Ask Me Anything: Go With My Gut vs. Pay Attention to Criticism

Here's the question:
I just got some harsh feedback from a freelance editor on the first three chapters of my book. I found some good suggestions embedded in the advice and revised it further. He made a strong comment about style & my main character (MC) that I don't agree with. Ultimately, I think his reaction to my MC was rooted in a personal issue. I've worked hard on this novel and finally feel like it is polished & ready to send out, but now I'm worried. Should I go with my gut or pay close attention?

This is a really good question.

I heard Steve Barry speak at a conference one time and he talked about his critique group and how one of the things he struggled with was determine which editorial feedback they offered was gold vs. not so gold.

I'm going to try to answer this by asking you more questions:

Who has read these chapters? You mention you and the editor. You're both at odds.

What about others? Do you have beta readers or critique partners? Have you entered any contests or gotten feedback from other writers? (And people other than family or friends or yes people).

There are times when one opinion might not reflect a majority (just check out some of the 1 star reviews for Game of Thrones and Hunger Games). But if you have multiple people offering the same critique (even if it isn't as harsh) then you might have a legitimate concern.

Who is this editor (or the person giving you the feedback)? Think about who it is that's reading the work and what their credentials and professional background mean to your work.

For instance, if the editor has worked successfully on books that would appeal to the same audience as yours, you want to pay attention. If it's your mom donning an editorial hat or someone who never reads MG (and your book is MG), then maybe you want to seek another opinion.

Another thing to think about is underneath whatever harsh notes or suggestions there are, what is the underlying issue? I have certainly sent notes to authors before and offered up possible suggestions that they didn't want to take. That's okay! But usually there's some kind of underlying issue in there, some reason that I stopped reading in order to write down a note. That's what has to be addressed.

I'm not sure what your notes said, but you mention that you think the reaction to the MC is rooted in a personal issue. Does this mean you think the editor doesn't like your MC? Perhaps examine whether the MC is likable or sympathetic or at least compelling.

In the end, you don't want to ignore your gut, but you also don't want to be stubbornly blind to any issues. I think getting a second opinion is going to be the way to no for sure, where you are.

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1 comment:

Tom M Franklin said...

When I was working on a Revise and Resubmit basis with an agent I had a decisive moment when it was clear she just didn't 'get' one of my main characters. He was quirky and slightly unpredictable and she failed to see the humor in him.

We discussed this and it became clear that we were not the right match.

(I've since signed with another agent who completely got the same character)