Monday, January 17, 2022

Listening with an open mind

 Q: Week of Jan 17 (Group 1): Taking negative/critical feedback isn't often heralded as a skill but perhaps it should be. How do you handle it when it comes your way? 


- from Susan


Leaving aside troll insults (“I hated your book so much I didn’t even read it!”) I’ve never had feedback that was nasty-negative. Ever since the writing group I was part of, I’ve only gotten thoughtful, useful feedback sincerely aimed at helping me improve my manuscript. So why would I not listen?


At times, the feedback changed my work. Other times, I listened with an open mind but ultimately decided I needed to stick to my own path. I’ve asked for and gotten very specific feedback at times, have asked for and received more general comments. One great critique I got of my first 20 pages, and I know I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, was from best-selling author Rhys Bowen, long before we became fast friends. She kindly but briskly pointed out that my story started not on page one but on page nineteen! And she was right. 


It makes a difference who you ask and what you ask them for. My only crit group, formed after we met as students at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference in 2006, consisted of five, then six, writers who all had full manuscripts and who all agreed our shared goal was to be published. In other words, we had no interest in sitting around digesting and re-digesting the same pages over and over. While we didn’t know it at first, it turned out each of us had a specific strength for critiquing: plotline, character consistency, line editing, humor, marketability. Everyone’s work improved and several of us went on to be published within a couple of years. 


Because almost every manuscript I’ve written has been under contract, I now focus on what my agent and editor say. Crit groups no longer work because I have immutable deadlines and writing groups have to schedule their reads so everyone has an equal amount of time. But I do miss the camaraderie and the variety of perspectives.


I relish the feedback I get from fellow writers, agents, acquiring editors, copy editors, and professional reviewers. I consider myself lucky that I haven’t blundered into some of the less useful situations I’ve heard about. But if I had, I’d deal with it by limiting the engagement, but also by remembering that while no one can write your book for you, among even the dross there’s likely to be a nugget of something I should listen to carefully before rejecting it.


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