Critiques and Edits: Which Feedback Should I Trust?

A new author preparing to “workshop” part of her manuscript asked what I thought about the process. (She’s taking a class that offers feedback from fellow participants and an instructor after reading an excerpt.)

Ah. My advice about advice? I live on both sides of this question: I’ve been edited by others – and edited work by others – for more than two decades.

Install a frame: Feedback is just a set of ideas.

We get and give feedback all the time. Imagine asking a friend about your haircut. Your friend could be a hairdresser or salon owner, but you’re also an expert, because it’s YOUR hair.

Even if you’re planning to hire editors, early readers can help. These “beta readers” might be part of a critique group you’ve joined, or you can select friends, relatives or other contacts who are either members of your target audience or able to advocate for them.

Feedback can be detailed or general, and you can shape the type of feedback you receive by asking questions. (There is no magic list. If you’re stumped about which questions to use, search for “What to ask beta readers,” and shop from those results.)

Create a filter: Consider a reviewer’s bias and background.

If you’re in a workshop or class, get to know your fellow participants and try to gauge how well they represent or understand your ideal readership. Consider whether the class environment is supportive, harsh or too safe.

Beta readers with a close relationship to you may not be comfortable with the feedback process. They might hold back, or their strong opinions could create friction in your household or extended family. Personality can also affect how feedback is delivered.

Empower yourself: Edits and critiques are NOT about validation.

Every creative work is loved by some and overlooked or even hated by others. You can keep your ears open to new ideas without giving your reviewers the power to decide whether you are a “good writer” or not.

You are the true owner of your work.

Some comments will generate a reaction in you, whether positive or negative. Sit with those; take a closer look. Perhaps you wind up making the changes as recommended, or perhaps the feedback inspires a new approach to fixing a problem spotted by your reviewers.

In the case of a manuscript, an author may hire a developmental editor and a copy editor to make a book more attractive to an agent or publisher, then face additional edits and rewrites after acceptance. Even then, you may have some battles ahead as you work to balance potential earnings and your contract with what you want to say and how you want to say it.

Remember: Connection matters more than “correctness.”

As an editor, I work for both the author and the audience. I want my suggestions and corrections to preserve the author’s voice or the company’s brand while also enhancing the reader’s experience.

Proper grammar may not create good writing; grammar exists to serve meaning. We follow grammatical rules because the pattern gives the readers a familiar path into a story or message. In some cases, breaking those rules can make content more powerful, more conversational or both.

Whether you’re writing advertising copy, a memoir or fiction, communion with your readers is the ultimate goal.