Feedback is a valuable tool for writers, but not all feedback is created equal. There is helpful feedback, unhelpful feedback, and feedback which would be helpful if you only knew what to do with it.
Many people assume the best feedback comes from paid professionals, and that if only they could afford to pay an expensive critique agency (preferably one who also acts as a talent scout for a major publisher) their problems would be solved. Sadly — or perhaps, happily, for those on a limited budget — price is no guarantee of quality. While many expensive critique agencies provide an excellent service, some do not. While many free peer review sites result in illiterate, illogical critiques, some do not.
Seek Lots of Feedback
One of the best pieces of advice I have received on critiques is to collect as broad a spectrum as possible. Offer your drafts to friends and family who love to read, and ask them what they think, as readers. Submit to peer review sites and swap critiques with other writers, especially with others who work in the same genre as you. And, if you can afford paid advice, especially if you can access discounts through membership of a writing organisation, go ahead.
So, once you have collected all this feedback, what do you do with it?
This is where the best piece of advice comes in. Remember, ultimately, it is your book.
Consider All Feedback Carefully
No matter the source, never take advice without considering whether it will improve your book. Sometimes, for all kinds of reasons, you will receive unsuitable advice. Perhaps the reader has misunderstood your purpose, or they have an agenda of their own which conflicts with yours. For these and many other reasons, you may recognise that their suggestions will not move you closer to the book you are trying to write.
Sometimes you need to have the confidence not to take the advice you are given. However, nor should you ignore their feedback entirely. Before you pull out the “creative control” card, take the time to consider what is behind the reader’s suggestion.
Look Deeper Before Dismissing Feedback
If your reader wants you to add parachuting ninjas to your sweet small-town romance, should you? Probably not. But what might be behind that request? Perhaps your story is lacking in excitement. Could you instead inject a little more appropriate drama in the form of a stranger returning to town, a minor car accident or a surprise party?
The more objectively you can view your story, the easier it is to see what can be improved, and the more feedback you add into the mix (even if you don’t agree with the exact suggestions) the broader and more objective your understanding will be of how you can hone your writing.