasionally do, is, “Don’t you understand what I’m doing there? I mean, come on, it’s obvious.” At the same time, there’s a little voice inside me that says, “You see, you’re not going to be the next Grisham or King…or anybody.”
I recently circulated a draft of my third book to beta readers. It has me thinking about how to handle feedback at different stages of my book’s development more…constructively. Here are some tips for you and me.
A writer can’t please everyone. I tend to think that, unless a book of mine pleases everyone, it’s a failure. In reality, that’s an impossible standard to meet. What people like to read is highly subjective and often very specific. The real hope for a writer is to find a steady, loyal readership in his genre.
Beta readers are supposed to be critical. I use a small group of trusted readers to tell me what’s not working in early drafts of a book. A few days after circulating the book, though, I forget my instructions and expect every beta reader to love the book. That doesn’t happen but I do get great feedback. I’m especially interested in criticisms made by more than one beta reader.
And so is the editor. Any traditionally or self-published book needs an editor. But an editor’s criticisms can lead the writer into some deep soul-searching. What I’ve come to understand, though, is that a good editor has experience far beyond mine and the same desire to create the best book. Making the changes the editor suggests is almost always for the best.
There’s a lot to be learned from readers’ criticisms. Once a book is published, it’s almost certain some readers will raise doubts. Again, what I look for are consistent criticisms, particularly regarding plot, pace, characterization and language. And I remember them for the next book.
A writer doesn’t need to respond to every criticism. Of course, a writer can’t accommodate every criticism. For example, he might resist calls for a more likeable protagonist if he believes that the essence of the protagonist’s character is his dark, troubled nature. Or he might keep dialogue as written if only one beta reader thinks it doesn’t flow.
One challenge is dealing with content, such as a gruesome murder scene, that some readers find troubling. A writer may have to weigh honoring what he is trying to create against developing a broad readership. There can be some tough choices.
The criticism is about the book, not the writer. If I remind myself that a criticism is about my book and not me, it’s easier to take.
Bring it on!
Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze
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