Constructive feedback is essential to improve one’s craft, but just as readers come from many different walks of life, so does the quality of their feedback. Writers need to be aware of what type of feedback a reader is giving in order to make the best use of the information. Approaching each of the different forms with the appropriate mindset can allow a writer to brush off the things that don’t matter and take to heart the gold underneath the red ink.
Feedback from Editing
Editing is a general term that I am going to use to include structure, line, and copyediting. Structure editing deals with the events in your narrative, character development, and clarity. Line editing focuses on word choice, sentence structure, and overall voice of the prose. Copyediting is what most people think of as editing. It involves finding spelling, grammar, and syntax errors while also combing through the manuscript for any other mistakes.
Editing requires either education or experience, preferably both. This is the professional form of feedback and is only as good as the editor doing it. A spouse or friend might be able to read a manuscript, but they may not have the skills needed to give you a quality edit. Feedback from editing can seem harsh or nitpicky due to the amount of items that can be included, but it is the most valuable tool into turning a draft into a finished piece. Editors are not out to destroy a writer’s confidence. They want to make the manuscript the best it can be.
Feedback from Critiques
Critiques are a step below edits in the amount of weight that you should give them. Obviously, an editor usually conducts an edit, but other writers usually conduct critiques. Critiques cover many of the same things that an edit does in terms of story structure, grammar, and spelling, but often critiques do not have the precision of an edit. Critiques largely revolve on the opinion of other writers. One critique may say that a manuscript should use 3rd Person Limited POV rather than 1st Person, simply because of a personal preference rather than something being wrong with the story.
Since other writers who have experience with the craft of writing usually give critiques, it is important to know that they are not criticizing you as a person but only your writing. It is also worth mentioning that the people critiquing your work do not usually have a stake in its success. An editor will work with you to fix a piece, but a critique may only tell what is wrong. Sometimes there is nothing wrong at all, and it is a personal distaste for the type of story, voice, or other subjective factors within the writing. Using multiple critiques for the same story and evaluating all of them together, will give you a better idea what is actually broken and what is just personal taste. If multiple people point out the same area as a weakness, then the writer should give it a second look.
Readers conduct this form of feedback. A reader can be a writer, editor, or just a random person. Alpha reads are more of a general gauge than a specific tool. I use alpha reads primarily to find areas of my story that are confusing. I will give a chapter to an alpha reader and when they are done, look to see if there were things that they did not understand. They will also point out typos and things like that, but you need to be careful about taking all of their advice. I had a reader who added a comma every time they saw the word, “and,” regardless of the context of the rest of the sentence. Most readers have a cursory knowledge of grammar, which can help, but can also break things if you are not careful.
Beta reading is used as the last step before publishing. Readers will get your novel at a 98% completed state. This means you have already conducted editing, critiques, and alpha reads and have fixed as many things as you think were possible. Beta readers will read the entire book and give a report to the overall story. They will mark areas that they were entertained or bored, what emotional responses they felt, as well as give feedback to their favorite characters and why. This stage is used to fix minor details, clarity, pacing, and improve emotional strength. If they say that the book was great, but the climax wasn’t as exciting as they hoped, you can rewrite the climax to add tension. Beta reads can save an author from receiving an initial set of poor reviews when their novel first launches.
The whole process of receiving feedback is subjective to both the person giving and receiving it. Someone may have fantastic opinions on how to improve the story, but a harsh delivery can make the author reject everything they said. One last thing to remember, good feedback does not necessarily mean nice feedback. It will help a writer more to hear everything that is wrong than to pretend that everything is perfect.