Listen to the priceless gift of feedback


This one’s as true as when I first wrote it, before even being published at novel length, and in general people who ask for feedback in my various online writer’s groups are open to getting it, and gracious when it isn’t quite what they asked for.

Maybe I’m getting pickier at the groups I’m in.

The principle is the same: if you’re going to argue with the messenger, don’t order the service.

FROM April 2013:

Feedback: the priceless gift

Had an experience that made me take notice – so I stopped to figure out what happened.

I had gone to a new website – looked mildly interesting – for a writer. This writer put up the cover of his first book as kind of a teaser for his second – so far so good – and it sounded interesting enough that I clicked through to Amazon – considering buying.

So: he’s got me as a live one.

I read the description of the second book, and my brain goes, ‘Wait a minute – something not quite right here.’

The description for the second book was for a science fiction book. Conspiracies and space warfare and etc.

It was supposed to be a sequel – to his first book, written a while back.

But here’s the problem: the cover for the FIRST book hadn’t said a word about SF, just a one-word title and a name (of new writer – not one who is known to write SF).

The importance of covers

The ARTICLE he wrote was about the importance of COVERS. So I was primed to actually consider HIS in more detail than I normally would have done.

And it didn’t say, to me, what it was supposed to say. To me, the image and the title did NOT convey ‘SF inside.’ My opinion, of course.

So, being the nice helpful person I am, I bothered to go back, think it through, and tell this writer my impression of his cover strategy. As mildly and inoffensively as I could. I don’t do this often, and only when I think I have something to add to a thread. It takes a bit of time,

And he ARGUED with me! When I happened to go back to see if there was further discussion (being interested in covers, as a writer who will be self-publishing one of these days, because that’s what drew me to his website/blog in the first place), I read that he thought I was wrong, that there WERE SF elements on the cover, and I had somehow missed the signals.

Which miffed me, again mildly. [By way of credentials, I have been reading SF since the 1960s, and even had a membership in the SF Book Club which kept good SF coming regularly.]

Do you argue with the gift-giver?

I stopped to think why, and realized that there is a lesson there for ME: If someone does you the favor of giving you unbiased feedback about any aspect of your writing from THEIR point of view, your only acceptable response is “Thank you – I will think about what you said.”

Not to argue that your visitor and commenter is WRONG.

I have done this before, left careful feedback, and clearly labeled it ‘my opinion.’ Heck – I did it at Hugh Howey’s website (before his current fame – not that long ago), and his response was exactly right: Thanks for the suggestion, and I will consider it carefully. As a commenter (and now a fan – having gone to Amazon after his response and bought the whole WOOL omnibus), I felt listened to and appreciated. As if, in a small way, I had been able to contribute something.

So I got a valuable lesson from the experience: the one thing you cannot buy is the unvarnished opinion of a new true commenter. It is a gift when someone offers a considered opinion of your writing. It is feedback from a new READER. And it means you have made a connection. The last thing you want to do is discourage or discount the flash of inspiration you get. The aphorism is “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It is TRUE.


18 thoughts on “Listen to the priceless gift of feedback

  1. Jeanne

    I’ve taught analytical writing since 1983 and one of the main things I say is that a writer has to listen to readers. They won’t often be right about how to “fix” a problem, but when they tell you there’s a problem, pay attention.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      It costs a reader quite a bit to give you that feedback – both physical effort, and the mental effort of overcoming their reluctance to tell another grownup what to do.

      SOMETHING made them do it, which is exactly what you’re saying: something is wrong, and it is wrong enough for them to want to make you aware of it.

      If they are right, they are probably also speaking for many others who notice the same ‘wrongness’ – but don’t bother to tell you.

      Gold in them thar comments.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      In principle, you can learn from anyone and anything.

      In practice, you are much more likely to DO something if the advice is right AND it is tendered properly.

      I’m not a fan of the bombing run comment.

      I try to offer suggestions (advice when asked) with a modicum of civility, and don’t bother where it is obvious the recommendation is not wanted nor will be appreciated. After all, if I’m wrong – a distinct possibility if the original poster has actually considered his options and chosen them carefully – I’ll look even worse when the conversation is visible in public, as most blog posts/comments are.

      The opposite behavior is called trolling or flaming. But my real name is out there with my opinions attached.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I did not take your comment as rude or trolling – it just sparked MY thinking. You were having a civil conversation – I went off on a bit of a tangent.

          Don’t worry about it at all – and you were right. ‘Considered’ is the important part – and many people don’t get that concept. Some deliberately, others thoughtlessly.

          Nuance is so difficult to achieve in writing, because I don’t have control over the tone. My apologies if I sounded irritated in any way; I’m happy to have people like you comment.


  2. marianallen

    So true! I have a book about to be republished that I was told: 1) didn’t treat the horses right 2) had a bad title 3) had a bad cover. I heard the first from one reader who loved the book, otherwise. I heard the second and third from multiple sources. So I touched up the book content, running it past a couple of horse owners. Found a new title. Got a new cover artist. BOY, do I appreciate the feedback!


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I still remember VERY clearly when I brought a very early version of a piece of Pride’s Children to a writing group. It mentioned that Andrew was from Galway County.

      A woman named Kathleen (wish I could remember her last name!), who said she was Irish, told me that in Ireland it would be County Galway. I am so glad she pointed that out. I had made the assumption it would be the same in all English-speaking countries, and hadn’t bothered to do the research! My reasons for picking the Irish background were and still are solid, but I have done a lot more reading since, and found Irish friends to be first readers.

      Now I try to be hypervigilant, knowing something is going to escape, and hoping it isn’t a big one.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lynda Dietz

    I have such trepidation when I send out beta reports. Yes, those people have hired me, but there are times when I have to dole out hard truths, and most people are not prepared to hear them. I once had to tell an author I was really disappointed in the ending of her book, and gave the reasons why. Turns out she was aiming for a particular thing, but almost all her betas expressed the same dissatisfaction, and she was so grateful we were all able to show her she’d missed the mark for that genre. Thankfully, I’ve had positive reception from most, but the ones who get defensive always puzzle me—they hired me to be honest and I have no reason to give them anything but an unbiased opinion (and I try to be kind and encouraging, even when things are bad). If you’re going to hire me, then you should be thankful I’m giving you your money’s worth, and then some.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      My sympathies for this occupational hazard.

      I’ve taken many risks with Pride’s Children, and every time I have had to hold my own feet in the fire. I send these out to my beta reader with my heart in my mouth – because I value her opinion so, but I took the risks deliberately (and with malice aforethought) and so far she likes them.

      What I have found difficult is when people tell me things that are their opinion, with the ‘considered’ part conspicuously missing, based on the wrong perception. Then I wonder if they’re right, and go back over my reasons for the way I’ve done something. But when you write mainstream, genre conventions specifically don’t apply, and, in fact, you’re trying to distance yourself as much as possible from them. Without making it seem as if you disparage the genre! Tricky balancing line. Some of those readers might, some day, take a few steps out of their enclave.

      Your attitude – being truthful but professional – is what one hopes for. I don’t see any advantage in being cruel. But I do see a little too much of the “write the thing, then an editor will clean it up for you” advice being given to people who are not ready for even that. You are not magicians.

      I don’t read drafts for other authors any more; the couple of times someone talked me into it, and I found out how far (in my opinion) they were from basic competence, my ability to make useful suggestions balked. Life is too short. I admired their patent enthusiasm, and suggested they get someone who read more in those genres, and got the heck out of there.

      Which is why I admire the pros all the more. They hang in there – and do the work. And should be paid decently for their patience.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lynda Dietz

        I think a big part of the “write the thing” attitude going sour is that those authors honestly have no idea how much an editor can do, or needs to do, to their MS. SO many writers think it’s a matter of fixing typos.

        I had to adjust my Goodreads bio to add “Please don’t ask me to read your book.” I was getting so many requests from people to read their books for review, and almost 100% of them should never have been published. Bad writing, no editing, rush-to-publish-because-the-world-needs-my-book mentality. And those are always the people begging for reviews. I actually had to explain to one author that the reason I post so many favorable reviews on GR is because I carefully choose what I read for pleasure, and therefore know ahead of time that I’ll probably enjoy it. I believe he thought those favorable reviews made me the person to ask, since I gave “everything” four or five stars.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          And yet… You were kind enough to read PC.

          My trepidation came from not wanting to approach someone who I knew might enjoy it, but who is tired of requests.

          I don’t make those approaches lightly. The research into a potential reviewer takes a lot of time. As it should.

          Some of the newbies will learn.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Lynda Dietz

          You know . . . I never even hesitated about the request to read PC. Probably because you and I had already “seen” each other on Jack Tyler’s blog, and you’d begun interacting on mine. You weren’t a complete stranger, and your comments on both blogs were thoughtful and intelligent. And I’m really glad you asked me, because I enjoyed it a great deal and am looking forward to the second book!


        3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I just need a couple million more like you.

          I wonder if any of the scattershot ‘read and review my book’ requests actually work. Even reading the requests makes me embarrassed for the writer sometimes!

          They offer the first chapter of an unknown author’s debut novel as some kind of prize.

          We all had to go through the raw stage, but some seem more clueless (along with ‘very unique’) than others.

          I’m constantly amazed at people who ask questions on the FB groups that, if answered, would require gobs of work from the responder. Such as “My new epic fantasy isn’t selling. Please tell me why.”

          Or “How do I market on Amazon?”

          I understand being desperate, but don’t think it’s attractive in dating or in writing to let other people see it.

          Jack’s a sweetheart (don’t tell him I said that).

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Lynda Dietz

          Funny you’d mention the “gobs of work” thing. Just this morning, the newest comment on a GR thread (“Why don’t more people read self-published authors?”) was from an author who said his first four chapters are available for free via the “read inside” feature on Amazon, and that he’d “be interested to get feedback from professional editors” on them. I replied that I doubted he’d get many to do it for free, and he admitted to “being a little cheeky” to see if anyone would bite. (I’m calling shenanigans on that one.) I, of course, had to point out that although it didn’t hurt to ask, that was a solid couple hours of work if done right.

          And I have worked with two authors who constantly came to me with questions they could have easily (and should have) found the answers for, had they done a three-second search on Google. I was helpful at first, and then realized how much time I was spending just composing emails to them, and began gently redirecting them to “I would start by searching for this” whenever a new question came in.


        5. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          The entitlement! The total inability to put themselves into your shoes.

          It really gives authors in general, and indies in particular, a sour spot in my stomach.

          Writing is work. Lots of it.

          And beginners should expect to have to learn the craft. I’m wondering how they were brought up that they don’t.

          I don’t think my standards are too high; I think beginners are not doing enough reading, and reading of ‘good books’ in their genre, before they burst out in all their (writer’s) adolescence.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      The right group can be; the wrong one is deadly.

      The big problem with them, which is mostly me, is that, in exchange for comments on my own work, I had to listen to or read other people’s work, and be ready to offer feedback. Unfortunately, my energy, and my ability to keep several other people’s works-in-progress straight in my head through many drafts, are not sufficient to allow me to give in-kind feedback.

      So I rely on the kindness of readers, especially my beta reader who has a true eye. And is a nitpicker. Two such gifts in one person!

      Liked by 1 person


Comments welcome and valued. Thanks!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.