Oh boy! Sometimes Feedback can hurt!
Last fall, when I was in the midst of querying, I decided to send my manuscript out to a couple of RWA chapters. All my beta readers were loving my book, but I wanted to know what fellow romance authors thought of it. I wanted solid feedback but that would help push my story to the next level. And, If I’m totally honest with myself, I thought my first couple of chapters were hot shit and SURELY place well.
Slowly the judges’ remarks came back and I didn’t win. Bummer number one. Then I started seeing the feedback. Overall, it was pretty good. Nothing too harsh, but everyone seemed to think my first chapter was horribly slow compared to my second.
Basically, it needed a rewrite.
A lot of things ran through my mind. I loved my first chapter. I didn’t want it to change it too much. Also, I had been querying with this first chapter for months! Oh god, what have I done?
All the positive things they said about Chapter 2 went away as I focused on Chapter 1. The first chapter is so important and here I was mucking it up. It was a real blow enough to make you doubt your voice, your story even. At the same time I know some of the feedback is valid (and some of it isn’t.) There was so much of it pulling me in different directions. I didn’t know what to start.
I needed to figure out a way to look at the critique given to me while not to losing my vision. As Tim Gunn would say, I needed to make it work.
While I was looking for blog posts to help me filter the feedback (and yes, boost my broken ego.) I found this gem from Susan Dennard. Susan also entered contests, she also faltered, she let me know that I’m not alone in these feelings and for that, I’m so grateful! I’d like to highlight this sentence in particular:
“Too much criticism can be the death of your novel, just as too many cooks can spoil the broth. It is ultimately YOUR story, and if you try to take in too many perspectives on YOUR story, you’ll lose sight of what you were creating. “
For every negative comment (“Your main character is too formal”) I’ve received a positive comment from someone else (“Your main character has a great voice.”) When faced with these two differentiating pieces of opinions it is so. so. SO easy to feel overwhelmed. And it is at these moments you need to remind yourself that it is YOUR story so you have to trust that instinct.
Ultimately, different readers and writers have different opinions when it comes to pieces. And here is another tip, I’ve found that when entering contests, or submitting for critique these people tend to look at your piece with more criticism then they would a book they pick off the shelf.
Why? Because it is their job. It’s what you’re asking them to do. You’re saying, “Look at my WIP and tell me what you like and didn’t like. How can I improve it?”
Meanwhile, we as readers have more trust in a story that is already published, or written by a beloved author, or even a friend. This allows them to break the rules. They can take risks. It doesn’t mean the piece is BAD, it just means we trust it to work.
As unpublished authors looking for our first big break, we don’t have that trust yet. We’re expected to provide a piece that is both original (but not too original.) One that follows the rules but also breaks them.
Here’s the thing. I know my story is different and that will challenge how marketable it will be. I know it might not be everyone’s cup of tea (Homeric Classic + Romance + some Time Travel.) Some people might not like my style. But it is the novel of my heart and I love it dearly.
I’ve put in the time to study the craft, the genre, and time period and though I always feel like I can do more to improve on these things at some point I have to let go and trust that my story is what it needs to be.
I will take the feedback that I know is valid and I will dismiss the ones that question my own voice because that is the one thing I need to believe in.
How do you ensure your voice comes through?
– Keep the sections that bring you joy (Thanks Marie Kondo.) Especially if you think it adds to the plot. Find what didn’t work for that reader and try to make that scene better, more memorable. See if other readers liked it or if they agree to take it out. If the feedback is persistent consider taking it out and saving it in another document, don’t completely delete the section- who knows, maybe someone else will ask for it to be included.
– Is it a matter of taste? If the feedback is regarding something you enjoy reading in other books (POV, a character trait, style) then keep it but make sure it is consistent in the entire book! Again, this might be a difference of reader opinion. Odds are if you like it other readers will as well.
– Stop after you receive a certain number of critique. This might be hard, we all want to make sure our books are as perfect as possible, but as Susan said above, too many cooks in the kitchen will spoil the broth. The story will change from your vision to something you don’t even recognize, or more importantly, your readers don’t recognize.
Now for the hard part.
Taking my own advice and actually applying it to my writing. I hope this helped give you all a starting point. If nothing else, I hope it helped bolster your egos.
We can do this! As Writers, we NEED to be able to carry on and keep working towards our goals!
Continue to grow, learn, and write!