Dealing with Contradictory Feedback

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

I frequently receive questions about all the “mixed messages” writers get in the course of writing and publishing their books. One of the kinds of mixed messages we have to deal with is getting contradictory feedback. 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 elicits barely any response from some editors, while others are jumping with excitement.

contradictory-road-signsContradictory feedback can also come when you enter your book in a contest. A client 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.” (This client now has numerous books published.)

How do we deal with contradictory feedback?

  • First, realize this is always going to be the case. Be thankful you’re experiencing it now, so you’ll be ready for when you’re published and it gets worse. Readers will have all kinds of responses to your work, and they won’t all be positive.

If you’re trying to figure out how 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:

  • Note each person’s qualifications for giving feedback. Are they a publishing professional? 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.
  • Do your critics understand 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.
  • 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 will improve the work, and which feel like compromise. Only you can decide.

In the case of my client’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 appeared more conservative and didn’t share the author’s worldview, so was unlikely to enjoy the book anyway. In this type of situation, 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.

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.

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



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