Thursday, August 19, 2010

So What Do You Think? Asking for Feedback

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Asking for feedback on your writing is always stressful. Will readers like it? Will they get it? Will they laugh at the little joke on page nine? If you're anything like me, you love feedback because it makes it a lot easier to improve your story. But there are things to remember when asking for and receiving feedback. And this goes for asking questions on forums too. Asking how to avoid info dumping is just as valid a question as asking someone to look at your query or read your manuscript. Anyone brave enough to ask for help or feedback deserves a little kindness and respect.

The person you're asking to read your work is doing you a favor.

Say thank you even if you think everything they suggested is total bunk. If they said something you found especially helpful, let them know. If they're taking the time to help, they're probably doing it because then genuinely like to help and will likely appreciate knowing they did.

Don't tell them they're wrong.

It's okay to say you were trying to do X and open a discussion about why that didn't work for them, but when someone gives you their opinion, that opinion is how they feel about something. It can't be wrong. You might not agree with it, and that's okay. Just don't tell them that.

Consider all feedback carefully. 

First gut reactions can sometimes make you think "this person totally missed the point." Before you disregard something, try to see why someone felt as they did. Often problems are pointed out in one place when the real issue is way before. Not enough groundwork was laid for the resolution of a scene to feel credible. So make sure there isn't something somewhere else that could be tweaked so the spot that you feel IS spot on feels like it to someone who didn't write the book.

Don't get emotional.

When you offer feedback, it's easy to color your comments with things that make it feel personal. Watch out for adjectives that could come across as judgmental on the author. Instead of "this was a really slow scene" try "the pacing felt slow in this scene." Minor changes to phrasing, but telling someone their writing was "really slow" can feel insulting versus a comment on the text itself.

Don't care if they listen or not.

Okay, this one tripped me up all the time. I wanted to help, and sometimes when someone felt differently about a piece than I did, I'd feel like if they just listened to me, they'd solve their problem. Well, not only is this a tad obnoxious, it's also wrong. You might be right about something, but if they're not ready for the information, nothing you say will help. And your might even have great advice that doesn't work with what they're trying to accomplish. And there's always the chance that you're the one who's totally wrong. Give the best advice you can and let the writer decide what to do with it.

Be helpful. 

This seems easy, but you'd be surprised how many times someone asks for help, and the answers are anything but helpful. If you can't say anything helpful, don't say anything at all. This is especially true on forums or boards. If you take the time to type out a response, make sure it's something useful.

It's okay to say no.

If you really don't want to offer feedback, just say so. Reading something you'll resent spending time on won't endear you to the work. Even if it wasn't bad, your feelings could color your opinion and you might just wind up with a critique that's meaner than you intended.

Putting your work (and yourself) out there can be hard, just as offering advice to someone you're not sure will take it well is rough. But if you remember what it feels like to be in the other person's shoes, you just might find that perfect gem of advice you were looking for.

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Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. I got over the "my words are PERFECT" stage fast, when a week after I started writing a story down, I (at 14) was sharing what I had with a friend (who was 8), and she started pointing out problems. And then I had multiple other friends who helpfully ripped my work to shreds. (While asking me to fix it.)

    But then I had to learn the hard way how to critique tactfully. I'm still not the best at that.

    P.S. I think "Don't care if they listen on not" is supposed to be "listen or not".

  2. Right on! Constructive criticism can be priceless. And it's best to take care of the problems in your book before it's published. Once it's out there it's too late. :)

  3. Excellent advice. I think it's especially important for critiquers to follow your advice to watch how they express things. You're so right that judgmental statements like "This is slow" can simply provoke anger. A statement like "I wanted things to speed up here" can help a writer improve.