Today I’m joining the wonderful Mary Waibel, Kai Strand, and Katie L. Carroll for this month’s #InkRipples challenge, and we’re talking about revision. I’ve already shared 5 Lessons I learned revising Keeper of the Dawn, but I’ve realized I still have a lot more to say. So this week I’m going to tackle a big subject: dealing with feedback.
Shall we get started?
5 Tips for Working with Beta Readers, Critique Partners, and Editors
Keeper of the Dawn was one of the first stories I ever sent to beta readers or critique partners. It’s also the first story I ever had a professional editor look at. At this point it’s seen a few sets of professional eyes, including my lovely publishers at Book Smugglers Publishing. I’ve also had several other projects go through many rounds of beta reading and paid for a partial edit of Moonshadow’s Guardian (my first full length novel). So I’m not an expert by any means, but I have learned a few useful things along the way:
1. Try to create a group
One solid beta reader, critique partner, or editor is a great thing to have, but you really should have a team. Different people have different skill sets and backgrounds. A group of 4-6 people, ideally from wildly different walks of life, can contribute to your stories in more ways than one person.
If you’re a prolific writer, it’s also likely that one reader won’t be able to keep up with you all the time. People have lives. Paid editors have other clients. Having a group of people you can turn to makes it easier to quickly find someone for every story. This is particularly important once you’ve reached publication and you’re trying to push books out faster.
2. Send a brief thank you note right away
The key here is BRIEF. Ideally you should also do this before you look at their actual feedback. No matter what it says, or how much it hurts, these people have put time into your work. Thank them for it.
Doing this before you read the feedback also makes it easier to avoid responding to the feedback right away. Which brings me to my next point:
3. Don’t respond to feedback right away
Unless you’re some sort of saint who is calm in every situation, feedback is going to hurt. You’ll probably agree with some things, but others will sting. The longer you’ve spent on the story in question, the more it will hurt. Eventually you get used to it and it hurts less, but only a little. Our books are like our children. Defensive reactions are natural.
They are not professional. Especially not the ones you think up in the heat of the moment. Some defenses or questions might be valid, but most are pure defensiveness. So sit with your feedback. Sleep on it. Give it one night, or three, or twelve. However long it takes for you to see the feedback semi-objectively. If you still have the same questions and thoughts, then you can bring them up.
4. Trust your instincts
Nobody knows your story better than you do. For the little things, you should probably follow your readers’ instincts. For the big things, you need to trust yourself. You’ll instinctively be drawn to the good ideas. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have already thought many of the same things. Some part of you already knows how to fix the story. I was reluctant when readers told me to expand Keeper of the Dawn, but I always knew what to add.
Listening to your instincts is one of the most important parts of a creative life. Your inner voice is the unique thing you bring to the table. It makes you who you are. If you stop listening to it, you risk accidentally telling someone else’s story. And with all the hard work of writing, don’t you want to make sure it’s truly your story that comes out?
5. Make extra time for self care
Self care is essential for everyone, and it’s particularly important for creative people. I think everyone should have a daily self care routine, but if you don’t want to do that, at the very least consider a post-feedback routine. Receiving feedback, even mostly positive feedback, is tough.
So come up with a list of things that make you happy, and do at least one after reading through feedback. Read a chapter of someone else’s book. Play video games. Take a hot, steamy bath. Light some candles and meditate. Anything you love works.
Receiving feedback and incorporating it into your work will never be easy, but it is essential. I hope these tips will help you get through the initial pain of tough love and on to improving your work!