Monthly Archives: May 2010

Delivering, Accepting and Rejecting Feedback

One of the most difficult parts of being an author is that publicly broadcasting an opinion or information invites feedback. Sometimes you are open to it and sometimes you aren’t.

There are times to request feedback – when you are just finished writing and before you publish. One of the smartest ways to get feedback is with a professional peer and audience review of your work before you self publish or send your manuscript off to your commercial publisher.

There is a process for doing this that I’m happy to share with this Reviewer Download(click to get it).

This is feedback in a controlled environment. Unfortunately, like it or not, we receive feedback too early to be useful (“You are writing about what?) and too late (“I found 4 typos in chapter 3!”).
Some feedback is honestly intended to be helpful and some is just an I’m-still-better-than-you-even-though-you-wrote-a-book in disguise.

To become a successful and happy author you need to be able to draw the line both in when and how to receive feedback and what feedback to accept and what to reject.

I got a lovely thank you note the other day thanking me for something I had done for the sender but then offering to give me feedback if I wanted it. Whoever offers to give feedback if they have something nice to say? If someone uses the old “Are you open to feedback?” you both feel trapped into saying “yes” (because good people are open, right?) and stuck listening. I say, feel free to say “no” if you really aren’t and no explanation is needed.

Feedback can be very destructive when we don’t decide where and when and from whom to accept it. I hear sad stories all the time of individuals who wanted to become writers but who received early negative feedback from English teachers that stayed with them for a lifetime. These people never recovered their confidence and assumed this feedback was not only right, but forever.

On the other hand, to be fair to those who give feedback (especially to those who do it for a living like I do), if you and I are having a conversation and you spend more than 2 minutes complaining about something I know something about – expect feedback. If you don’t want feedback, then tell me that upfront. But in fairness to all, don’t complain (and yes, 2 minutes is my real standard) and expect the rest of us to sit in silence, especially if we’ve heard this same complaint before. And while we’re on the subject, don’t ask for feedback and then kill the messenger. If you asked for it, then you need to be prepared for the possibility it might be negative.

Another thing about feedback – it requires no action on your part. It is a gift for which you politely than the giver and then choose to use or not, like the fondue pot you got for your wedding, still in the box and left in the basement.

However, if you’ve gotten negative feedback that’s really eating you up inside – tell a few other trusted people. Which is not to say that you should gossip about the feedback-giver (“Can you believe she would say that to me after all the things she’s messed up?!). One opinion does not a true statement make. Check it out with a few other people you trust. If you get an honest, “You know, she’s really right about that,” from others, then you might want to pay a little more attention.

And taking that a step further (again) even legitimate feedback requires no immediate action on your part. Give yourself some time to decide what course of action you want to take.

Back to your book – the peer and audience review process is your chance to test your own emotional response to feedback. More books have not been published because the author wasn’t ready to be that vulnerable than for any other reason.

I hope this has made you think about your own feedback delivery. You owe honest feedback to those who ask for it, delivered with compassion. Not being honest is leaving the person to hear the truth from someone else – often the market after going to tremendous time and energy expense. The kinder thing to do is to tell the truth as you see it. You might want to give feedback like this: “I like what you said, but what I think might make it better is if you…”

Bottom line: I’ve had dozens (really) of people come back to me, sometimes years later, to thank me for something I told them which they didn’t want to accept at the time, but that made a shift in their thinking.

One last thing about feedback – If you are giving something (like your book or other project) everything you’ve got, then you will take feedback from anyone and everyone willing to give it. If your ego is at stake, you won’t. Just a good barometer about what you’ve got invested to know whether your ego or the project is more important to you right now. No judgment here – sometimes your sense of self has to trump other things and it is important to know when that is true. The more confident we are, the less we worry about ego and the more the book (and what we can give to the reader) becomes the focus. Do what you need to to boost your own confidence and get help in analyzing feedback and maintaining perspective.

Reader feedback is going to make the ultimate difference in how your book sells, so working on that part of yourself that knows how and when to ask for feedback and what feedback to accept and what to reject will be an important skill for the author.