Feedback is one of the most important things a writer can receive. Aside from sales, I suppose. The trick is finding someone reliable to give feedback that you find valuable, and knowing what to do with that feedback once it’s been given.
This was a hard lesson I learned the first time I submitted Falling Apart to publishers. I’d had several people read it over for me and offer suggestions, but the feedback I received once it had been submitted was less than enthusiastic. MLR Books offered me thorough critique from one of their editors, with a bulleted list of things to work on, and one of their points was that I needed to find a good beta reader. This crushed me, because I’d had a beta reader. Several, in fact. (For those who are just catching up, a beta reader is someone who reads through a story after it’s been edited at least once by the writer – a sort of second set of eyes. An alpha reader reads a very rough first draft, but betas get to look at a more polished, cleaner version.) I’d sent it through alpha and beta reads at that time, but there were still things that were messy. In retrospect, they were exactly right about nearly everything. I needed someone–or several someones–to go through and critique it with a hard eye, cut it down to size, and tell me where exactly things needed to be fixed.
This is where the feedback from MLR was super helpful. I had a list of things to start changing. I immediately went through and worked on whatever they suggested, as much as I could. Then I cast a net far and wide, searching for readers. I didn’t get (too) discouraged when I didn’t get a ton of response–it’s hard to convince someone to read for free–I just kept looking. Finally I had three or four people, mostly ones who were detached from the process, to read over the story and give me responses. They also had the bulleted list from MLR to go through, and all found that immensely helpful. They had “look fors” and it guided their feedback.
Nowadays, I am still looking for dedicated beta readers with whom I can exchange stories and feedback (tit-for-tat). I don’t have anyone dedicated quite yet. That said, I do have a handful of close writer friends who are willing to read and critique almost anything I churn out (including the dreaded fanfiction).
All of this is to say that today, I’m in editing mode. My office is closed because here on the east coast, we don’t know how/aren’t equpiped to handle six inches of snow, and everything is shut down. I’m working on a story to submit to an open call, and I’m nearly done. Unfortunately, the feedback I’ve gotten to date has been “It’s great! Just edit it some and it’ll be perfect!” That’s not quite how my brain works, and I’m grateful that one person in my life has been more than willing to step up and offer me her thoughts. I already feel as if the story is stronger, just from one round. I look forward to future rounds. Editing is my favorite thing to do, even more than writing. I have one more reader with whom the story is pending, someone who cracks me up and leaves me grinning every time I read his feedback (once, he expressed his offense that I didn’t know the parallels between Godzilla and the environmental threat of nuclear energy, and used Godzilla as a metaphor for rage instead. It was funny, I swear). His comments on my sex scenes range from, “Are we sure that’s spelled like that?” to “Ouch. I think they need more lube first.” It’s always a delight.
I’m grateful for the feedback I do receive, and I look forward to getting more of it. I hope one day to find dedicated critique partners, but until then, I have a great group of writer friends to help.