The Art of Ignoring Advice

“Remember: When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” ~Neil Gaiman

I have worked hard to ensure that my early readers are as diverse as possible. By employing writers and non-writers, men and women, and friends from as many different social and economic backgrounds as possible, I am able to gauge the reactions of a cross section of the market. However, pleasing everyone is impossible, and so I need to consider each point they make carefully and objectively.

Taste is incredibly subjective; ten early readers will likely have ten different perspectives on what makes a book “good.” Furthermore, their critique is going to be biased by their own storytelling preferences and philosophies. There’s no way around that fact.

If one reader in ten doesn’t like a particular piece of story, it may be that it just wasn’t to their taste. However, if three or four have an objection to the same thing, it bears careful consideration. When all ten give the same critique, then something is seriously wrong. If your early readers are diverse, then consensus is very telling.

At the end of the day, however, it’s the author’s name that’ll appear on the front of the book. Knowing when to ignore advice can be tricky, especially when you aren’t all that confident to begin with. However, there will come a time when you’ll have to write “STET” over a major revision request and accept the consequences. Right or wrong, it is ultimately your book, and therefore your choice.

Most writers spend years, if not decades, studying and practicing their craft before they are able to break into the professional market. In that time, we gain and hone the skills we need to tell compelling stories, create immersive worlds, and shape intriguing and empathetic characters. Though we don’t always hit the mark with our initial drafts, it is essential that any writer has enough faith in their own abilities to know what is best for their book.

It is essential to listen to what our early readers have to say, otherwise we are wasting everybody’s time. However, only the author has the high level and deep reaching perspective needed to know exactly how to fix any given problem. Ultimately, it isn’t my early readers’ reputation and finances at stake if my book tanks. You are the one who has spent years studying craft and considering your art. Only you know the wider range goals and plans you have for the series, and even if you could impart that vision to another, you’d only bias their feedback and so render it useless. Listen and consider, yes. But don’t be a slave to your early readers’ opinions.


2 Responses

  1. Terry Odell says:

    Leaning how to deal with feedback is as important as learning how to write. I have a small critique group, but each brings something different to the table. I will also send a completed manuscript to a small group of beta readers. Rarely is there anything approaching consensus. Ultimately, it’s my editor’s comments that mean the most, and I’m fortunate that she’s always open to discussing points where we might disagree. And often that disagreement comes because I haven’t expressed myself well enough. In my first crit group, we’d often ask, “Did I write it wrong or did you read it wrong?”

    • Nathan Barra says:

      Excellent points, all Terry. I rarely get consensus either, but when I do, it’s usually a large problem that needs my attention. I’m glad that you have readers and editors you can trust to make your work shine!

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