A few months ago, March 1st actually, I submitted what I thought was a completed manuscript for review with a critique group. I asked for specific feedback with three things: The progression of a love-hate relationship (between two of my MCs), whether a sub-plot was completely predictable or not, and the history of my world. I also asked for the usual general feedback on the story, plotlines, characters, likes and dislikes and anything they felt could be improved.
The deadline for said critique group responses was the end of June, and often poeple will sumbit with minutes to spare. Thankfully, mine was not amongst them. I had four reviews back early in June.
Three of the said for reviews were really helpful. They answered my questions, pointed out a few things that I’d overlooked, and made sure I was aware of the loose ends I’d forgotten to tie. They also raised a few questions that I had answers to, but hadn’t thought to bring to the readers’ attention.
Their feedback was valuable, direct and exactly what I needed.
Critique number four however, well… there was a lot of it. About every aspect of the whole book. From the color of the paint in my MC’s bedroom, to the attitude of my faeries. My faeries like to giggle, maniacally btw. It’s infectious, and annoying and it’s very inappropriate when you’re hiding from the bad guy who’s been hunting your for weeks. She said “faeries aren’t infectious like that. They’re naughty, but they don’t giggle and they don’t put people’s lives in danger”. Likewise, I have two dragons; one of which is kind of jolly in a mildly sinister way, the other who is reputed to be bad tempered and quick to snap but we don’t really meet him, we just avoid him like the plague. She said their personalities conflict. Are dragons grumpy, or happy? Apparently they can’t be diverse in character. I’m not allowed both, or anything in between. And I should be specific about the one who’s rumoured to be grumpy. I should answer that question directly, instead of leaving the reader to wonder if the hearsay about his personality is just a false rumour set in place to keep people at bay.
Whilst I appreciated she’d taken time to do a line-by-line critique of the whole thing (which currently stands at 115k words), I was a bit… put out that she’d not bothered to address the issues I’d asked for help with, and had very little to say in terms of positive feedback. I realise I hadn’t asked for praise, but I crit other people’s work regularly, and whilst I’m honest, I like to balance out the good with the not so good. I think that’s fair. I think that’s motivating, and I think that’s the best way to encourage someone to keep writing and to improve without sugar coating.
I don’t know if she just hated the whole thing, or figured I only wanted comments on the parts that needed amendment. Or rather, the parts which in her opinion needed amendment. Which was pretty much all of it.
I couldn’t past the second page of her rants, which were blunt, in places outright rude and imo, unnecessary. I have never and will never use “FFS!!” or “Yawn. Do I really have another 200 pages left to crit?” in my feedback. So… instead I fumed a while, shelved it and came back to it when I calmed down, which was about a week later. In the meantime, a friend of mine gave me some good advice. She said, the thing to remember is, that you don’t have to take everyone’s word as gospel. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and in this particular critiquer’s world, maybe her faeries don’t piss people off. But in myworld, they do. So her opinion can be ignored on that matter. Likewise, if my prince charming wants to marry the local butcher’s daughter, then let him. It might be an unwise decision politically, but Prince William did it, and so can Prince Charming. If my clouds are purple, that’s okay. Because this is my story. I felt a lot better for that, so I printed it off and whipped out a highlighter pen.
As I suspected, within all those comments, somewhere I’d find solid examples of what I was looking for. Useful help to improve my story. Going back to the original questions, she had in fact raised some interesting points on the development of my characters. She had also highlighted a few issues the others had missed, including a raging plot hole that nobody else, myself included had seen.
So, how do I feel now? I feel great, knowing that just because one person might not like my story, doesn’t mean that someone out there will. And I’ve learned a new lesson. How not to critique a manuscript, and how to take the bad with the good. I think I can honestly say I’m pretty thick skinned by nature, but sometimes people can push you a little too hard. And if they choose to, then that’s okay. Because it’s the way you percieve things that defines what happens next. Maybe I pushed her first. Maybe she doesn’t like faeries who giggle, or princes who marry for love. Maybe she wants the bittersweet ending instead of the HEA. Maybe that was the only part of the book she liked. I don’t know, she didn’t say. But wehat one person likes, and what one person sees as set in stone, is written in the clouds for the next person.
Either way, I did find her crit useful, even if I did have to read between the lines.