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Revision Based on Peer Feedback: When to Hold ‘Em and When to Fold ‘Em ~ by Christine Amsden

You’ve done it. You mustered up the courage to show your pet manuscript to others and now you’ve got feedback. You even understand it. Mostly. See The Heart of the Matter: Understanding Critique Feedback

Now what? Do you always make changes where readers see problems? What if two people contradict one another? Here are some simple tools to help you use feedback in the revision process.

Do you always make changes where readers see problems?

There are exactly two times when you should consider making a change based on feedback.

1. Resonance. If a comment resonates with you, if it just makes sense based on what you are trying to accomplish with your work, then you should, of course, make a change.

2. Agreement. If many people agree on a problem or weak spot, you should also seriously consider making a change. You may not agree on the solution that any or all of them offered, but it is typically no coincidence when several people all spot the same issue. It can be hard to decide to make a change in this case, if there is no resonance to go along with it, but here are some things you can do.

What if two or more readers contradict one another?

It can be frustrating when people disagree on an aspect of a story. When one person loves Frank and another thinks he is a jerk, you may find yourself unsure what to do. Let me start by making some observations that may help you put this into perspective.

  1. No one’s work will be universally loved. If you can’t accept this, don’t become an artist!
  2. The very things that make one person fall in love with your work will make someone else hate it.

Number Two is is true in all aspects of life. I don’t like raspberries, but I bet most of you do. If you were hosting a large dinner party, would you choose a different dessert to accommodate my dislike of raspberries? Perhaps a yummy apple crumble or a turtle cheesecake? Now I like your dessert option, but Brian hates cheesecake and Beth isn’t into apples.

In the end, whether the feedback is contradictory or not, you need to consider the same two questions addressed above: “Did it resonate? Do many people agree?” If one naysayer contradicts a group, it is probably safe to listen to the majority opinion. If a group seems split down the middle, you will simply have to be the tiebreaker.

How do I respond to feedback?

Thank you. This is the only appropriate response to someone who has offered to help you by reading your work. Even if you disagree with everything they wrote, even if they were downright mean in their comments, you thank them and do not argue. Your story has to stand alone when it goes out into the world – you won’t be there to hold its hand and back it up with your own answers to people’s comments. If someone asks a question in their feedback, it is rhetorical. You answer it in the rewrite, if at all.

Ask a follow-up question. You may, if you are confused about a remark or need clarification, ask a reader a polite follow-up question.

How do I handle destructive criticism?

It happens. Someone may give you feedback that says, “You suck as a writer. Don’t quit your day job.” If a person gives you criticism that is downright mean, you simply ignore it and do not ask for their help again. Throw it away.

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