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Take It or Leave It - On Utilizing Beta & CP Feedback

With another submission round of Pitch Wars having come to a close, and considering I’ve got a batch of beta feedback waiting for me to dive into it, it seemed like the right time to finally write this blog on how to take and utilize beta and critique partner feedback. Just a warning: this ended up one of my longest blog posts to date. I just hope it’s helpful for you all!

Well Pitch Wars 2016 mentees, you did it: you achieved the chance to revise with the help of an awesome mentor. Congrats!

Some of you are floating on cloud nine right now, but others might be staring at an edit letter wondering what the hell you’ve gotten yourself into. OK so maybe you did sign up for this, but really, you didn’t think your mentor was going to ask for this much work. How can they expect you to tear your baby apart? What do they really know anyway, huh? Who made them the expert?

…well, if we’re honest – YOU did, when you submitted to them. (Granted with PW, you also know they had to have some credentials to get to be a mentor in the first place, but still.)

That’s the scary part of sending out your work for feedback, whether it’s for a contest or just to one of your personal betas or critique partners: when you send it, you’re implying that you trust that person’s opinion and judgment on your manuscript. And occasionally, those opinions are harder to swallow than expected.

Let’s be real – we all secretly want to hear that our story is utter genius and can be sent out into the world just as it is, perfect and pure from the very first draft. Is that ever going to happen? Probably not. That’s the reason writers get feedback in the first place: a first or even early draft is basically NEVER perfect.

Trying to gauge what needs to change on our own work is almost impossible. We’re just too close to it; taking an objective look back at a story can be hard as hell to do with any honesty. That’s where CPs and beta readers come in: to be a new perspective on that work. They can see the flaws in what you thought was fabulous, and if they’re good critique partners, they’ll tell you in detail what those flaws are.

But that doesn’t stop it from feeling like a knife in the gut. And often, it’s easy to fall into that default defensive mode: trying to convince those critics that your baby doesn’t have the problem they pointed out – or that you’ve already answered all of their questions in the story already, and they must have not been smart enough to understand the answers the first time they read it. And who knows, you might be right and them wrong. Hell, I once had a critique partner badmouth me to the rest of our writing circle saying my novel was “drivel they couldn’t believe I expected them to read.” Sometimes people are just shitty, and their opinions on a manuscript are worth about as much as the crap they say the rest of the time. (And no, this person is NOT someone I allow in my writing space anymore. Good riddance to bad rubbish and all of that.)

Here’s the thing, though, aside from those outliers, nine times out of ten, your precious darling work of fiction DOES have the issues a critique partner noticed.

So what do you do? How do you deal with the blow that you’re going to need to tear your book apart?

For one, remind yourself that you’re not alone. My last novel had about four drafts/revision rounds before I ever entered Pitch Wars and dove into that revision round. Now, I have a revise and resubmit on the table. So it’s entirely possible that I’ll have done a minimum of six drafts on this book before I ever get an agent or a book deal. And even then, I’m likely to have at least one more revision round with said agent and/or publisher. So eight drafts could happen before the book is published.

And guys – that is not even remotely the exception to the rule. Revision is the rule. Sad but true.

The next thing I’d suggest you do after reading the notes you’ve been given is to step away from the book for a few days. Even giving yourself 24 hours to let your subconscious mull over the edits can work wonders for your peace of mind with regards to revisions as a whole. After giving yourself the time to grieve your “perfect” story, you might look back at the notes and suddenly agree with more of the changes than you first thought. Even if just one or two of the notes resonates with you, you’ll have a place to start working, and trust me, having that direction makes revisions a lot easier to tackle than blindly knowing “OK I need to fix this whole book but how?” BTW, even if not all of the notes make sense to you, know that if multiple people noticed the same issue, then it’s something you’ll need to work on.

Finally, let your mind play with the notes. You don’t have to tackle everything exactly the way your betas and CPs suggested you do. You may have a breakthrough you don’t expect: the problem your critique partner noticed may be solved by something completely different than the way they thought you should fix it. For instance, knowing a POV doesn’t work might not mean changing the perspective completely, but it might mean you need to work on characterization instead. A twist not feeling like it fits the plot might be solved by going back and adding foreshadowing instead of having to rework an entire plot.

Let your edit notes be your starting point, as opposed to an instruction manual. Let them inspire you, not cage you in.

Seriously, y’all a good critique partner is worth their weight in tea and coffee. They’re absolutely something I think every writer should have. But that doesn’t make them the end all be all of your book. You have that role, but even creators need a little help now and again. Let your betas be that help.

So have any of you had to struggle with feedback that you hated at first? Were you able to find a way to work with it after all? Have any tips for dealing with critiques you’d like to share? Let me know on Twitter @C_L_McCollum!

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