Making Feedback Work for You
by Lee Kelly
While some people write solely for themselves, I think most of us writers hope to share our stories with others. And if we want to share our writing with a wide audience, through publication, it naturally makes sense to make the story as polished and as accessible as it can be. That’s where feedback comes in: trusted critique partners and/or beta readers can be invaluable in gaining further insight into your story, and can give you outside perspective on a manuscript.
But receiving feedback on a project can be really hard! After all, you could have spend months or even years on this particular manuscript. The manuscript could be semi-autographical. Or deal with an issue that’s extremely important to you. Or could be something that means so much, you’re almost scared to share it.
With that in mind, here are some things I always try to remember when receiving feedback on a manuscript:
- Adopting the Right Frame of Mind. If you view feedback as criticism, then of course anything that’s said that isn’t “it’s perfect!” will sting. After all, criticism is allowing someone to read what you made, just so they can point out all its flaws.
So every time I send out a new project to my beta readers, I try to remember what feedback actually is. Feedback is something I ASKED for! The critiquer has been tasked with reading something I wrote, so they can think of all the ways that I might make it BETTER. There’s a reason they call them critique partners after all: they’re people you trust and invite into your story at the ground floor, so they can offer insight on how you can bring your work to the next level.
- Step Away. Sometimes my CPs’ feedback emails can be long, and the list of “issues” or “considerations” can be discouraging. Someone might think an entire sup-plot isn’t working, or that the romance feels weak, or there’s a lack of a concrete theme. Sometimes I can read a feedback email and be devastated, because an aspect of my manuscript that a CP has noted is a “stretch” might be my favorite part of the story. Sometimes I’m even tempted to shoot an email to my CP and explain why they must have read the story wrong.
So I force myself to step away from the computer, and think. Because something that sounds ludicrous on Monday, after some thought and sleep, might sound like a breakthrough on Tuesday.
Give yourself time to digest, and then get back to the critiquer with the thanks they deserve. Even if you ultimately disagree with the results of their analysis, the analysis got you thinking.
- Consider Big Questions. You’ve spent a ton of time crafting your story, and you’ve gotten comfortable with the format and shape it’s currently in. So it can be very tempting to just incorporate “easy” feedback that’s offered (the proofreading errors, the line edits), while dismissing the big picture thoughts as out of turn. But these big picture thoughts might actually be questions that, if you spend a little time thinking about, could prompt an epiphany on your manuscript.
So take time to think about every piece of feedback. Try to frame some of the notes as questions that you yourself get to answer.
- Get a Second Reader. Reading is subjective, and while having a trusted CP is wonderful, having two readers is even better. It’s like having a second opinion on an important medical decision. If your beta readers are saying opposite things about a particular aspect of the manuscript, maybe those notes cancel out. But if both people are confused by a chapter, then that chapter likely needs reworking.
I wouldn’t necessarily send your work to ten people, as eventually you’ll end up watering down your manuscript to suit so many different, personal tastes, but I think two or three readers is key for well-rounded feedback.
- Make a Targeted Plan. Once I hear from everyone on a project, I like to take all of that feedback and try to find common notes. Then I make a calendar, deciding how many days/weeks I’m going to spend on each issue. (And if you’re particularly interested in this revision calendar idea, I highly recommend Cheryl Klein’s SECOND SIGHT, which I consider a bible on revision). When you have a plan in hand, addressing feedback and revising is far less scary.
Lee Kelly is the author of A Criminal Magic and City of Savages. She has wanted to write since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until she began studying for the California Bar Exam that she conveniently started putting pen to paper. An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced in Los Angeles and New York. She lives with her husband and children in Millburn, New Jersey. Follow her on at @leeykelly and on her website at NewWriteCity.com.
A Criminal Magic
Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive – and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.
It’s 1926 in Washington, DC, and while Anti-Sorcery activists have achieved the Prohibition of sorcery, the city’s magic underworld is booming. Sorcerers cast illusions to aid mobsters’ crime sprees. Smugglers funnel magic contraband in from overseas. Gangs have established secret performance venues where patrons can lose themselves in magic, and take a mind-bending, intoxicating elixir known as the sorcerer’s shine.
Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from Norfolk County, Virginia accepts an offer to work for DC’s most notorious crime syndicate, the Shaw Gang, when her family’s home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, a first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws.
Through different paths, Joan and Alex tread deep into the violent, dangerous world of criminal magic – and when their paths cross at the Shaws’ performance venue, despite their orders, and despite themselves, Joan and Alex become enchanted with one another. But when gang alliances begin to shift, the two sorcerers are forced to question their ultimate allegiances and motivations. And soon, Joan and Alex find themselves pitted against each other in a treacherous, heady game of cat-and-mouse.
A Criminal Magic casts a spell of magic, high stakes and intrigue against the backdrop of a very different Roaring Twenties.
City of Savages
It has been nearly two decades since the breakout of the Third World War, and Manhattan is now a prisoner-of-war camp ruled by island native Rolladin, who controls the city’s survivors with an iron fist. For Skyler Miller, Manhattan is a cage that keeps her from the world beyond the city’s borders. But for Sky’s younger sister, Phee, the Central Park POW camp is the only home she’d ever want.
When strangers arrive in the park, carrying a shocking message, Sky and Phee discover there’s more to Manhattan—and their family—than either of them had imagined. As disturbing secrets about the island begin to surface, Sky and Phee have no choice but to break the rules to uncover the full truth of their long-shrouded history. When their search for answers erupts into violence, the girls must flee into Manhattan’s depths, where their quest for a better future will force them to confront the island’s dark and shocking past.
Lee Kelly’s gripping debut novel is a pulse-pounding journey through a city that’s as strange as it is familiar, where nothing is black-and-white and buried secrets can haunt.
Thank you so much to Lee for all of your helpful advice, and for taking the time to help writers understand the true meaning of feedback. Criticism is a good thing! Remember that it helps all of us on our journey to greatness. =)
A big thank you to all who have participated in this feature. So many writers appreciate your advice every week. We couldn’t do it without you, and your words do not go unappreciated!
We hope you enjoy the rest of your week!