I’m in a lot of author (and reader) groups on Facebook, and recently, I’ve noticed a lot of people asking questions about how to deal with beta or editor feedback. So I thought I’d tell you how I do it. 🙂
(I usually work in Google Docs, though Word’s commenting functions work in the same general way.)
So, I sent a book or short story to a beta reader or editor, and now I’ve gotten it back. What next?
First, I just read through it.
If I find something I easily agree with (spelling errors, stupid mistakes), I might or might not hit “accept” as I read. Either way, this is just a preliminary run. The goal is to read, not to change. I don’t have to agree with the edits. I’m just reading.
Second, I put it down and cry.
Okay, really, this step is optional, but I frequently use it. Feedback hurts sometimes, guys, and it’s okay to admit that. I find that I recover faster if I just admit the hurt. So I take a break, rant PRIVATELY (not in public, not on social media!), cry, take a nap, eat chocolate… whatever I need. Sometimes this only takes a few minutes. Sometimes it takes a couple of days before I feel ready to face the feedback again. The more years I’ve spent getting feedback, the shorter this step USUALLY is. Thicker skin is truly something that develops with practice for most people. Anyway, I stay away from the feedback until I feel ready to face it.
Third, I accept the easy stuff.
If I didn’t hit “accept” as I went, I go back and do it now for all the changes I already agree with that don’t require rewriting. Punctuation, grammar, spelling, small word choices, fixing oopsies. All the easy things. Yes to this one, yes to that one, sure whatever, yes, yes, if you say so, yes.
Fourth, I fix or make a list of the harder but obvious fixes.
These are the things I agree I should fix and I see how to fix, but they require actual rewriting, rearranging, additions, subtractions, whatever. Depending how much I’m dreading the rest of the feedback, I’ll either do all the fixes now or start a list to fix later.
Fifth, I reconsider the icky stuff.
These are the reasons why I have the crying step in my process… This is the comment about hating my character. This is the comment about needing more emotion. This is anything I don’t know how to fix. This is anything I don’t agree with. “What do you mean you don’t like my favorite part, buster?”
Unfortunately, this is usually the part that takes the longest. Ick.
I pull out the homework.
I make a list of the might-be-right-but-don’t-know-how-to-fix to ponder and/or discuss with my critique group and set that away for later. Maybe I need to learn a new skill. Maybe I need to rewrite the whole scene or write something elsewhere in the book to support it. Maybe my critique group will tell me the beta reader is crazy and I don’t need to change anything. (Sadly, that’s not the most common answer.) When I figure out how to fix the problems, I’ll come back to them.
“You put in too much world-building here. It’s boring.” Okay, well, most of my readers like my world-building, but let’s look at that page very carefully. What do I absolutely need to have? Keep that, of course. Is there anything that is completely frivolous? Move it to my deleted scenes file. Now the borderline stuff… it adds color and makes the world more realistic, but what’s the minimum amount necessary to do that? Can I cut it in half? Add just a vibrant detail or two? Split it into bits and pieces so it’s less dump-y? Several of the above? Slice, slice, slice.
“Your characters did something stupid.” Did I not give enough mental explanation/motivation? Did I make a change-of-direction too quickly? Did I miss a step in their character arc? Did I skip a setting/plot description that would explain why their decision was necessary under the circumstances? Did I not exert enough pressure on them? Did I leave any “smarter” possibilities open? Do I need a confrontation scene? Did they ACTUALLY do something stupid??
That only leaves comments that might be wrong.
I very carefully read the rest of the comments, one at a time, very slowly. I dissect those suckers down to their component parts, looking for any part that might be right.
Sometimes they’re right about the symptom but wrong about the disease.
“Your ending stinks.” Ouch. WHY does it stink? Let’s go research endings, shall we? Add it to the homework list… (As it turns out, my ending was fine. My lead-up to the ending needed work and a lot more page-time, and I needed a confrontation scene. Now my ending is great, thanks.)
Sometimes the reader is not my audience or doesn’t get the book.
(This kind of comment should rarely come from your editor, or else you have the wrong editor.) “I think you need more romance.” Sorry, honey, this isn’t a romance book. “When are we getting to the sex?” Yeah, never. Actually, if the answer is that simple, they’ll get eliminated in the first round, but sometimes they’re more complicated and I have to think if they fit my genre/book or not. “Why did you skip over the interesting part in the middle? I think there were pirates!” Um, no, there were no pirates, and I skipped the boring journey. And pirates aren’t going to fit. But hey, I can put pirates in a different book for you, okay? “Your use of contractions is lousy.” Well, the different cultures use contractions differently, but I can explain it better, I guess.
Even with these comments, though, I analyze to see if I somehow gave the wrong cues and skewed reader expectations. Do I need to fi something ELSE to avoid making future readers ask the same wrong questions? Depending how far off the comments were, the reader is sometimes added to my do-not-beta list.
Sometimes the reader is just wrong. Or a jerk.
As always, I analyze these comments to make sure I don’t need to change something, somewhere. Then I delete the comments with a fair amount of satisfaction. Take that. If “jerk” is the problem, I also add the reader to my do-not-beta list. Look, don’t be a jerk, people.
By the time I get to this point, I should be finished with everything except my list of homework. Time to go write again!
In a later post, I’ll talk about choosing an editor.
M. C. Lee
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