Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

What Kind of Feedback Do Writers Need? What Helps Them Most?


Our last post had me offering to put your name and Bio and web link in a Special Listing in my forthcoming book.

All it takes is getting the free copy of Notes from An Alien and giving some feedback.

I need to quote part of C. M. Marcum’s comment on that post:

“But we’re such good friends now. Why spoil it?

“No, seriously, I have run the gauntlet of writing sites and I have found the relationships to be dreadfully one-sided.”

I think part of that one-sidedness is folks not knowing what writers really need when it comes to feedback. Though, I think C. M. knows exactly what kind of feedback to give, even if it’s not appreciated :-)

People who give feedback on a WIP [work-in-progress] are sometimes called “beta readers”.

I’ve even known writers who only let beta readers have their WIP if they follow a prepared outline of what questions to answer about the piece.

Personally, the very worst form of feedback is, “Great job!”, and its many variants.

If they meant those words, fine, but what was “great” about it? And, if they didn’t mean it and were thinking they “protected” my feelings, the faux-comment is actually an attack against honesty and fairness. “This sucks!”, is much more welcome…

There’s an interesting discussion about what writers want and need in feedback at the Absolute Write Water Cooler.

One of the most interesting comments was: “Beta readers should be used to critique story effectiveness.”

Exactly! What effect does the writing have on you? What did it make you think? What did it make you feel? What was your response to various characters? Was the storyline understandable? Where did the piece disappoint you? Why did it disappoint you?

Another person in that forum thread said: “…’train’ your beta readers to read with a pencil in hand. Have them mark any section, phrase or word that pops them out of the story, even if they have no idea why it did. Sometimes that’s all you need to see a problem.”

Now that is some excellent advice :-)

I’ll end this post with some quotes about feedback and critiquing:

“A guest sees more in an hour than the host in a year.”
~ Polish proverb

“Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.”
~ Christopher Hampton

“Constant, indiscriminate approval devalues because it is so predictable.”
~ Kit Reed

“Don’t judge any man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.”
~ American Indian saying

“It is easy – terribly easy – to shake a man’s faith in himself. To take advantage of that, to break a man’s spirit is devil’s work.”
~ George Bernard Shaw

“He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.”
~ Abraham Lincoln

“When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.”
~ Oscar Wilde

“Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee; rebuke a wise man and he will love thee.”
~ The Bible

“To escape criticism – do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”
~ Elbert Hubbard

Please, leave your feedback and criticism in the comments :-)
[ The Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-]
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16 responses to “What Kind of Feedback Do Writers Need? What Helps Them Most?

  1. Karla Telega February 3, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Honestly, I’m one of those who doesn’t want to hurt their friends’ feelings. I’m in a writer’s group where we read selections of our work, then get feedback. The one time I gave negative feedback, the guy got really testy with me. Kind of sours me on the group, not only because he can’t take criticism, but also because people are reluctant to criticize my work.

    I don’t have a lot of experience with critique, but I’ll be happy to have a lash at yours if you want.

    Like this

    • Alexander M Zoltai February 3, 2011 at 11:53 pm

      Oh, do, please take a lash to my writing!

      The post before this one has all the links to get a copy…

      Like this

  2. Simone Benedict February 3, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Who said criticism is the highest form of flattery? :-) I always liked that one.

    Like this

    • Alexander M Zoltai February 3, 2011 at 11:57 pm

      Uuuuh… I think that was “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

      Like this

      • Simone Benedict February 4, 2011 at 12:26 am

        Are you sure? Oh my gosh I just laughed so hard I teared up and that’s the first time today!

        Like this

        • Alexander M Zoltai February 4, 2011 at 12:44 am

          I’m pretty sure but at least 75% of what I used to be sure of is now suspect, so……….

          Like this

  3. cmmarcum February 4, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Um, I agree with this blog 99.9 percent. However, I would strongly urge all writers to ‘sweetly’ dismiss all comments of a fluffy nature, such as, ‘This is great.’ And to ‘politely’ ignore all comments of a toxic flavor, such as, ‘This Sucks.’ Unless the commenter can give you specific reasons why they like it or why the hate it, their opinions are of no value. In most cases, I find that the people who make these kind of statements do not have the wherewithal to discuss the topic in question.

    But always be affable and open. Who knows, maybe someday someone who can converse with you will come along, and you will want to have a reputation of being an agreeable person. In other words, Fake It. whahaha. :)

    Like this

    • Alexander M Zoltai February 4, 2011 at 5:22 pm

      C. M., I agree 99.9% with your comment :-)

      I think, “This Sucks!”, has a wee bit more value than, “This is great!”. At least you know there’s one more reader who dislikes your work. With, “This is great!”, you can’t tell if they really like it. They may be lying…

      Your point about being sweet, affable, and open is critical to a successful writing career!!

      Like this

  4. HaleyWhitehall February 5, 2011 at 4:12 am

    Again another excellent post! All too often I have gotten vague comments like “good job” or “this didn’t work for me.” I have gone through the process of training beta readers it takes a lot of time. However, it is worth it. I will definitely visit your link to the watercooler discussion.

    I agree with you I’d rather be told the ugly truth about my writing than for someone to protect my feelings. If I don’t know what I need to fix I could share a horrible piece with a wider audience. Doing this would misrepresent my skills as a writer. Over time I’ve learned how to accept and filter feedback. I believe those skills are extremely important.

    Like this

    • Alexander M Zoltai February 5, 2011 at 4:20 am

      Thanks for the encouraging words, Haley!

      You said, “…I’ve learned how to accept and filter feedback.”, and, during the journey with my WIP, I’ve opened up my writer’s cave to many visitors, not all of whom like or understand the book. Still, I’ve held each and every piece of feedback close to my heart. Some burned and I got to smell the smoke. Some gave a crushing blow and I got to learn stamina. Some poured soothing balm and I got to experience confirmation. All taught me something…

      Like this

      • HaleyWhitehall February 5, 2011 at 4:23 am

        How true! I think it is important to hold all feedback close to your heart. I couldn’t have explained the wide variety of feedback experiences more beautifully. I just love what you wrote: “Some burned and I got to smell the smoke. Some gave a crushing blow and I got to learn stamina. Some poured soothing balm and I got to experience confirmation. All taught me something…”

        Like this

      • Simone Benedict February 5, 2011 at 4:53 am

        Yipes! On the burning and crushing. I think I’ll stay in my writer’s cave. My heart couldn’t take it at my late age. I’m not sure I understand why anybody wouldn’t understand your book. I thought it was all pretty clear and I’ve never read a sci-fi work in my entire life. I remember winging it if I was assigned one at school.

        Like this

        • Alexander M Zoltai February 5, 2011 at 6:13 am

          Ah! The soothing balm flows!!

          Thank you, Simone, for being a reader who thinks my writing is clear. My sister and brother-in-law were two who “couldn’t get into it” :-)

          Like this

          • Simone Benedict February 5, 2011 at 6:39 am

            Oh. You are brave. I only let people who are close to me see my work if it’s published. That’s only because I can take a let-down easier than I can people I’m close to. Have you done any work to identify a target audience and market to it?

            Like this

            • Alexander M Zoltai February 5, 2011 at 7:03 am

              “Have you done any work to identify a target audience and market to it?”

              Great question! I know who I “wish” would read the book–young, slightly antisocial folks. But, I think, because it happens 12 light-years from here, people will pigeon-hole it into Sci-Fi. If I had to give it a genre, I’d call it Speculative Historical Biography.

              As far as marketing it, I’m trying hard to engage other writers and hope they have readers who might like it. I will be submitting to about 30 Blog-review sites, mostly Sci-Fi accepting.

              I also consider this blog to be a “marketing” tool but more from the standpoint of “if they like me and my ideas, they may like my book”…

              There is more I’m doing but it’s 2am here and I must now force myself to sleep :-)

              Like this

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