When to Stop Asking for Feedback

Pat Z. Miller’s post on Monday, about getting great early reviews (hooray!) for Sophie’s Squash, got me thinking about feedback—the times when it’s helpful, and the times when it’s not.

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 DairmanTara 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.

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9 Comments

Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Panic, Writing

9 responses to “When to Stop Asking for Feedback

  1. This is something I’ve thought a lot about over the course of writing my novel. Getting feedback has played an essential role in helping me get my manuscript where I want it to be, but it’s also propelled me into some major setbacks and wrong turn detours because of that second-guessing you mention in your #2 scenario. I think the problem for me was often that I didn’t have a firm enough grasp on what I was trying to do with my novel, so when I’d hear these wonderful, creative suggestions I’d want to try to incorporate ALL of them. Being a people pleaser at heart isn’t a very useful trait for revisions. In the drafting stage, I think it’s best to wait to solicit feedback until you have a strong handle on your story, at least in your head if not on the page. It’s easier, then, to discard the good ideas that aren’t good for your story. Unless of couse you’re wanting feedback to help you shape your idea in the first place.

    Great post, Tara!

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  2. “Being a people pleaser at heart isn’t a very useful trait for revisions.”

    Yes. This!

    Jenn, what an interesting take on it! I hadn’t thought about the possibility of too much feedback early on also being detrimental. I’m guessing that this issue may vary a lot author to author, depending on personality. Thank you for sharing!

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  3. I definitely have a “sweet spot” for seeking feedback, after learning the hard way like you, Tara and Jenn! Too early and I just get confused about what I’m trying to do, the idea loses its shine, and I end up dumping it prematurely because all the fun is gone. Too late–after several rounds of editorial revisions–and, well, it’s too late! I have discovered, though, that it helps a lot to be specific with critiquers about where you are in the revision process and what sort of feedback you’re looking for. Most experienced writers will know what that means and can keep early ideas from getting trampled while giving great late revision sanity checks.

    I am definitely looking at the prospect of professional and reader reviews after publication with mixed feelings, though. On the one hand, I’ll be glad it’s finally out there and excited and humbled if ANYONE takes the time to read it. On the other, I somehow need to grow a much thicker skin between now and then. 😉

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    • “I have discovered, though, that it helps a lot to be specific with critiquers about where you are in the revision process and what sort of feedback you’re looking for.”

      Great point, Laurie. And I take full responsibility for telling my new readers to give me general feedback in that late stage in Scenario #2. They were only following my instructions. Now I’ll know for the future to be more specific.

      As for growing a thicker skin before professional reviews come out…yeah, I need to do that, too. Maybe if we just encase ourselves in layer after layer of ugly sweater, we’ll be OK? 🙂

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  4. I’m so glad you posted this!!!! Great advice. One of my advisors at VCFA told me to close the door on feedback during the draft phase, because you’ll get eight different opinions. Best to wait till revision. I did find that gaining feedback was better for me before I started querying agents. My beta readers spotted the things that needed to be corrected.

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    • Glad you connected with the post! Yeah, I know that some people don’t like to get feedback during drafting. I draft so slowly that I find I need some feedback along the way just to keep me motivated to finish, but I can definitely see how that might not work for everyone.

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  5. Yeah, I’ve definitely dealt with the right and wrong times for feedback and think your guidelines make sense. The issue I struggle with now is having the time to get feedback from anyone besides my editor. The deadlines are too many and I write too slowly.

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  6. Pingback: PARCHED launches! | tara dairman

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