We talked about how to find critiquers and beta-readers as well as about how to figure out what kind you need, but let’s talk about one last important thing regarding this area before we move on to a new discussion. You have to know how to sort out the constructive feedback you get from the destructive feedback. So let’s dive in and talk about each.
We’ll start with constructive feedback or criticism. This is, obviously, the kind you want, but sometimes it can be hard to tell whether something is constructive or not. Not everyone who offers destructive feedback is a troll or someone who just hates you and your book. Many times, they’re very well-intentioned and think they’re helping. So, how do you know the difference in those cases?
First, constructive feedback is going to be relevant. It will be commentary on areas that don’t fit the needs of your audience, things that are just outright incorrect (usually grammatically), or areas that aren’t clear. This by no means an exhaustive list, but typically, constructive criticism is going to focus more on what is wrong than specific ways to fix it. The ways of fixing it come as you have a discussion with the individual offering the feedback. While that individual may offer some ideas for how you might go about fixing something, they may not always know, so more questions are typically necessary to figure out what the best solution for the problem will be.
Please note that we’re talking about people doing more of a high-level review of your book. They themselves may not be writers, and they very rarely are editors. You want your critique partner or beta-reader to be someone from your audience, not someone looking at your book for how to make it read like a best-seller. An editor, if you have chosen well, will know enough about writing and, ideally, your genre to know whether or not something will work to make your fiction marketable, not just a bunch of text you put together in a semi-useful way. The editor does a different job from a critique partner or beta-reader, so you won’t handle that interaction exactly the same way.
Second, constructive feedback will be specific. What do I mean by that? Well, you’re trying to make sure everything in your book is clear, engaging, and focused. A reader will notice points in the book where this isn’t the case, and if you’re getting good feedback from a beta-reader or critiquer, they will too, and they will make note of it. They will not offer you a general, vague opinion of the book. That’s something a general reader might do, but it’s not much use to you if you need to fix anything.
Finally, constructive feedback will be an honest assessment. And by honest, I mean frank about the good and the bad. Constructive feedback has to recognize both what you’re doing well and what you’re not so that you can keep the good and fix the bad. If all it points out is the good stuff or only the bad, you’re imbalanced in your perspective. Only good things will result in an inflated view of how good the book really is. But overwhelming commentary on all of the bad undermines your confidence, causes you to write poorly, and results in you–most often–changing even those things that weren’t bad to start. The person offering the feedback will, of course, have their own biases, but you want to find someone who will offer their opinion in addition to clear feedback on things that are obviously working well or working poorly. You don’t want them to try to change the entire point of the story, but you do want them to help you see what you may not.
In most ways, destructive feedback is the opposite of constructive feedback. So we’ll just briefly go over what signs to watch for with destructive feedback. Destructive feedback will often be feedback that tries to change the heart of the story. It isn’t correcting a problem that actually is real. Instead, it’s just feedback on everything the reader personally didn’t like about the book and an essay on what they would write if they were you. That’s clearly not helpful, and if you follow that kind of advice, your book will change with every reader. You’ll end up destroying anything that was good about the book to start.
Destructive feedback is also feedback that’s irrelevant, too general, or unbalanced. Any of these can derail a book and the entire story you were trying to tell. Allowing someone who predominantly offers this kind of feedback to influence your decision-making process is extremely unwise.
A Word of Caution
Please know that many people give a mix of the two kinds of feedback. Unless they really just hated the story, they’re probably going to have some feedback that is helpful and constructive with some feedback that is destructive mixed in there as well. It’s just how this sort of thing tends to work because everyone has different ideas of what makes a good book. Not everything you have will be their preference, even if it might not be a problem. That’s why getting a few different people to critique or beta-read is extremely useful for writers.
In the end, unless someone is only giving you destructive feedback, don’t toss them out as a possible option simply because you see some destructive feedback in the mix. Be fair and be realistic. If you were reviewing something for someone, you’d have a mix of feedback too. And if you were the one doing it, you wouldn’t think twice. A mix of feedback would be acceptable. So, afford your critiquers and beta-readers the same leniency you’d give yourself here. Just make sure that, when you look at the feedback, you sort through to see what you should keep and what you should toss.
That’s it for today’s Thursday Technicalities. I hope this has been helpful for you all! This also concludes the section on critiquers and beta-readers. On upcoming Thursday Technicalities, we’ll be discussing editors and the principles surrounding the editing process. I hope to see you all join me for those posts as I know this is an area that many authors are unsure about, particularly when it comes to self-published authors. Until then, have a great week!