How to filter feedback

You wrote your first draft. You edited your first draft. You sent your piece out to friends, family or beta readers – and the feedback confuses you.

Taking criticism can be difficult. Your first reaction might be “But…!” or “You don’t get it” or “Person B said the complete opposite!”. The thing is: everyone’s a critic. But not everyone is a good critic, or an appropriate critic.

Filtering feedback is a bit of an art form in itself. So here’s a few things you can use to make the feedback make more sense:

Is the feedback consistent?

Imagine you’ve been hearing all the time that your non-fiction writing is better than your fiction and suddenly there’s one person that says you’re a better fiction writer. What are the odds that this person is right in a general sense? We tend to hear that we need to take all feedback to heart – but that can have the unwanted side effect that we’re also listening to uninformed or ill-intended feedback. Which brings me to my next point:

What expectations are you setting up when you’re asking for feedback?

What are your goals? To set a bit of an extreme example, opening an ice cream parlor requires different steps compared to wanting to become the CEO of Twitter. The same goes for if you’re looking to set up a Kickstarter campaign, or looking to get published traditionally. Letting people know what you’re working towards will allow them to give more helpful suggestions.

And just as importantly: where are you now? Have you already gotten your foot in the door, gotten published before, or are these the first words you have ever put on (digital) paper? Setting these expectations can help your critique giver get a feel of where you’re at and what your next step should be, instead of overwhelming you with advice or boring you with writing 101.

Who are you asking for feedback?

If you’re writing a romance novella, would you want feedback from someone who only reads seven-part epic fantasies? It might be eye-opening, sure, but I’ll bet you won’t get critique that will help you please your target audience. Consider who you’re asking for an assessment and, if you can, select a few people within your target audience, or experts on your target audience. At least make sure they know who your target audience is (when you’re describing your goal, for example).

Feedback is still a personal opinion. 

Our experiences and world views influence our opinions and thus the feedback we give. Some will be more informed (e.g. an expert in the field you want to release your product in) and some less so. You’re allowed to set critique aside (quietly and respectfully) if you completely disagree with it, or not in line with your goals. Unless they’re paying you to make the piece, of course.

Realize timing and placement influences feedback you get

If you’re asking for feedback for, say, your book cover on the spot (for example at a book fair), some observations might be gruff, short or incoherent. If this happens, realize that a person’s mood can also influence the way they look at your work. If they’re hungry or tired, chances are they’ll be wanting to just be done with it. Don’t take it personally.