So I’m teaching a couple of writers workshops coming up, and I’ll be talking about the various kinds of feedback and critique writers can, should, and will receive throughout the writing and publishing process. I’ve gathered a lot of stories already, but I’d like to hear more from both authors and folks who give solicited feedback: critique partners, writers groups, beta readers, and sensitivity readers.
It’s OK to remain anonymous if you don’t want to out yourself or who you’ve worked with. I’d like to hear stories of when feedback worked well and also when it did not.
Some questions to think about and the type of information I’m seeking:
Which kinds of feedback have you worked with before? Did you discover one type of feedback worked better for you than others? What *didn’t* work for you? How did you go about soliciting the feedback? How did you meet the person or people? Did you thank them publicly/in the book? Did you compensate them in any way? Can you describe to me some specific advice you were given and how it changed the book or story, what you did to revise, and whether it changed the way you wrote future work? Both good and bad experiences would be helpful to hear. How do you decide which feedback to incorporate and which to leave aside?
Beta-readers and critiquers:
Are you also a writer? Do you specialize in some specific type of critique (whether sensitivity reading or specific genre expertise or knowledge i.e. police procedure, medical)? How do you provide feedback? How did you meet the author(s) you have given feedback to? Can you give a specific example of advice you’ve given in the past? Do you feel authors actually listen? Can you give examples of when you feel your advice was taken the wrong way?
For writers who also give critique (either to a critique partner or writers group):
Do you feel like you give the same kind of critique you want to receive? How does critiquing the work of others help your own writing?
Please either leave your responses in comments below (anonymous responses OK, just don’t put your real name or email in the comment fields) or email me at ctan.writer @ gmail.com
Image credit: Mohamed Hansen, Pixabay
Understanding that the feedback is not a shot at you, the person, but at the story, is key. A lover of mine is a beta reader and we often swap sarcastic remarks or “WTF” moments. Sometimes she’ll BUTCHER shit (this is karma for when I was an editor and would tell authors to UNFUCK THIS) haha
The best kind of feedback is thorough, answers the questions I have about the story and helps me move forward. I have one email sitting in my inbox right now from a reader who I asked for a review from and it’s confusing, though thorough. But I won’t discredit them.
Something that helped me was when a reader told me to give some scenery- I write so tight and with such limited viewpoint that orientation (character A is on her knees to my left, character B is on her knees in front of me etc) It helped me deepen the visuals in the story, a thing I need to remember because I am visually impaired.
The feedback I GIVE is harsh and poignant, though my goal, and I tell my authors this, is to make them better writers. If they have big audacious dreams, then me being a hard ass may bruise their ego but it won’t damage them because I preface the edits with “I’m here to help you be the best you can be.”
“I’m here to help you be the best you can be.” — So true, and so key. As an editor I feel like I can dictate things more, though: I can be more like the personal trainer who says do this 20 times right now, whether you like it or not, if you want to be able to deadlift that 90 pound weight. Whereas when I’m just a feedback reader (say, reading a manuscript for a friend), I’m more like a workout partner: hey, you know, I think maybe your feet aren’t in the right place when you try to do that lift and maybe that’s why you’re not getting it up there.
I’m a librarian and reviewer and I beta read for several authors semi-regularly and they have always approached me. Most got to know me through my book reviewing, and sought me out to read their books. I beta read a couple of different ways. I will provide general feedback, in document, similar to an editorial letter, a personalized version of the book reviewing I do, detailing what worked or didn’t work for me, highlighting scenes or interactions that kicked me out of the story because it was unclear or not consistent. I also beta read for specific content, where an author will express they are worried about a specific thing and I will give them feedback as to whether the story worked on that front.
I am Puerto Rican, so I have been hired a few times specifically to read for how Puerto Rico or Puerto Rican characters are portrayed and to give feedback. I have been hired by both Puerto Rican and White writers and thankfully I have always had good interactions and thought the writers were receptive and respectful of my critiques. But I am also very selective, only working with people who have been recommended to me through mutual friends or who I’ve had a lot of prior interaction with and I do charge more when doing a sensitivity read than I would a simple beta read.
As for examples: In one manuscript, I highlighted the portrayals of Puerto Rican family life that resonated with me and then pointed out how using the term Don Juan or Cassanova for Latinx character can bring in harmful stereotypes to mind. . For another writer how an unclear/vague geographical reference would kick a reader familiar with the area out of the story and suggested an alternate location or way of rephrasing that would be less confusing. In both cases the authors and I exchanged a few emails over the sections, discussing intention and ways to rework. In most cases I feel like the authors have heard my critiques, have treated me respectfully and been appreciative of my feedback but each experience also reminds me to be cautious and selective as not everyone is as open to critique as the authors I have had the pleasure of working with.
Ana, thanks for your thoughtful reply! And thank you for the important work you do.
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