Typically when something makes me angry, I’m tempted to immediately fight back with an extremely pissed off torrent of logic that overwhelms my opponent. Just ask my partner. I know it’s not the best reaction, so I’ve worked hard to chill out a bit and take some time to process my reactions before word vomiting all over everything.
But when something is still actively angering me a month later, I think it’s worth talking about.
Upon hearing about all the revisions I’ve done based on critique partner and agent feedback, two separate people have made comments that really stuck in my brain. I attempted to play it cool at the time and tried to brush the comments off, knowing they weren’t intended to hurt me. Both people were writers who were going through that awful period when you’re getting critiqued for the first time and learning to deal with the pain and aching pride. But months later, I still haven’t forgotten those words.
One casually asked, in a somewhat condescending tone: “So, you’re writing for the masses, right? That’s your goal?”
The other made blatant comments about “selling out” and how revising based on feedback makes it “not my book anymore”.
If you are writing only for yourself and have no particular interest in whether anyone actually reads or enjoys your work, then perfect. Don’t revise. Don’t get others’ opinions. That is completely fine and valid and wonderful. But if that’s your goal, then don’t submit your work to others for critique. And definitely don’t be surprised that when you ask for opinions, you get them.
If you are writing with the hope that people will eventually read and enjoy your book, though, you must seriously consider reader feedback.
Here’s the thing. For me, the biggest part of being critiqued is making sure readers are getting the experience from the book that I want them to have. When I get feedback that the pacing in my first chapter is dragging, I don’t change it to “appease the masses”; I change it because I’m not evoking the feeling in my readers that I was hoping to achieve. I’m changing it because I’m not fulfilling my vision for the book. If my goal is to deliver a fun, fast-paced space adventure and I get feedback that the pacing is off, you’re damn right I’m going to fix it. That’s not what I want for my story. At the end of the day, it’s my book, and I want it to be the best book it can be. Revising based on feedback doesn’t make it any less my book. If anything, it makes it even more my book, makes certain that I’m accurately conveying what I’m trying to accomplish through my story. And yes, you know what? I do want to appeal to as many readers as possible because, for me, the goal of writing is to share the story with other people. That means doing what I can to bring readers in while staying true to the soul of the story.
But M, what if the story I’ve written is exactly as I want it to be and I don’t want to make any changes based on reader feedback? That’s fine, but you have to live with the fact that some readers—possibly most readers—won’t connect with what you’ve written. They’ll stop after a few chapters and never make it to that beautiful scene at the climax of the book that you so want them to experience.
But if they only gave it a chance! You need to give your readers a chance, too. If you want to share your story with them, you need to meet them halfway, invite them into your world. I’m not talking about changing anything critical about your story or watering down your style, language, or complexity. I’m talking about paying attention to things like pacing, cutting self-indulgent scenes that don’t serve a purpose, and acknowledging reader reactions to your writing as valid. Sure, you can write whatever you want—but readers can also react however they want. Again, it all comes back to goals, but if your goal is to have readers magically understand your artistic vision… good luck.
Maybe you will be one of those hole-in-one authors that gets it right without outside feedback. There’s always a chance. But don’t rely on being the exception. Put in the work. Grow that thick skin. Care about your readers.
Deliver the story you want to tell.
(I’ve written two other posts about critiques: On Receiving Critiques and Critiques and Cultivating Self-Awareness)