Sorting Out Your Feedback Comments: Dealing with Conflicting Criticism

If you have had several people reading your work, conflicting opinions are common.  But what do you do with them?  Your mother says you are brilliant, but then you find this person you’ve never met who thinks your novel needs all these changes!  Huh?

***Smile*** I wish my Mom was still around to tell me how brilliant I am.

First of all, ditch your mother’s opinion.  Her job in life is to support you no matter what.  She thought your mud pies were works of art, remember?  Mommy, Daddy, Sister, Brother… all those great people.  Let them read, but be careful of their praise, no matter how critical you think they normally are.

Anyway… This is where I am going with this post…

I had one beta left from my previous beta run that recently finished a second read of HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT.  He told me that the words I chose were too childlike, and even if I was writing for a teen audience, I should not insult their intelligence, so I should insert some more adult words in the narrative.

In this new and final round of beta readers– reading pretty much the same manuscript– another beta (I don’t know either of them personally, by the way) told me that some of my words are too mature in my narrative for a YA audience.

Talk about contradictions!  One says too mature, one says too childlike.  Exactly the same manuscript.

Mulling it over, I am sticking to my guns and not “smartening it up”.  I appreciate an easy read.  I am sure I’m not the only one.  Even with the Kindle (easier to look words up in the dictionary)  unknown words are annoying, and I either totally ignore them, or if I do look them up, I have spoiled the pacing.  That is not what I want to do to my reader.  I did replace one word he complained about, but I replaced it with a “common speech” word.

Now… dumb it down further?  Hmmmm.

Reader #2’s comments are valid.  The older-sounding words are in the narration, but in a ten-year-old’s POV.  Would he really have the word “furrowed” in his narrative self-conscious?  (It is not inner thought by the way.  That would be a no-brainer.)

In this case, he “furrowed his brow.”  I changed this to “Twisted his brow” and I have to admit she was right.  It flows much better and sounds natural.  She also suggested that no ten-year old even knows they have hair follicles.  (He is getting his hair pulled, and the follicles spring back to his scalp when they let go.)

The follicles I am leaving.  I didn’t find that one as obtrusive.

There is another point when someone furrows their brow, but it is in an adult POV.  That one I will probably leave as well, since the perspective is more “mature”.

So— Sorting out contradicting feedback…

One person says apples, the other person says bananas.  I reviewed their suggestions and gave them strawberries.   Everything I’ve read said don’t try to make one person happy, write to the masses.  I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t like strawberries.

Have you ever had such completely contradictory assessments?  What did you do?


18 responses to “Sorting Out Your Feedback Comments: Dealing with Conflicting Criticism

  1. THIS! THIS!

    i love my critique group – they have taught me so much, and even reading their works has made me a better writer. but i do get conflicting feedback sometimes, and i don’t always know which way to go. one thing that helps is that we meet in person once a month, so we can talk those instances out.

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  3. I lead a very tight supportive crit group that meets weekly. We know each other, our characters, our plots, etc. I TRUST them. When more than 3 of them (we have 7 total) point out the same thing, I see the red flag. And I strongly consider the edit. If it’s only 1 person, I chalk that up to personal preference.

    Someone who hates fantasy will hate your Amish romance. Someone who loves Amish romance will hate your thriller.

    I plan on picking Beta readers based on my target audience(YA Science Fiction) for better usable feedback. We shall see if that works!

  4. Hey Jennifer, returning the favor. Your blogs is one of my favorite. 🙂

  5. I’ve had CPs say they love a particular line and then one comes along and says, delete that line! I generally listen to the majority, but even the one-offs I listen too as they sometimes read deeper and if their suggestion passes my gut test, I make the change. However, some people just like to mess with voice.

  6. It seems like differing opinions are as common as our different reading tastes. 🙂 And it’s incredibly difficult to weed out what you should use and what you should toss. But I think as our writing matures and we gain confidence in ourselves, we’re less likely to be swayed by a single opinion.

    Great post, Jennifer!

  7. My views are very similar. When three or more people identify the same problem or concern, it’s a good sign I need to revise. I also look for responses to a section that are all over the board. Those are areas where I’m not getting the point across the way I intended.

  8. This is so true. And speaking of true – be true to your own voice.

  9. I have had my share, most recently on a work that the reviewer compared to another series of books that I never read. (Since then I have started reading one and don’t even see the simularity.) But even then it hit me hard so I pulled it. Now I am editing it. (Just a few grammer issues so far.) This taught me not to listen to one bad review, maybe it will take two the next time.

  10. Wonderful post! You can run around in circles with critiques. It’s best to take them all in consideration and then go with your gut. 😀

  11. REALLY great topic, Jennifer. On my current WIP, I made the contest rounds of RWA locals last year. It’s human nature that judges bring their own reading/writing preferences to the score-sheet. When I received feedback, I looked for comments that were common to most judges (those got the most time and rewrite attention). I then considered those “one-off” speed-bumps and applied a highly scientific strategy for strawberries/bananas–“it’s my novel, I RULE!”

    I’m fond of Marge-Lawson-taught rhetorical devices and sentence frags (a path my “voice” naturally follows), so I largely ignore the grammar Nazi’s UNLESS a review of my WIP reveals I’ve overplayed my hand with them. OR, a “well, duh” hits my self-talk when I see what I’ve written.

    All but one judge complimented the “snark” and speedy repartee in my voice (er, the voices of my POV characters) and put little happy faces on the pages. One judge said she found my voice “flat”. I ignored her.

    The best advice I’ve received (and, struggle to apply) is NOT to run off to rewrite after a critique.Make notes. Come back later to consider. Get your novel finished. THEN, see if the “offending darling” scene/sentence survives rewrite. A PERFECT first 50 pp doth not a novel sell. I speak with experience on that. Off to write forward now….

  12. Great post, Jennifer; and excellent comments. I don’t have anything new to add, I just like seeing my name in the comment section on great blog sites. *LOL* But I do want to add that I use the exact same criteria Glenn uses. One dissenting opinion is an anomaly. More than two is a legitimate problem. (Two is just an anomaly with multiple personality disorder.) If I have diametrically opposed feedback on something general, I tend to follow the course you do, Jennifer. I generally determine that there’s some weakness in the structure at that point and I figure I’m in for some major corrective surgery to fix it. If the conflicting feedback is regarding something specific, I generally go with whichever feedback comes from the more credible source (and an agent/publisher/editor is ALWAYS a credible source).

  13. I’ve gotten some contradictory feedback myself. Several of my beta readers like that my heroine is a military veteran, but one actually told me I shouldn’t give her that background because I’m a veteran so people might think I’m writing the part for myself. That was a little hurtful because my character’s personality, history, likes/dislikes, and appearance are completely different than me. He said that didn’t matter and that people will make assumptions anyway. My other betas (who are not even people I know outside the internet) reassured me the character is fine and they would never think that. So I’m sticking with her background.

    As for vocabulary, I think everyone has their own preferences. I won’t read much YA just because it tends to be dumbed down and I love looking up words. Even at 14 years old I preferred adult books for this reason. Some other people I know are the same way, but others like narrative/dialog to be kept simplistic so you have to just go with who your target audience is.

    It’s definitely tough to decide what feedback to go with and what not to!

    • Wow, susan. Stop me short why don’t you! I feel a blog post coming on!!!!! Whoever told you to change your character because she might be like you should not be beta reading for you. Write what you know. Your past experience makes your writing more credible. It’s fiction… it is not in the memior section. You made the right choice there.

  14. My sense is that one dissenting critique is just that person’s opinion. Two is a coincidence. Three, I’d better reread the sequence to see if there’s anything wrong. Four or more, there’s no doubt there’s something wrong. That’s just the rules I use with my critique groups and beta readers, y’all mileage may vary.

    And yes, always discount the opinions of partners, family members and friends – it’s their job to support you and make you happy.

  15. great post! I’ve had lots of contradictory opinions on my novel. I usually look at all and find the commonality in all of them. If they all say something in a scene isn’t right, then I’ll look at that scene and try to fix the problem. Otherwise, I go with my gut now. Of course, if an agent or publisher comes back with changes, those I look at a bit closer and take into account a little more because they know what sells. Then again, if I feel really strong about something the editor or publisher didn’t like, and I can back up my belief to leave it a certain way, then I may indulge in a gentle debate to get my way. If it makes or breaks a contract deal, I would think very hard about the changes they want me to make. If they are something I can deal with, I’m going for the contract. Most of the time, the publisher/editor is right.