As a writer, you’re going to find yourself getting feedback from a lot of different sources. An agent might love your plot, but feels that your characters fall flat. An editor might like the characters but finds your voice lacking. As you receive all of this different feedback from all of these different sources, your head starts to spin. You are confused and have no idea what to do. Take solace in the fact that you’re not alone.
The first question that you need to answer is this:
What type of criticism should you actually consider?
We’re going to focus on fiction here since it tends to be the most confusing of all book genres. As a rule of thumb…
Focus mostly on criticism that is a matter of craft, not personal preferences.
Here are a few specific examples that illustrate the types of criticism you should and should not accept.
“Your villain isn’t bad enough.”
You should take this criticism seriously since your villain is important to the conflict of a story. Remember that conflict is what keeps the reader turning the pages. A villain who is not “bad enough” might hinder the conflict so you should pay close attention to this type of criticism. Just make sure the antagonist’s actions can be backed by his personality. Some villains are supposed to be charming so this could be a matter of personal taste but it doesn’t hurt to make sure.
“This character is not likeable.”
You’ll hear this type of criticism from a lot of different editors. What makes it even more ironic is that the likability of characters will change from one person to the next. In short, this type of criticism falls into the category of personal preference in most cases. We all have different taste in characters so don’t let an editor’s opinion about your character’s “likability” force you into rewriting them. With the exception of the protagonist, characters do not have to be likable; they only have to be believable.
“The plot of your novel is confusing.”
If an editor comes back to you with the statement above, then pay close attention to their feedback. Start by laying out your plot points and carefully see that all of them connect in a way that’s easy to follow. As the creator of our world, we know how the plot is supposed to go but we have to look at it from a reader’s perspective. Great editors will tell you what it is that confused them so even if you don’t see it, try rewriting that specific point so it’s clearer.
“I didn’t like the voice of the novel.”
This is another personal preference. Does the editor who told you this fall into your target audience category? I recommend that you stick to your own voice when writing. It’s authentic, unique, and it’s who you are! It’s perfectly okay if someone doesn’t like your voice – not everyone will. What’s more important is that you’re authentic.