Which advice do I take?

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?

11 thoughts on “Which advice do I take?

  1. I am a piano teacher, and I have had students play for auditions and receive conflicting comments from the judges. This is when two or three judges are hearing the same performance. I explain to my students that musicians sometimes have differing opinions. I usually take both comments into consideration and decide which might improve my students’ performance of a piece most. The longer I teach, the more confident I feel about whose advice to take. Perhaps if you know the people who are giving the feedback, that might influence your decision, too. If a judge is someone whose talent and expertise are well known, I’m going to take their advice to heart.

  2. I am revising an article that was rejected from a journal earlier this summer, and I have just been sifting through the peer review feedback. It’s always interesting to see the different opinions — one reviewer says the scope of the lit review was just right, while another takes me to task for not including enough detail. I am sure that when I get the next set of reviewer comments, they’ll all have their own ideas about what the manuscript needs.

    Maybe the one lesson I’ve learned from the peer review process is that I have to pay the most attention to the person who makes the final call: I can often decline to incorporate feedback from a reviewer as long as I explain why, but I’d better go line by line through the associate editor’s comments if I’m hoping for a favorable decision.

  3. Not entirely the same as feedback, but on the subject of opinions- I am the queen of soliciting everyones’ opinions. I deal with information overload, but I also get those pieces of information/opinion/observation that have staying power. And I find that invaluable.

    Right now it is regarding homeschooling my oldest or sending her to the school up the street. I have solicited lots of opinions and thoughts from friends and I find it invaluable. (Even though a lot of friends’ opinions contradict each other.) A few thoughts/opinions rise to the top and give me a lot to disagree with, which is (like you said) worth probing.

  4. When I was going through the same process, the thing I considered most was what the advice-giver generally read. If they read a lot in my genre or style, I’d usually weigh their advice more heavily than someone who generally read other genres (even if they were good writers or considered well-read). I had to disregard advice from a bestselling author, because he didn’t think the point of view I used in my novel “ever worked.” But he’d never read any other books with that same POV- many other bestsellers, by the way. So I felt justified not taking his advice.

  5. I have the president and CEO criticizing my management and leadership styles, while my boss and I both think I do well. They are questioning my personality type in an engineering manager position, since I am up-beat, positive and outgoing, oh yeah, and female. I think they have a preconceived opinion of who this person looks like, and I’m not it. But I have been doing well for 2 years in my current position. They have such a limited amount of interaction with me. (CEO=2-3 days/month & president=1-2 days/week.) Obviously their opinion of me matters greatly, but how do I take the constructive criticism if I COMPLETLEY disagree and think they are off their rockers. I have worked for the company for 5 years, (veteran in the office) and proven my worth over and over again. I am lost for resolution and words in how to attack this professionally, since I just feel like screaming! I have a meeting with the CEO this week, and need to formulate my response, but haven’t come up with much.

    1. @holly- That sounds like a really tough situation. Obviously, you’ve survived it for years, so anything wonderful you can point to your team doing in the past few years could be good fodder for conversation. I guess this situation all comes down to how much power your immediate boss has at the company.

    2. @holly – Something that I like to say is that you can disagree without being disagreeable… You said that they’re offering constructive criticism — operative word being constructive. Take their suggestions at face value: truly consider what they have to say. If — as may be the case — you still feel their idea isn’t as good/viable as what you have in mind, offer a proposal of your idea. (I don’t know, it may be that you’ve done that and that’s why you’re getting their feedback.) Regardless, tell them WHY you want to try your idea (without telling them that you think their idea isn’t “superior”). What you’re looking for is basically one of two responses: 1) ideally, they agree to let you at least TRY it your way to see how things go or 2) they give you more insight into their reasoning. If you see any particular “flaws” in their suggestions — especially if your way doesn’t have the same flaws but offers the same/similar outcome — then don’t be afraid to say so [in a calm manner].
      Chances are, neither got to be CEO or President “by accident”. They have certain skill sets that may very well be different from yours. Their priorities are likely different, too. Your job is to help them achieve their priorities while at the same time accomplishing some of your own. In this situation, “the proof is in the pudding” is very apropos. More than likely, so long as you’re helping them achieve their priorities, they’ll be less likely to complain about exactly WHAT you’re doing to accomplish that.
      For most people in “high-powered” positions, results trumps methodology. Try to find a way to use your strengths to get them the results they want and they’ll be less likely to see you as an outsider or one inappropriate for that position.

    3. @Laura @Eric J – thanks for the input. The meeting went ok on Wednesday. I was not ecstatic in the end, but content. Then I found out the CEO went to the monthly managers meeting (all the executives) and stated that they were wrong in their decision to make a big deal about a small incident and that I am a valuable and “invested” employee. So, at the end of the week, and keeping a positive attitude, it all worked out.

  6. I think the guidelines you’ve come up with are good — and I especially agree with Jamie on whoever is making the final call to be weighed the heaviest… But if someone is in-line to that shot-caller and they’re not budging, it’s worth extra consideration. (Depending on the hierarchy, you may be able to “go over their heads” to find someone who will counter/override their suggestion, but you’d best use that option sparingly and only on the most critical of decisions.)
    Though along the lines of Leanne’s thought, consider the audience. You’re doing this already as a novelist, but when considering conflicting advice, give the one that most closely matches your intended audience — or their viewpoint — the most weight.
    Past that, it’s good to have different points of view and opinions: if everyone likes everything you’ve written, you’re doing it wrong. 😉 But you said it: it’s your book. Don’t compromise something you truly believe in (whether it be you personally or your writing): ultimately, it’s you who needs to be happy with what you’ve done.

  7. Lessons I distilled from the overload of wildly conflicting feedback I received on everything I wrote in grad school:

    Extreme opinions cancel each other out: invariably, the part one person hates the most will be someone else’s favorite part.

    Inevitably, the parts of your story that DID really happen will be the parts readers insist could NEVER happen in real life. My theory is that this is because we, as writers, unconsciously work harder to convince ourselves of the reality of our own inventions, not realizing we need to work equally hard to convince others of the reality of what we’ve stolen from real life and already believe in ourselves.

    If there’s something multiple readers object to without being able to articulate clearly why, then it’s usually a matter of proportion, so you either need to do more of it, or cut it out completely.

    Life imitates art as much as art imitates life. I’ve lost count of how many bizarre scenarios I’ve dreamed up and almost abandoned as too unbelievable because I thought that could never really happen…until it subsequently did!

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