6 Ways To Make The Most Of Bad Feedback

While writers handing their manuscripts to beta readers are looking for honest notes and help on their work-in-progress, sometimes that feedback is much harsher than they were prepared for.

Maybe the beta reader is a tough critic or that (shock horror) the MS isn’t at the level you thought it was.

This revelation can sting, particularly if you thought what you sent off was the absolute best you could do.

Convinced the MS was more final stage than WIP, in your (humble) opinion, it was completed. You’d done the hard work and critiquing and you know for a fact there were no typos and you just needed another set of eyes to sign off on the okay (and your genius) so the MS could be sent off for querying, submission to that comp, or to self-publish.

But that’s not the feedback you got.

It wasn’t as polished as you thought. The story wasn’t as clear. The MC was (more shock horror) unlikable. There were still typos. Not one, but multiple, even though you’d read, listened, and spell-checked every chapter a million times (yep, a million times. You counted).

It’s deflating. It’s embarrassing. It’s a what-the-hell-do-I-do-now? crying-in-the-shower moment. That “finished” MS still needs work, and you have no clue what to do to fix it, or where to start. You have been given the key, though. That bad feedback that you want to dismiss so easily is where you start.

6 Ways To Make The Most Of Bad Feedback

1) Leave It For A Beat

Don’t respond to the beta, especially if it’s going to be with anything other than a thank you for their time.

Give it a day and then write back with your thank you and to let them know that you’ll be looking over their comments. You can also politely ask if it’s okay to come back to them with some clarifying remarks if need be.

Do not rant at them. Do not tell them they got everything wrong and how dare they say your MS wasn’t perfect because it was (there’s your humble opinion again).

They may have gotten some things wrong. They may have misunderstood what you were writing, but that’s not necessarily their fault. Something in the way you’ve written things could have caused the issue and you need to check for that possibility.

If it’s obvious from their feedback that they misunderstood, or if they’re raising issues no one else has, it’s likely they’ve given you feedback that you don’t need to use. If, however, what they’re saying is right, flying off the handle is not the way to go.

Sit with the feedback before writing back. Process everything before responding and go with that adage of not shooting the messenger. If you don’t, you could lose a valuable beta reader and/or friend.

2) Categorize The Feedback

When you’ve had the time to calm down, read through the feedback at least twice. Once you’ve done that, categorize it.

  • Misunderstood.
  • Needs Improvement.
  • Ignore.
  • Needs Fixing.
  • Good Feedback.

Misunderstood

If your beta’s feedback is based on their misunderstanding of what you’ve written, highlight it and make a note of why. It could be as easy as a typo or a dropped word messing up the meaning of a character’s explanation, which is an easy fix.

Needs Improvement

If a beta has flagged a paragraph because the wording tripped them up, the staging confused them, or the descriptions are over or underdone, categorize it as “needs improvement.”

Ignore

Use this for feedback that you don’t agree with. It could be the beta didn’t like what you named your MC. Or they could have suggested cutting a scene for length’s sake, not knowing it contains important info that is needed to set things up later and they missed the significance (which happens).

Needs Fixing

This is for the feedback that is spot on and you’ve got no problem with fixing what needs to be fixed.

Good Feedback

For your own mental health, if there’s any good feedback (and there should be), flag it and read it when you need a morale boost.

3) Feel Your Feels

Just as you’d be celebrating any feedback that praises your work, you need to embrace the parts that make you feel like you aren’t a good writer so that you can move on.

Maybe it’s right, maybe it’s not. Maybe you need to listen to the feedback, maybe you don’t. Feel it all, the devastation, the frustration, and then put it aside.

Sometimes, people won’t get what you’ve written, no matter how clear you make it. The way they approach things, their own life experiences, the way they would write a story, or what they’d want to see happen as a reader just won’t align with what you have on the page.

That doesn’t make them right or wrong, or you. Just go with what works for your vision of the story. You’re bringing it to life and you have the final say. If you know in your writer-heart-of-hearts how you want the story to be, trust yourself.

4) Go Back With Clarifications

Now that you’ve processed the feedback, categorized it, and felt your feelings, go back to the beta if you need to.

Sometimes, letting them know what you were trying to achieve, clearing up a misconception, or reminding them you had certain info in a specific chapter but they missed it, helps, and you may not need to make as many changes as you thought you would.

Another benefit of clarifications is that the beta can tell you more about the reasons they came to the conclusions they did. In those cases, it may be that you need to make an important mention bigger or add another reminder to a past event somewhere else in the story. If so, add those notes to your categories.

If your beta is open to you asking follow-up questions, remember not to go back defensively. This beta is trying to help you. They want a good book from you too. They have the distance to see your work without rose-colored glasses, so don’t dismiss what they have to say outright.

If they’re nice enough to clarify things for you, listen to them and use what you can to make your book as good as it can be.

5) Break Down The Changes

Remember those categories we assigned our feedback to? Now it’s time to take them and brainstorm your fixes.

After that, go scene-by-scene, and plan the changes you’ll need to make.

With a plan in place, you’ll see it’s not so overwhelming—although it’ll probably still feel that way.

6) Make The Changes

With your plan, you can now make said changes!

Work those words, once again, for the millionth time. Hope, once again, for the millionth time that this is the last time, and then get the MS out to another beta.

Eventually, it will be right. Eventually, the feedback won’t be all bad and your book will be ready to leave your editing desk for the query trenches, all the comps, and the virtual and real bookshelves of the world!

Just remember that it wouldn’t have happened without that bad beta feedback and you making the most of the invaluable help you were given.

— K.M. Allan

Find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

42 thoughts on “6 Ways To Make The Most Of Bad Feedback

  1. Emily Wrayburn

    This is all such great advice! I still cringe when I think about the ranty email my mum sent her co-authors of a small local history book they were writing, because she disagreed with some of the decisions they’d made. She couldn’t understand why “they didn’t even have the decency to reply!”

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Grant at Tame Your Book!

    Another dose of excellent advice! For those who offer no insights but plenty of negativity, I remind myself, “Don’t pay attention to them, don’t even ignore ‘em.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Processing beta feedback is always tricky, and I adjust the process based on the way an individual reader works. If they’re willing to discuss some types of issues (especially misunderstandings and clarity), it can be quite good way to analyze the shortcomings of a story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true, Tom. In the past, I haven’t gone back to betas because I’ve usually been embarrassed/ashamed if they didn’t like something I wrote and I feel bad that I wasted their time, but now I do and most of the time the clarifications actually help and sometimes it really just is a misunderstanding about what was on the page and their further help means I can fix it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. On point as usual, Kate. What sometimes surprises me is when a reader finds a weakness that I knew in the back of my mind should not have been included in the first place. It’s as though they are giving me the permission and motivation to make the change and know with certainty that it improved the story. While some reader feedback may be nothing but criticism, most of it really is “invaluable help”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Alexander! Yes, I totally agree 😊. I’ve had that happen to me too. Sometimes I wish I had of gone with my instincts and removed things I had doubts about first, but if a beta picks up on it too, then I know for sure it isn’t working and can make those adjustments.

      Like

  5. petespringerauthor

    Some people handle constructive criticism better than others. We’re opening ourselves up for criticism when we share our work, but if we genuinely want to grow as writers, that comes with the territory. It’s not fair to ask others to critique our work and then get defensive when they do.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: K.M. Allan – Tales Told in Darkness

      1. Jack "Blimprider" Tyler

        My pleasure. Your posts are always insightful and of considerable use to the more obscure indies among us. I hope my humble efforts bring you some new readers.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Categorizing is such a great way to break down feedback into manageable chunks! I so love that you have categories for feedback to ignore and feedback due to misunderstandings.

    I believe making the most out of any kind of feedback is about honestly taking good advice to heart but also knowing what feedback does not apply to the kind of story you are writing. ❤

    Like

    1. Thanks, Jaya. Yes! I use the categories so that it makes things less overwhelming. Feedback can be hard enough to take, and then sorting through it all to work out where to go next can be disheartening. I find the categories take the sting out of things and help my logical brain to sort what’s helpful and what’s not, so I can make the changes with as little fuss as possible.

      Liked by 1 person

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