Let’s pretend that you have just joined a professional writers’ group. After attending a few meetings, you ask a member for feedback about your book or short story.
Be prepared for it to come back with some critical observations.
We are full of expectations that all readers will enjoy our just finished work and tell us how stellar it is.
That daydream quickly dissolves into hard reality when we get our first assessment back, and it isn’t what we thought we would hear.
Perhaps the reader noticed those massive info dumps, long paragraphs we thought were so important to the why and wherefore of things.
Worse, perhaps they were familiar with horses (or medicine, or police procedure). Maybe they told us that we have it all wrong, that we need to do more research and then rewrite what we thought was the perfect novel.
Our unrealistic belief that our work is perfect as it falls from our mind is a failing that we must overcome if we want to engage readers.
Some of us don’t know how to react when a beta reader points out the flaws in our work. For some authors, even mild comments feel like their work has been torn to shreds.
When I shared my first novel with the sister of a friend, I received feedback that was the opposite of what I expected. It hurt, but I managed to take her comments like a grownup and learn from the experience.
As a teenager, I was a hockey player and a speed skater. In that competitive environment, I learned how skill and growth can only come through education, practice, and effort. Education comes when you seek advice and follow it.
I had to suck it up and use her suggestions to improve my work.
A good, honest critique can hurt if you are only expecting to hear about the brilliance of your work. Even if it is worded kindly, criticism can make you feel like you have failed.
Not understanding how to correct our bad writing habits is the core of why we feel so hurt.
Experiencing failure and moving on is the path to growth. Critiques hurt in those days, but looking back, I can clearly see why it was not acceptable in the state it was in.
I had no idea what a finished manuscript should look like, nor did I understand how to get it to look that way.
I didn’t understand how to write to a particular theme.
I didn’t understand how to punctuate written dialogue.
I resented being told I used clichés.
I disliked being told my prose was passive. But I couldn’t understand what they meant when they said to write active prose.
Worst of all, I didn’t know where to begin or who to turn to for answers.
There was only one way to resolve this problem. I had to find a way to educate myself.
I joined an online organization for new and beginning writers, Critters Writers Workshop. There I saw discussions about books that would help me get to my goal. I had bought a few books on the craft which was why my work wasn’t completely abysmal.
Armed with better information, I sought out books on the craft of writing that were tailored to my needs. I am still buying books on the craft today. I will never stop learning and improving.
The feedback we receive from first drafts isn’t always what we wanted to hear, so I rarely offer a beta reader anything that isn’t as clean as I can make it.
Even so, they always find flaws. When we get the feedback we asked for, we need to be strong, stay calm, and understand that the reader has gone to some trouble for you.
Something to consider—if the reader is an author, they may be involved with the same forums in all the many social platforms you are, so have a care what you say online. Please, don’t go into a rant about that reader to your friends on your favorite writers’ forums.
If you respond publicly in an unprofessional way, the innocent bystanders will remember you and won’t be inclined to work with you either.
In this new world of social media, we should all be aware that how we interact online with others is public information and is visible to the world.
Don’t ask a fellow member of a professional writers’ forum to read your work unless you want advice that is honest.
Even if they don’t “get” your work, they spent their precious time reading it, taking time from their own writing.
Maybe you don’t know any writers to ask. Perhaps you only have family and friends to go to for input. Before you do, take the time to consider the people you know and who have a large influence in your life.
Some people, even people you love respect, are not cut out to be beta readers. Perhaps they are not cut out to be readers at all.
Some people are like my Aunt Jo was. She found fault with everything, shot from the hip, and her blunt comments took no prisoners. She took pride in “just being honest,” declaring that she was doing you a favor.
For that reason, as an adult I never asked her opinion of anything. If you offer your work to a person like Aunt Jo, don’t expect praise.
Writer’s groups and forums are made of humans, and none of us are perfect. Any group may have an Aunt Jo among the members. If you have offered your work to a person like her and then discovered she had nothing good to say, don’t feel guilty for not asking them to read for you again.
Let the manuscript rest for a day or two. Then, look at their comments with a fresh eye and try to see why they made them. There may be a kernel of truth hidden in the barbs that you need to look at.
Conversely, they may simply not like your style or genre, and that dislike impedes their ability to give a good critique. You must learn to accept human frailty in your fellow writers and not hold it against them.
Negative feedback is a necessary part of growth. This is where you have the chance to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional.
Never be less than gracious to a person who reads and critiques your work when you communicate with them.
Sit back and cool down.
Consider the areas they find problematic and find ways to revise and resolve those problems.
Above all, keep writing.