Feedback Scenario #1: Early (prequery, pre-book-deal) days
When I finished writing Gladys Gatsby (well, thought I’d finished!), the occasional friend or family member would ask me if they could read it. They probably didn’t expect the file to show up in their inbox before they’d even finished the sentence, but hey, I was a newbie author—unsure whether she’d ever be published, and desperate for readers and reactions.
The kind souls who suffered through that early draft hardly ever said anything critical about it, even when I pressed. Remember, they weren’t fellow writers, but people who were related to me, or had at least known me for a long time.
The tough love that draft really needed didn’t come its way until I took advantage of online critique opportunities and started to meet fellow aspiring novelists. And hooray for that feedback! It made the novel so much stronger, and eventually nabbed me an agent and a book deal.
Conclusion: There’s plenty of time to make big changes, so this is a good time to seek out fresh feedback on your story.
Feedback Scenario #2: The 11th hour of edits
A year and a half (and some more hard revising) later, I was on my final round of edits for my editor. I finished a section a few weeks early and had doubts about one element, so I sent it out to some fellow writers—folks I had beta’d for, and whose work I liked, but who had never read any of my writing.
These crit partners were fabulous, proposing all sorts of ingenious workarounds for the issue I had asked for help with. But the problem was that they didn’t stop there. I’d told them that I was open to any kind of feedback they might have for me…and they delivered some big-picture questions I hadn’t anticipated.
Did I really need that backstory in chapter 3? Had I thought about playing up the quirkiness more throughout?
These were issues I’d addressed in previous rounds with my editor; choices I had already made and accepted. We‘d decided together to sacrifice some quirkiness for realism, to expand the backstory to establish Gladys’s motivation for loving food. Hearing those decisions questioned by new readers—when I was otherwise basically at the polishing stage on the manuscript—was pretty disconcerting.
“You worry too much about what other people think,” my husband told me when my second-guessing finally reached a fever pitch.
“Story of my life, dude,” was my clever retort. “Now, please pass the chocolate.”
He was onto something, though—at least regarding that round of revisions. The polishing stage is probably not the time to start asking new readers for general feedback. It’s the time to trust yourself and your editor, and to commit to the choices you’ve made.
Conclusion: Close to a deadline may not be the best time for your fragile writerly psyche to invite fresh feedback.
Feedback Scenario #3: Postpublication
Your edits are done. The ink/e-ink is dry/(pixelated?). Bring on the industry reviews, newspaper columns, Amazon customers, Goodreaders, etc.!
(At least, that’s how I hope I’ll feel a year from now. Check back in with me then. 🙂 )
Conclusion: Once the book is published, there’s not much you can do to keep feedback at bay. So brace yourself.
Wise fellow writers, what do you think? Are there points in your process when you close yourselves off from feedback?
Tara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Stars, her debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.
Find her online at taradairman.com.