Take it or leave it...?
When given feedback from people who have been kind enough to read our work, how much do/should we take into consideration as we revise? I've found myself in a situation where a friend of mine, who has a masters in fiction writing and is working on his own novel, read through a draft of my memoir and made so many comments and suggestions for revision that if I took it all into consideration, I would be writing a completely different book. I'm not sure if my draft is really that terrible (which is very possible), or if he is just coming from a different perspective since he prefers fiction. Regardless, I'm feeling overwhelmed by the critique he offered, and I'm not sure where to go from here.
So what criticism do we take and what do we leave behind? Has anyone else ever found themselves into this situation before? If so, how have you handled it?
Well, in my experience, as a newbie, unpublished fantasy fiction writer, I take everything a reviewer offers with a grain of salt. You have to mull over what he says, and see what you, the Author, agrees on. Then you have to go from there. Do you feel he might be right on some points, but not on others?
I suggest sifting through the review and jotting down the points you find helpful/understandable. Then, in a different slot, write down what confused/didn't sound helpful. I also suggest getting different opinions. When a group of different people have the same misgivings on certain areas, that usually means it does need work. But make certain these people read your genre fairly regularly, and know what they're talking about. And that their reviews are thorough, and not just 'I liked this story/Needs work'.
Unless your writing is in need of serious revision--which I doubt, having just skimmed a bit of your manuscript That's What She Said--I wouldn't contemplate changing the story. You're the author, it's your story to show. Follow what your heart says. If you become sick by the thought of following his advice to the T, then it's probably your subconscious trying to warn you against doing so. However, you must take into consideration his background. You said he writes fiction, correct? Does he read memoirs? Can you say he's fairly knowledgeable on them?
Keep these questions in mind when reading a review. Unless this person knows what he's talking about, some of his ideas might be good, and others not. It's up to you to make the decision on what you agree with, and what you don't.
Again, hope this helps. And I plan on reading more of That's What She Said. It peaked my interest, though it'll probably take me a while to finish a review, depending on how much I decide to read.
Newbie Writer, Amber
Amber's comments are spot on. It's your book. But take a serious look at what he said. There may be some validity in his comments. Also, the world between memoirs and novels is different.
I take my reviewers seriously. I have two, and they are both accomplished writers themselves.
One is a sentence-smith. He taught me what a sentence is for, and where I can stick my adjectives and adverbs. He makes suggestions to change the sound and feel of sentences to reinforce the tone of a scene. I adopt at least half of what he says.
The second is a story consultant. She reviews the overall impact of the story. Does it seem plausible? Does it make sense? Do the scenes hang together? Does the story move along, or does it drag? Does it have the impact I'm trying for? Important input from a good writer.
I have the luxury of being able to sit it their kitchens and debate their reviews. I get the full picture, not just the marginal notes.
When they are done with me, and I am done with them, I am sure enough about my stories so that I've rejected almost all of what my publisher's editor has offered.
Some of the comments I've received have confirmed what I already suspected. Some that I have not agreed with have nonetheless pushed me in a slightly different direction, probably for the best, though it may not feel like it at first. You learn something about your work, and about yourself, in the process. It is always good to have to defend your choices.
It's your book.
Some people who read your book think they must find things "wrong" with it and make suggestions all over the place, with great glee. But some of them may not have the expertise to know what's wrong, what's good, what needs changing and how to change it.
You can head off problems by asking specifically for the kind of feedback YOU find helpful. You can be direct (polite but direct) and say "I'm interested in knowing any part of the book that you find confusing or boring (give page number, if you can) but please do not tell me how to fix it. That's my job." Or "I'm concerned about the transitions in chapter 23--are they confusing? I didn't want to annoy readers by repeating the same information, but if it's not clear that all this happens the same afternoon, in the same city, then I need to beef them up." Or, "As you know, I'm a fly-fishing enthusiast, and to me the "river" section is perfect, but for you who don't fish (you poor souls) is it just a bit too much? A lot too much?"
The most useful comments are those that give the reader's feelings about something--confusion, boredom, excitement, satisfaction. If a reader is confused, it's up to you to make whatever it is clear...but how you do it is up to you. There are always multiple ways to deal with such things, and someone else's suggestion may not be as good as what you do.
So although just ignoring comments isn't a good idea, neither is trying to do everything everyone wants--that way lies chaos. Have your own vision, and pay most attention to signs that you're not communicating your vision clearly enough--not that your vision is wrong.
Hey, I'm also in the revision process and it can be difficult to decide how to "fix" my book. But, it is so necessary and important! So, how to handle well-meaning advice:
Most confusing for me, is that I've had beta readers give me conflicting advice. One beta reader LOVED a scene, but another said I should cut it. Eventually, it came down to my own judgement (as it always does) and I had to choose what was best for my book. I decided to cut it because it wasn't moving the story along in the right way. Meh. It happens. I saved it on a separate file on my computer so if I'm feeling nostalgic, there it is...
The bottom line is that I take suggestions/critiques really seriously because I think most reviews point to problems that future readers will notice. So, think carefully about the reviewer is saying. I honestly don't think a lot of beta readers are being any harsher than readers will be (I've read reviews on amazon.com and readers will really tear into plot holes or mistakes or whatever).
Also, I agree with Amber that it's best to get multiple opinions. This business is subjective, so take that into consideration.