Constructive feedback is a great thing. Especially if solicited (and sometimes even paid for), thoughtful critiques of one’s performance can help make any performance better.
Except for this: sometimes feedback is contradictory. When you solicit feedback from multiple people, even multiple experts, you can get advice that is all over the map. People like different things. So what do you do with that?
I’ve been figuring this out lately as I’m gearing up for one more round of novel edits. I received lots of helpful feedback from various beta readers. Then, this spring, I decided to hire a few professional fiction editors to render their verdicts and tell me what to change (my plan is to self-publish it this fall, so I wanted professional advice before putting it out there).
Here’s how I’ve been figuring out what to use and what I can’t:
If the vast majority of readers say something, there’s probably something usable in that. It could be that they all hate a section, or they all love a section. In and of itself, that doesn’t mean you should cut it or leave it exactly as it is, but it’s good guidance.
If some piece of feedback makes you go “wow, that’s a good idea,” then you should use that. My novel basically consists of 3 parts; one editor noted that since it’s about basketball, it should be in 4 quarters. I’m quite taken with that idea (even if I’m not quite sure how to divide it).
It’s OK to use the feedback you like most. Feedback is partly about what people like and what they don’t. Likewise, there are kinds of books I like and kinds I don’t, and I’m not going to write one that goes in ways I wouldn’t enjoy reading in someone else’s novel. It is my book.
If you disagree with feedback, probe to see the reasoning. Often there are ways to achieve the same goal in other ways, and you may agree with the goal, if not the specific suggestion.
Lots of feedback is better than minimal feedback. Even though it’s sometimes confusing, I prefer to have lots of opinions, because it helps me keep any individual one (even lavish praise!) in context.
How do you figure out what feedback to use? Have you ever gotten contradictory feedback on something that’s important to you?