Dealing with Contradictory Feedback

I frequently receive questions about all the “mixed messages” writers get in the course of writing and publishing their books. So we’re going to spend this whole week talking about it.

One of the kinds of mixed messages we have to deal with is getting contradictory responses to our work. You may hear one thing from your friends, another from your crit group, and something different from an editor or agent. Agents experience this too: A project out on submission often elicits barely any response from some editors, while others are jumping up and down with excitement.

Or you may enter your work in a contest and be completely befuddled at the judges’ responses. My client Katie had this experience: “I got my contest scores back. One was a perfect score of 100 and the judge’s comment was, I don’t understand why this author isn’t published. The second score was also very high. The third was a 62! The judge told me to cut the prologue and the first chapter because they weren’t good. She also told me I’ll never get published in Christian fiction because my heroine is living with a man in the beginning and I make a reference to her craving a cigarette, which apparently offended her.”

How do we deal with contradictory feedback like this?

First, realize this is always going to be the case, and be thankful you’re experiencing it now because later when you’re published it will get worse. Readers will have all kinds of responses to your work, and they won’t all be positive. (Have you looked at the reader reviews on Amazon? Sheesh! There’s usually quite a range from “best book ever” to “worst book in the history of life.”) So now is a good time to get used to it.

But if you’re trying to figure out how (or if) to revise your work, and you’ve received contradictory feedback about what your manuscript needs, you may have to make some tough decisions. Here are my thoughts:

1. Keep in mind each person’s qualifications for giving feedback. Are they a publishing professional? Now obviously, just because they have experience as an agent, editor, or published author doesn’t make them automatically “right.” But if you’re weighing feedback from your friends and/or crit group (“It’s awesome! We love it!”) against responses from professionals (“It needs work”) you’re probably better off listening to those with experience. As much as you think your friends are going to be honest with you, let’s face it, if they love you, they probably think you walk on water plus they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Enjoy their feedback, appreciate what good friends they are, then listen to the professionals.

2. Whether you’re dealing with professionals or friends, these questions are even more important: Do they understand and share your vision for the project? Do they have a similar worldview as yours? Are they likely to be in agreement with the overall message of your book? You can use these questions to help you gauge which feedback is most applicable to your work and will be most helpful to you. Whenever possible, you may even want to ask these questions directly of your reviewers.

In the case of Katie’s example above, she has a two-against-one situation, so that’s a clue about which feedback may be most relevant. In addition, the third judge obviously was more conservative than Katie and didn’t share her worldview, so was unlikely to enjoy the book anyway. In this type of situation, I’d say it’s okay to consider whether anything judge #3 said rings true and if you can learn anything from it; if not, let it go and move on. Just accept that not everyone will like your book.

3. It’s important for you to go with your gut and stick with your vision. Don’t allow anyone to take away your voice or an important part of your message. However, if you’re a newer writer and you’re not sure you’ve found your voice yet, you can allow those critics to help you refine your voice or find your vision. It’s a delicate and tricky balance – figuring out which changes feel like you’re improving the work, and which feel like compromise. Only you can decide.

Every piece of art has its fans and its detractors; every attempt to speak the truth will meet some agreement and some resistance. We all have to use our own discernment and wisdom to figure out how to deal with it.

Q4U: Have you dealt with contradictory feedback on your work? How did you resolve it?

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

59 Comments

  1. Sidney Ross on February 11, 2013 at 5:18 PM

    No one has dared to whisper at contradicting my work.



  2. Dina Santorelli on February 11, 2013 at 3:02 PM

    I love your #3. 🙂 Great post!



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  4. Eeleen Lee on June 20, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    >this is a tough one indeed, but yes consider where the person is coming from.



  5. arbraun on June 19, 2010 at 11:06 PM

    >I've dealt with this. What you've said is true, Rachel. They have to share your vision. If someone says you can't use the word, *&%#, and you open up a popular novel in your genre and the word, *&%#, is all over it, you should probably use it. I also usually go with the majority opinion but, if a minority opinion makes sense, I'll listen to it. So I agree with your 2 out of 3 rule.



  6. Suzette Hollingsworth on June 19, 2010 at 5:03 PM

    >Oh, my word!
    If even one judge gave me a perfect score of 100 and said, "I can't believe she isn't published!", I would be a danger to myself and others and could effectively be used as a secret weapon against the enemy.
    When I first started writing, I was receiving post-card/form letter rejections. When I received my first personal rejection letter – which indicated to me that the agent had ACTUALLY READ my submission – I was jumping around the house screaming for joy! My husband said, "It is, after all, a rejection letter."
    Thank you for that return to reality. Heaven forbid I should remain in my alternate reality for more than a few seconds.
    It showed that I was improving. That I was finally getting closer to my goal in an indisputable, measurable way. I still remember that day with such happiness: my first turning point.
    Then I started receiving requests for partials, and, finally, finally, finally for full manuscripts.
    On that continuum measuring author talent, I knew I was somewhere from A to Z – where remains one of the unsolved mysteries of the universe. F? (I hope not) M? P? Clearly not "Z" or I would be published. And is Q good enough? (most if not all writers are not as good as they could be)
    In contests, I would receive very high marks and very low marks. This told me that I have a strong author voice: people hated it or loved it. If 20% of the judges love it – representing 20% of the reading population – that's good enough for me! I don't need more than 20%! On the other hand, I can't win a contest, because my writing doesn't have general appeal: it has a niche group.
    Feedback is all information to help you on that journey from A to Z (or to Q, if Q is the finish line). Outside of that, it doesn't mean anything. Eyes on the prize. And God save the Queen!



  7. David Alton Dodd on June 15, 2010 at 5:18 PM

    >Writers are cooks. We cook this meal, slaving and sweating away in the kitchen. Then we serve it. Our expectations are that everyone will love our efforts. The reality is, that some will and some won't. It's seldom that we cook something that everyone loves equally. Most of the time, everyone is going to enjoy the meal differently, that's the reality of writing. Our egos might see this as duplicit, but really, it's the most normal and natural thing that could possibly happen.



  8. Anita Mae Draper on June 15, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    >The contests I final in are ones where the lowest score is dropped (unlike the Genesis) because my stories seem to fall in the 'love it-or-hate it' category.

    At first, I allowed that low mark to discourage me. Now, I want my books to have an emotional impact on the reader. I want them to feel something. Anything to stir their hearts. Oh wait – that's my tagline. LOL

    Preferably, the people who love my books will outnumber the ones who don't.



  9. Kelly Freestone on June 15, 2010 at 7:31 AM

    >GREAT post!
    I really enjoyed it.
    This really helps with determining what points to change and what not to change.
    I am still trying to find my voice, and I see where some critique can hamper what I'm trying to convey…thanks for the advice!



  10. The Copy Bitch on June 15, 2010 at 6:11 AM

    >Hemingway said, "The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof shit detector." That quote applies to how we should look at our own writing when we're revising, but it should also apply to how we look at feedback. At some point, you need to trust your gut, even if it means disagreeing with some of the (usually) well-meaning feedback.



  11. Beth K. Vogt on June 14, 2010 at 11:37 PM

    >I belong to two critique groups–one fiction, one nonfiction. One rule is true in both groups: Author's choice.
    This means if I get feedback from my crit partners, it's ultimately my choice to implement it or not (unless they are correcting my spelling or grammar. Some things are non-negotiable.)
    I'll listen to feedback from my crit partners–whether it's contradictory or not–because I trust them. They know me, they know my writing, my voice. This enables me to accept their input. Sure, some of their feedback is subjective, but it's within the context of knowing my writing style.
    Outside the critique group, I consider the person's expertise and motivation. Sometimes I have to set the critique aside for a day or two so that I make sure I'm in a receptive mood.



  12. Tahlia on June 14, 2010 at 8:25 PM

    >I had two industry professionals say different things, but when I put both comments together, I realised they there was a common ground there, basically that the beginning needed revising. The way they suggested I go about it though was quite different. In the end I solved the problem in a way that wasn't what either of them suggested.

    There's a story here in Australia about an author that resubmitted his novel to a publisher that had already published the book but under a different title and author name. The response was – sorry we don't publish this kind of book.



  13. Becca on June 14, 2010 at 6:40 PM

    >Excellent post. Gut instincts can go a long way too. I'm often able to tell whose advice I should listen to because I read their advice and think "Hey! They're right!"

    I also try to keep my target audience in mind. If twenty/twenty 62 year old men who prefer war stories don't like my story, but 19/20 women 18-30yo who like urban fantasy do, I'll keep what I have. Reverse those numbers and I have a lot of work to do. But chances are if I already know that 😉



  14. Anonymous on June 14, 2010 at 5:53 PM

    >What happens if your crit partners tell you something is wrong, but your agent doesn't see a problem with it?



  15. Lenore Buth at www.awomansview.typepad.com on June 14, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    >Bless you for saying, "It's important for you to go with your gut and stick with your vision. Don't allow anyone to take away your voice or an important part of your message."

    I believe that and I needed to hear it again, from a professional.

    For my current nonfiction WIP I deliberately chose a pithy, minimal style that packs meaning into few words. That feels right to me and right for the readers I'm aiming at. Dozens of them have read sections of this ms. and love it. (However, they do know me, so do their comments count?)

    But one editor noted that books "of this type" which succeed usually feature humor. (Mine doesn't, of course.) Another conference reviewer said my book "doesn't fit" the profile for the CBA market, whatever that means. (True, most books already on the shelves aimed at the same readers do sound "sweeter.") Some fellow critiquers love what I'm writing. Others think I need to change every "you" to "we."

    Reading your post gets me back on track. Thanks.

    Timothy Fish, where did you find that quote from Einstein? That's a keeper.



  16. Michael K. Reynolds on June 14, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    >I believe the worst thing we can do is ask for feedback and then not respect what is shared. When we are heading down the publishing road we are seeking feedback in one form or another from agents, editors and ultimately readers.

    It's painful to hear what people think about our writing when it's not completely complimentary. Not everything shared will be of value, but if we try to filter through their comments to find nuggets of insight it will make our books better and in the process make us stronger writers.



  17. T. Anne on June 14, 2010 at 1:49 PM

    >I think its preference related as well. My partners loved my work, but they also loved my genre. I'm guessing someone who's into sci-fi or potboiler mysteries might have another opinion.



  18. Nazarea on June 14, 2010 at 1:10 PM

    >Last year, I went to a conference and got critique from an editor. After we talked, I went to the bathroom and cried. But later, after I pulled myself together and crept out of the bathroom, I found myself reading the chapters again, and thinking about what she said.
    Fastforward to March of this year. The editor who worked with me on Faith's Friendship (my published novel) offered to help me with my YA before I sent it off looking for an agent. He called me one night and said (and I quote) 'I know what's wrong with it!! It sucks!!'
    And then he told me what to do to fix it. It took me a while–and I had friends who were 'don't let him ruin it, it's your voice, your story, blah blah'
    And they're right–it is my story, and it is my voice. But he does know what he's talking about, and so did the other editor. My ego may be a bit bruised, but I know enough to listen and do rewrites until it's perfect–and STILL keep it my story and my voice.
    Just better 🙂

    N~



  19. Krista Phillips on June 14, 2010 at 12:52 PM

    >Oh yes, I've had conflicting opinions, especially in contests. This last contest go around, I had many say that I exceled in dialogue and got it spot on, but one person said it was long and stilted and needed a ton of work.

    I get the same about characters, from "OH MY GOODNESS, I can so relate to her and love her already!" to "I hate your character, she's annoying." (paraphrasing only slightly)

    The inspirational elements I get a lot of dings on, but I think some of that, especially in contests, are authors who write for targeted publishers (i.e. catagory inspiry romance which has very rigid rules regarding what characters can and can't do/say) Because I am not targeting these publishers, I don't think I've gone overboard. (I use the theory if my mom, Mrs. ultra-conservative, isn't offended, then I'm probably okay!) Now, if a potential publisher asks me to change it, that's a TOTALLY different story!

    I think the hardest thing for me is to decide when I'm just being overly defensive and attached to something I wrote, or if the feedback is truely not applicable as I sometimes think it is.

    Last year, I had a MS with 2 scores in the 90's and one 66. This year that mansucript had 2 scores in the 50's and one in the 90's. *sigh* Next year maybe???



  20. Simon C. Larter on June 14, 2010 at 12:20 PM

    >An online literary magazine I submitted flash fiction to has a panel of editors, a majority of whom have to okay a piece before it's optioned for the mag. My piece ended up as one editor's pick of the month, but another editor rejected the piece, saying "a retelling of an old story has to be exceptional." (Mine, naturally, struck that editor as unexceptional.) One or two other editors just went with the flat rejection.

    So I got it published. (Yay!) But I also got a lesson in the subjectivity of fiction reading. You can't please everyone, but if you please that one right person, you'll see yourself in print.



  21. kourtneyheintz on June 14, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    >What a timely post! I've been dealing with contradictory feedback and have been pulling my hair out. One person didn't get my story at all, but I figured out it's because my synopsis needed work.

    I totally agree that if a few people make the same comment, you have to look into it. In the end, everyone's opinion is valid, the hard part is figuring out how to use it to improve your novel. 🙂



  22. Sherri on June 14, 2010 at 11:52 AM

    >I needed this so much right now. Thank you.



  23. Brandi G. on June 14, 2010 at 11:34 AM

    >Such a wonderful post and great comments! I know that when I first dove into critique groups/forums I used to change my MS based on whatever someone told me, even if it totally went against the tone/voice/plot of the story. It took me a while before I realized that, in the end, it was MY choice on what was needed and what wasn't. And I didn't have to take everyone's advice, no matter how kindly given. So, unless it feels right or more than one or two people are naysaying, then I just go with my gut.



  24. Laura Pauling on June 14, 2010 at 11:03 AM

    >Great post. I did at the beginning. But now I pick and choose through advice for the ones that seem most aligned with my voice and my vision for the story. And that just takes time.



  25. Rachel Pudelek on June 14, 2010 at 10:50 AM

    >Yes, one friend/author told me I needed to cut a particular chapter in half. Everyone else said to leave most of it because it's a historical novel and the refugee check-in scene is very interesting.

    So, I cut out most of the unnecessary details and left the few that showed the process. I figured that would keep the history buffs happy but not get in the way of the story-telling.



  26. James Scott Bell on June 14, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    >It's a little like golf. You find contradictory advice on every aspect of the game, often within the same magazine. The only thing to do is play and practice more, and get a feel. Same with writing.



  27. Erica Vetsch on June 14, 2010 at 10:27 AM

    >I once received wildly divergent comments on a manuscript from two editors at the same house. The content editor sent me a 19 page revision letter hammering the book hard. The supervising editor sent her comments along too, saying she had one little tweak she wanted, and I was to use my own judgement on how much I changed re the content editor's comments.

    After wallowing for a few hours in a slough of self-pity, I scraped myself up and started making notes on what changes I wanted to make. I took many of the content editor's comments to heart and really worked over that manuscript. But I didn't change everything. Some things I had to trust myself on and leave as they were.



  28. Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God on June 14, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    >Good morning, Rachelle;

    As a writer of nonfiction books, I have a slightly different purpose in getting others to read my wip.

    I have a friend who survived a stroke. I ask her to read for clarity. She know the subject matter very well, but she has some problem understanding complex sentences. She tells me when something is confusing and I rewrite until she tells me it's clear.

    My Bible-study partner is a paralegal, so she is astute in catching flaws in my logic and in indentifying problems with the flow of ideas. She reads with those filters.

    I have other friends on whom I depend for checking scripture references, grammar and punctuation, and identifying areas where I've left out fundamental concepts.

    I listen to the all the suggestions from everyone, but I find their suggestions most valuable in areas of their strength.

    My goal in all of this is to be most efficient in correcting the flaws in my work. In just a few days, they can help me remove flaws in my writing in ways that would take me months to discover if I tried to do it without their help.

    Their willingness to help me is an awesome blessing.

    Lynnda



  29. Camille Eide on June 14, 2010 at 10:11 AM

    >Been there. From contest scores ranging from 95 to 65, to the varied and contradictory comments, to the assumptions about the story when the person hasn't read it (my personal favorite). As an eager to learn newbie, I listened to everyone and took everyone's suggestions. Later, as I discovered that some opinions are OPINIONS and sometimes skewed by misunderstanding, taste, preferred style (as in THEIR OWN), ignorance (especially of subtlety or sarcasm or chosen elements of style), I learned to filter things as Rachelle suggested. It took a while and a lot of revisions, some that helped and some I regretted.

    No doubt Newbies should be quick to listen and slow to argue, and stay teachable. You're only slowing down the path to becoming better if you don't. But be wise and listen to what is being said. It took me a long time to understand how to read the comments to my benefit. Fortunately for me, my first cp group was made up of great critters who balanced contructive critique with encouragement. I've gotten some feedback that stung to the bone, and if it hadn't been for countless comments reiterating my strengths, I might have taken those barbs as a sign to quit. (Writers can be so sensitive!)

    Great advice, Rachelle. Thanks for pointing out that getting contradictory feedback as an unpub is only the beginning. I think. 🙂

    What I wonder is: Do agents also feel the confusion and frustration of contradictory feedbacks?



  30. Katherine Hyde on June 14, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    >Usually, as Rachelle said, it's a matter of the critics having different viewpoints. But occasionally, I've gotten contradictory advice about a particular point in my writing and, in working on that spot, have realized that both critics were responding to the same weakness in the MS in different ways. Then I was able to strengthen that spot in a way that was authentic to my writing.



  31. Susan on June 14, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    >I know when something's wrong with the work, may not admit it in the beginning, but whenever I receive feedback and feel unusually resistant, that informs me a change is needed. If I'm truly confident about a certain aspect of the work, I go with my gut. Everybody has biases and preferences and since I can't accomodate them all, I take contradictory feedback at face value. The opinions of agents and objective readers count the most, but happiness with my own work is paramount.



  32. Timothy Fish on June 14, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    >Siddhartha Herdegen makes a very good point, the things our fans like can be just as telling as what the critics hate. Aside from our desire for publication, what our fans like may actually be better feedback than what we get from industry professionals. When my mother reads my work, I can tell that she is very careful about how she mentions problems, but when she told me about reading a chapter in Searching For Mom and feeling cold, even though it was Summertime, that told me that I had written the scene affectively.



  33. Katt on June 14, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    >Great Post!
    I learned the lesson the hard way.
    Two judges gave me the "this is where your story should start" line, so I revised. huh! I submitted to an agent I'd won a critique from and he said, "it feels like you've jumped in late. How did these characters get to this point?" aaarrrggh!
    Lesson learned, sit back and think about what they're saying before jumping out that window.
    Then, that one went to the Golden Heart… one judge gave me a 9. another a 2. and yes, the rest were in the 6.7 – 7.5 range.THAT made sense.
    Critque groups are also great, in mine, one person is always critical of my work and I don't care for theirs – a perfect example of personal preference.
    One has to learn to accept this with a smile. cheers!



  34. Carole on June 14, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    >"It's important for you to go with your gut and stick with your vision. Don't allow anyone to take away your voice or an important part of your message."

    This is the tricky part for me. My book is not gooey syrupy Christianity. It is real life, real walk, with real people both Christian and secular trying to figure out a murder. They are friends. They don't try to convert each other. They get aggravated at each other. But they love each other.

    Yet the most frequent comment I get is Christians would always be trying to convert their friends and Christians would never behave in a way that is unChristlike. So I think I am stuck. I cannot pretend the Christian life is all pastels and pretty and I cannot pretend the secular world is swirled with dark angry strokes.

    There is both in both worlds. How to write it effectively–I need to learn–if I am ever going to get published.



  35. Anonymous on June 14, 2010 at 9:10 AM

    >In my very limited experience with contests and professional critiques: Often it seems that critiques tell you more about the person critiquing rather than the work itself. I learned from a contest that I was writing in a genre that I really don't belong in, which was incredibly valuable. I think a good rule of thumb might be to take the positive aspects of a negative review to heart, and the negative aspects of a positive review. If someone hates your story, but admits your dialogue rocked their world, then yes, your dialogue is good. If someone lavishes praise, but complains that your paragraphs are uniformly too long, then yes, your paragraphs are definitely too long. That doesn't mean one should ignore comments, and some time and perspective before discarding critiques/praise is helpful as well. Go back and reread that opinion in a month, when you can be less emotional about it.



  36. MJR on June 14, 2010 at 9:03 AM

    >I think it's important to wait until you have a pattern to your ms critiques before revising. I'm a bit too much of a people pleaser–every suggestion seemed good to me and I revised my ms so much I think I lost something in the end. With my WIP, I'll listen to all the contradictory suggestions, but this time I hope I'll be wiser about the changes I make.



  37. Shmologna on June 14, 2010 at 8:55 AM

    >I'm suffering through contradictory feedback right now. I havea great critique group of smart writers who have done their homework…some have even gotten on that road to publication. But they all disagree about my Southern Appalachian dialogue. A few think it's great. Others say it's too much, a distraction to the urban reader. And others think I need to be more true and use even MORE vernacular. *Sigh*



  38. Siddhartha Herdegen on June 14, 2010 at 8:49 AM

    >I think as a writer we each need to recognize our writing is not going to appeal to everyone and that goes for publishing professionals as well. We all know the story of J.K. Rowling.

    But we can glean bits of information from people who provide feedback even if we can’t swallow it wholesale. Do the people who don’t like it all point to the same flaws? Are these flaws with the structure or with the subject matter?

    Can people who like it point to specific things they liked about it? Are these different than the things the critics didn’t like? If some people like the same elements others dislike you’ve got to decide who you want to appeal to.

    But sometimes you can learn from what your fans don’t say. Our friends will often overlook flaws but they’ll rarely point them out as things they liked about the book. So if critics are unhappy with a certain element and your fans don’t mention it as something they liked, good bet it should be changed.



  39. Jen J. on June 14, 2010 at 8:23 AM

    >Great post, Rachelle. I haven't actually had this happen to me (yet!), but the advice that really spoke to me was stick to your vision and not to allow anyone to take away your voice or a crucial part of your message. In the end (and this circles back to one of your posts from last week), as writers, we have to be happy with what we produce and we have to write towards our own vision, not an external view of what our writing should convey. Very good and sensible advice. Thank you!



  40. Anonymous on June 14, 2010 at 8:18 AM

    >Hard to know what to do when most agents don't bother to critique, much less respond. The only feedback I got from an agent suggested I make my novel and heroine more "hard-boiled" when that's exactly what I don't want to do…I don't want her to be a wimp but someone who's more realistic and relatable. That's why I like Stephanie Plum's character: Sure, she's over the top but she seems real, not like a cliched Wonder Woman.



  41. Alexis Grant on June 14, 2010 at 8:12 AM

    >So glad you're addressing this because it's something a lot of us deal with… How to find a pattern within non-consistent feedback (IF there's a pattern). Can you talk about how this applies to feedback from publishing houses when you're submitting, and whether that's often contradictory? Thanks, Rachelle!



  42. Jessica Nelson on June 14, 2010 at 8:03 AM

    >I've definitely had contradictory comments. When they're from publishing professionals, it's harder for me to figure out what's really wrong with the story.
    Thanks for the example!
    Katie is awesome. 🙂



  43. Teenage Bride on June 14, 2010 at 7:54 AM

    >This is great advice, thank you so much for posting.

    I had to stop getting feedback from a writers forum a while back because everyone was vicious without giving any sort of feedback. I was not getting any help or any insight, they would say it “sucked” and not say why.

    I also stopped taking feedback from friends because, as you mentioned, they are just too nice.

    I have gotten good feedback from some agents, as well as acquaintances who are more likely to be honest with me about what I need to change.

    It is tough because we want to please everyone, but as you said, there will always be those who love your work, and still others who despise it.

    Thanks!



  44. layinda on June 14, 2010 at 7:28 AM

    >My experience is that unpublished writers (even some that have agents) will apply the writing "rules" to everything across the board when critiquing (don't have a prologue, only use "said," eliminate all the adverbs and most of the adjectives…).

    It seems as if no one is interested in their own voice anymore, they just want to sound like Elmore Leonard and Stephen King.

    This is what confuses me: When you know that your writing is grammatically correct and your target-audience beta readers are enthusiastic, do you change your writing style to accommodate the masses?



  45. Timothy Fish on June 14, 2010 at 7:22 AM

    >All readers open a book with preconceived notions. This became very evident to me when I read Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I can hardly mention the book without someone saying how much they loved the book. It is still showing up on best selling lists, which is impressive considering the book is nearly twenty years old. I read the book as I was completing For the Love of a Devil, a novel I very literally hung from the outline of Hosea’s story as it is detailed in the Bible. Because I had chosen to set the story in the heartland of America in modern times, it required some effort to fit the events on the outline and when I saw that Redeeming Love was a “retelling of the biblical story of Hosea” I purchased a copy so I could see how Francine Rivers had managed the same thing. When I opened the book I was surprised to find that though the author had pulled elements from Hosea’s story, such God’s instructions to Hosea on whom to marry and buying her out of slavery, the order was mixed up and rather than seeing a rebellious woman pursued by a loving husband we see a woman so hurt from the past that she is afraid of love. That was a tremendous disappointment to me. My preconceived notion got in the way of me being as thrilled with the book as other people.

    When we have conflicting feedback, it is often as much a result of a reader’s expectations as it is with the quality of the work. The judge who gave Katie the low score obviously has a notion of what will and will not be published as Christian fiction and Katie failed to meet that expectation. The other two judges were looking for other things. For all we know, the first judge may have given everyone a high score because she didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. In the end, I think we have to stay true to our own vision for the story. While I followed the Hosea outline very tightly and Francine Rivers followed it extremely loosely, it doesn’t make one more right than the other. Albert Einstein said, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” When we look at feedback, the thing we must consider is whether the person is judging it on its ability to accomplish what we want it to accomplish or whether they are expecting it to climb a tree.



  46. christa on June 14, 2010 at 7:12 AM

    >Like Katie, I experienced the same lopsided scoring splits when entering my manuscript in contests. Those wide variances are disconcerting, especially for an unpublished writer.

    Initially, my manuscript, though written in first person, had third person journals throughout. I was told several times to remove them because agents/editors wouldn't like that (wrong). Several advised me to ditch the prologue because agents/editors don't like prologues (wrong). My subject matter, some said, would not fly in the CBA market, especially from an unpublished writer (wrong).It needed to be a romance (wrong). The main character was too snarky (wrong).

    Invaluable comments? A stronger opening, a more fleshed-out husband for the main character, a clearer sense of the chronology of the story. . .

    Rachelle's suggestions are ones I continue to follow in asking feedback from others. And she's absolutely right in this contradictory feedback being preparation for reader reviews…

    Ultimately, I consoled myself when reviewing contest scores that I'd rather the contradictory responses than three scores of 75!

    P.S. That contest manuscript is now WALKING ON BROKEN GLASS, which released in February from Abingdon Press.



  47. Richard Mabry on June 14, 2010 at 7:09 AM

    >I just finished writing a future blog post about "consider the source," and now it appears you were peeking over my shoulder. Excellent advice on handling a situation all authors have or will encounter.



  48. scarlettprose on June 14, 2010 at 6:57 AM

    >Same exact thing happened to me. I entered a contest–a biggie–and I received excellent scores from all the judges, except one who gave me a 4 out of 10. A four, for crying out loud! This caused me not to place in the contest, as I was .03 points away. It upset me for a long time, but I moved on. You just have to move on.

    Also, in my critique group, there are ones who do not get my humor, especially some well-placed sarcasm. Do I make all the changes they suggest? No. I do, however, lean more heavily toward the suggestions made by the ones in my group who would be my target audience. If they see something that should be changed, especially if two or more see it, then I do re-visit the problem area. Critiques hurt, but in a good way, like pulling a bad tooth. And I may not have thick-skin, but it does grow back quickly!



  49. Amy Sue Nathan on June 14, 2010 at 6:50 AM

    >For me, feedback has to make sense, even if I don't like it. Also, if several people say the same thing, it's worth thinking about even if I don't agree.

    With my WIP I've gotten two very different sets of feedback — and one makes sense to me, the other doesn't. Doesn't mean if more feedback comes in that I won't rethink things, but for the time being my own logic prevails.



  50. Wendy Paine Miller on June 14, 2010 at 6:47 AM

    >Absolutely. Had a very similar situation to Katie (I love Katie). I did as you wrote and sifted through the critique. I find even when I don't always agree, I can still find valuable insight from any kind of feedback (unless it's just downright mean and unconstructive, which thankfully I haven't yet encountered but am growing thick skin for just in case).
    ~ Wendy



  51. Michelle DeRusha@Graceful on June 14, 2010 at 6:44 AM

    >I try to stay true to my own authentic voice. That said, it's hard not to be swayed by criticism, especially as an unpublished writer. My pastor called parts of my manuscript "gritty" when he read it, and a couple other professional critics suggested it might not fit well with the Christian market. So I've had to think hard about where to draw the line between remaining true to my story, gritty though it may be, and aiming for publication. I find I want to make everyone happy. And you know where that gets you.



  52. Jan Morrison on June 14, 2010 at 6:38 AM

    >Well said! In terms of agents, publishers etc…I pay close attention to what they might say. If it is at all repeated by another – then I know I have work to do. With my readers I ask for specific feedback. If I just hand my wip over and ask them to give it a read and tell me what they think – I'm asking for trouble. I also have learned to ignore the criticism that is meaningless for me – people who don't like the genre I write, or the name of my book or main characters, I just file under 'couldn't think what to say and so said this'. I don't think we can be lily-livered when we get critiqued and at the same time anything that is sarcastic or mean is discounted immediately by me.



  53. patriciazell on June 14, 2010 at 6:00 AM

    >I appreciate your third point about not letting anyone take away your voice or message. Staying true to oneself is so important. Thanks for your encouragement.



  54. lynnrush on June 14, 2010 at 5:59 AM

    >GREAT post!
    I've had this situation happen to me…almost to the letter.

    I treat it like when I get contradictory crits back from multiple crit partners….if there is a common theme the judges or critters are commenting on, they yeah, I really need to re-evaluate and revise.

    If it's a random, just one person (judge/critter) mentioning this, and it really flows against my voice or vision of the story…I usually pass on the advice.

    Main thing, though, don't get too discouraged. Write on!



  55. Creepy Query Girl on June 14, 2010 at 4:21 AM

    >My critic groups has five members and we have forum where we post our critics up under the same heading. This is great because it allows me to highlight repeated feedback. If everyone had a problem with a certain section, I absolutely know it needs revision. Secondly, I tweak the things based on feedback that I AGREE with right off the bat- things that really speak to me. From that point on, I take a serious look at the comments and weigh them. If I feel they're just 'nit picky' or out of left field, then I put them in the 'ignore' category. So far I've found this method has worked well for me.



  56. Nicole MacDonald on June 14, 2010 at 2:51 AM

    >It's insanely frustrating when people don't get it, but honesty is appreciated!



  57. Ted Cross on June 14, 2010 at 1:34 AM

    >This is hard. I've had a few commenters say they don't like my prologue in which the POV character is killed at the end, but other commenters really liked it, and I have had a few agents so far ask for partials after reading the attached first chapters. So, for now I am leaving it as is, but I'm keeping an open mind for later changes.



  58. Wen Prior on June 14, 2010 at 1:21 AM

    >Great post! Oh yes, it's happened to me. I've been lucky enough to get feedback from a few agents who've read fulls of mine. I took everything they had to say on board, and if I agreed, I worked on the things they suggested. Or, if I got more than one agent say the same thing, then I followed that advice.



  59. Francis on June 14, 2010 at 1:19 AM

    >What a wonderful post! I must say, of all the publishing-related blogs I follow, yours is one of my favorite.

    It must be tedious at times to stick to a daily schedule for delivering posts, and you manage to do it extremely well.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to do this everyday and help us on our path to publishing!



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