Receiving Feedback — When to Accept and Ignore Criticism

Receiving Feedback

Whether you’re just starting out as a romance writer or you’re already a best-selling novelist, criticism still has the potential to sting. No matter how many books you’ve penned, receiving feedback can be a bit daunting. How do you know when someone is being too harsh? Or, on the other hand, when you need to set your emotions aside and seriously consider their advice?

While there’s no clear-cut answer to either of those questions, there are a few different things you can do when receiving feedback to determine your best course of action.

5 Things to Consider When Receiving Feedback

Some critiques are naturally going to be harder to digest than others. When receiving feedback on your work, take a few steps back and a deep breath before diving in.

  1. Look for trends.
  2. Pay attention to specific examples.
  3. Note grammatical or mechanical suggestions.
  4. Consider voice and tone.
  5. Honor your gut.

For the most part, if you’re receiving feedback on your novel, it’s likely because the critiquer cares. Barring unwarranted online reviews or unsolicited advice, most people in the writing community want to see you succeed, so their end goal isn’t to tear you down. Take a moment and try to be objective as you work through these steps.

1. Look for Trends


Receiving Feedback Trends

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

First and foremost, don’t make any rash decisions. Ready to shop your query or your first 250? Send it to multiple people. Writing is a subjective industry—just take a look at this query crit from Tricia and Gwynne—which means that one person’s advice might (and probably will) differ from someone else’s.

When receiving feedback, compare criticism from multiple sources to see if any common trends appear.

Do multiple people get hung up on the same sentence? Is your word choice invoking a different connotation than you originally expected? If you’re getting the same feedback over and over, it’s likely worth it to consider making a change.

2. Pay Attention to Specific Examples

I’m no stranger to harsh critiques. Sometimes, your words just won’t resonate with your reader—and that’s okay. We can’t please everyone, and part of receiving feedback means that you’ll occasionally deal with someone who simply doesn’t like your work.

While you can’t expect everyone to love your words, you can be on the lookout for specific, actionable feedback instead of vague, general reactions.

If someone digs into your work and their only advice is, “Your words are flat,” or, “This is boring,” or SOME other variation of, “I’m simply the wrong person for this story, but you asked me to give feedback, so I’m telling you how much I dislike it,” then don’t sweat it.

If they can’t offer you any actionable, valuable feedback, it’s okay to walk away. Sure, the criticism will still sting, but take a moment then to read through some other feedback that’s positive. Or better yet, lean on your community. They’re great for venting and can bring you back up after a tough day of harsh responses.

3. Note Grammatical or Mechanical Suggestions

This one is pretty self-explanatory. If someone catches a missed comma, a typo, a needed compound adjective, or some other grammatical or mechanical issue, fix it. If you feel like you’re still in the right, then research it. Double- and triple-check to make sure you’re absolutely correct before throwing your words out there to agents. The last thing you want is a rejection because you have too many errors that you could have easily fixed with a second look.

4. Consider Voice and Tone

I’ll reiterate my earlier point here again: not every book is for every reader. You might get conflicting feedback about the voice, tone, and/or flow of your words. Some readers might suggest word changes that don’t resonate with your style. Others will take offense to expletives. And there will still be some who simply don’t like your tone.

When receiving feedback that points to an issue with voice or tone, make sure it aligns with your writing style before you rush to make any changes.

If changing your words results in a shift in the voice or style of your story, then it might not be the best fit. Or, if it does make a difference for the better, then know you’ll have to comb through your entire manuscript to make similar changes throughout. If you’re getting varied feedback, try to pinpoint the underlying source. Maybe you’re pitching a historical romance, but multiple readers question the use of a certain, new-age phrase. Regardless, weigh feedback about voice and tone carefully.

5. Honor Your Gut

My final piece of advice? Honor your gut. If you’ve carefully considered all of the above and you still feel like your words are right, then go with it. I’m not suggesting you ignore every piece of feedback that contradicts your original work. On the contrary, I’m merely suggesting that you know your words, characters, and story best. So in the end, you’re the one who gets to make that final call on whether or not to make any adjustments. The rest of us? We’re just along for the ride.

A Brief Note About Receiving Feedback

Unless it’s unsolicited, your response to receiving feedback should always be “Thank you,” even if you don’t agree with it. Often, these readers are taking time out of their schedules to try to help you elevate your writing. Even if they simply don’t like your work and can only offer, “I’m the wrong person for this,” express your gratitude, and never EVER call them out publicly.

If you get into a situation where you receive a negative critique due to a contest, such as Query Kombat, or some other form of public feedback, such as Query Shark, then vent privately.

Go to your community. Ask for feedback from someone outside of the sphere of that contest/event. We operate in a small, tight-knit community, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. As much as criticism might sting, you never know what opportunity you might be squandering if you complain publicly. Keep your chin up, move on, and keep writing.

Feature image by r.nial.bradshaw on Visual Hunt / CC BY

Maxym M. Martineau
Maxym M. Martineau is a staff writer and editor by day, and a fantasy romance author by night. When she’s not getting heated over broken hearts, she enjoys playing video games, sipping a well-made margarita, binge-watching television shows, competing in just about any sport, and of course, reading.

Following her passion, Maxym earned her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. She is represented by Cate Hart of Harvey Klinger Literary Agency. Her debut, Kingdom of Exiles, is out now.
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