Never the Twain Shall Meet: Knowing Who to Ask for Feedback

I sometimes think it would be easier to strip naked and run down the street during the annual neighbourhood BBQ, than it would be to find out what people think of my book.

These are fleeting moments of insecurity mind you, but still I have a love-hate relationship with feedback.  I love it when it makes my writing stronger.  I hate it when I’m told my writing wasn’t already strong enough.

I’ve spoken to a number of writers about this, and am amazed that most of them turn to family and friends for opinions on their work.  We creative types are a sensitive lot … the thought of someone disliking our work kinda freaks us out – makes us think that by extension, we as individuals are also getting the thumbs down.  So, we naturally turn to the people who will lavish us with adoration.  Pretty human of us, don’t you think?

But I wonder at the wisdom of it.  After all friends and business don’t mix.

My “inner circle” is chomping at the bit to read my book – but I don’t think it would be fair, or wise, of me to ask them to review my work and provide feedback.  None of them are authors, agents, publishers or literary critics.  For the majority of them, fantasy isn’t even their genre of choice.  That is not to suggest I don’t need their constant support during this process however.  Let me give you two examples:

My BFF has already told me that she loves my book (and she’s only seen the synopsis).  But then, she’s my BFF – it’s her job to provide unwavering, unconditional support for all my crazy decisions – like the one to take an extended leave of absence from the secure (and paying) day job to write a story about dragons, mythical creatures and magic (on spec).  Yet, in spite of her many requests, I still won’t let her read the book until it’s published.  But if the book flops, I’ll need her to help me pick up the pieces of my self-esteem.  If it’s a raging success, I’ll need her to help me pick out a wardrobe for the hundreds of media interviews I’ll be doing.

I once left a draft of chapter one on the kitchen counter.  My 13-year-old son happened upon it, read the first few words on the page (“Chapter One – Meeting the Characters”), and panicked.  He asked whether ‘meeting the characters’ was the title of the first chapter.  When I explained that it was only a crib note to myself he relaxed.

“Well, that’s good!” he said, relieved.

“Why?” I asked.  “Were you trying to find a way to tell me – keeper of the xbox and bestower of groundings – that ‘meeting the characters’ sucks as a chapter title?”

He laughed.  “Yup.”

That said, I need his daily support too.  He babysits his sister while I’m writing, helps with the dishes so I can get back to the book, and never disturbs me when the office door is closed.

I think that receiving constructive feedback is essential – especially for a first-time author.  It helps keep me motivated and on track – and it makes me a better writer.  The fact is, I have one shot to make a good first impression with an agent or publisher.  I want to make sure I show them my best work.

That’s why I have Ed.  He’s an award-winning author with 10 novels under his belt.  He knows this business and gives me an honest assessment of my work – from a literary perspective.

My novel is being written from the protagonist’s (Al’s) point of view.  After reading one of my chapters Ed rightly identified that I’d shifted perspective – it was as though the reader no longer saw the action through Al’s eyes.  Instead he had become a third party observing a conversation between Al and his father.  The good news is that is exactly how I saw it in my head at the time of writing – so I know I can describe what I see.  The bad news is that I was seeing it the wrong way.

In all likelihood, the average reader would never identify a shift in perspective – but he would know that somewhere along the line, something went astray.  The story would feel “off” and it would be just enough of a hiccup to break a spell that I, as a writer of fantasy fiction, am working so hard to cast.

Ed also told me – around about chapter 12 – that my book was “becoming a real page-turner.”  I don’t know if he remembers that but let me assure you, I’ll never forget it!

This is the kind of constructive criticism that aspiring novelists need and should seek out.  Friends is friends.  Business is business.  Never the twain shall meet.

Writing a book takes a heck of a long time, and it can be lonely work.  So, when I want a pep talk I’ll turn to my BFF every time.  But, when I want to a better book, I’ll turn to Ed.

About the author 

Valerie Francis

Valerie Francis is a bestselling author, literary editor, and podcaster with a passion for stories by, for and about women.

Each month, Valerie recommends books from literature’s best female authors. Selections come from every genre because women write, and read, in every genre. The Women’s Fiction category offers up some terrific novels, but these days there’s a strong female presence in thriller, horror, crime, and other genres traditionally dominated by male writers. No matter what the publishing companies may think, in the 21st Century, Women’s Fiction is whatever we want it to be.

stories for women, by women, and about women