Meaningful Feedback

Picture made entirely of words by Ann A. Murray

Picture made entirely of words ©Ann A. Murray

My family recently attended an annual one-man art exhibition by my uncle, Eldridge Bagley, at the Glave Kocen Gallery in Richmond, Virginia.

Because my daughter, Ann, enjoys photography, I encouraged her to ask the gallery director his opinion of her work. He liked several of her photos, and guided her on which types of images would sell in Richmond versus which would be more appealing to buyers in D.C. He also mentioned that in the future, her work might be included in a juried exhibition held at their gallery. This means she will receive feedback from other knowledgeable professionals.

We were pleasantly surprised by this possibility. Not only had the director offered tips, but if Ann is able to participate in the exhibit, she will gain more feedback. This feedback might help her decide where to place emphasis in her studies at Liberty University since she is interested in several fields of discipline.

Her experience made me think of writers and how they can garner effective feedback. Today, I’ll share a few of my ideas:

1.) Agents: Agent feedback is one of your best sources, but only if you are on the cusp of needing representation. This is because agents (and editors, for that matter), are only able to focus on manuscripts they might be able to pursue. Unfortunately, most agents are unable to give meaningful feedback to queries sent to their slush piles, especially if the manuscript has multiple problems. At our agency, we try to answer all legitimate queries. But we simply have too many queries to have time offer our detailed opinions on every submission. Also, as Steve Laube noted in the comments section of one of my posts, sometimes agents’ attempts to edit manuscripts may not be beneficial. But if you do receive helpful comments from an agent, pay attention. The agent may be opening the door to a working relationship with you.

2.) Contests: Writers can gain excellent insights from contests, particularly from those requiring judges to comment. However, contest coordinators want judges to be encouraging. So while you can learn much from contests, be aware that any comments you gain are likely to be filtered toward a positive bias. Also be aware that a contest win, or even several successes in contests, won’t guarantee you will soon be awarded a contract. Why? Because entries are judged on quality and not necessarily marketability. Many quality manuscripts are not marketable. However, contest success does tell agents and editors that your work was good enough to be noticed. For more on contests, click here.

3.) Conference meetings with agents and editors: These are superb opportunities to see if you might work well with a particular agent or editor, but I find it impossible to evaluate a manuscript in fifteen minutes. Granted, I have helped many authors during these meetings (manuscript starts in the wrong place; theology is controversial for CBA), but the meetings are most effective as relationship starters, in my view. Be prepared to discuss your work; just don’t expect a full evaluation then and there.

4.) Critique partners: Once you find a great fit, don’t let go. That chemistry isn’t easy to find, as I pointed out here. However, critique partners with knowledge of the industry, love of story, and with a genuine interest in your success are a perfect way to gain detailed feedback on your work with very little professional risk.

Your turn:

Have you gotten feedback on your manuscript? From whom?

How do you deal with unflattering feedback?

What was your best feedback experience?

24 Responses to Meaningful Feedback

  1. Avatar
    Ron Estrada June 20, 2013 at 4:00 am #

    I agree with the importance of a good partner. That’s where I’ve gotten my best feedback. One element to consider in a partner is writing pace. I’ve had outstanding partners who I simply couldn’t keep up with. They never complained but I felt guilty, like I wasn’t doing my share. My current partner, Gina Conroy, has limited writing time, much like me, so we write at the same pace. Neither of us feels overwhelmed. I’d also suggest that, for men at least, a partner of the opposite sex is a great help. Men and women have unique perspectives, and she sees things I would miss. Eapecially since I always add a bit of romance to my mysteries.

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    lisa June 20, 2013 at 5:25 am #

    You daughter is really, really talented! I love that piece you have featured. Thank you for this encouragement. Feedback does sharpen your work so much. I was very afraid of it for awhile, I think because I wanted so much to be good enough. I didn’t realize I would never reach publication without feedback.

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    Rachel Muller June 20, 2013 at 5:33 am #

    I’m so thankful for ACFW on this subject! I have had my ms critiqued and looked at by several authors in the same genre, and entered in 2 contests. The feedback I received from these wonderful people only pushed me to work harder and opened my eyes to a different side of writing. It has made my writing that much deeper.

    The best feedback experience was through ACFW’s First Impressions contest. I had three judges read my entry and three different crits to learn from. Again, it pushed me harder and drove me further to deepen the story and the characters.

    Thanks for this great post, Tamela. I always enjoy reading them 🙂

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    Martha Rogers June 20, 2013 at 6:21 am #

    Oh my, love the picture. It’s so unique. I must say I wouldn’t be published if my critique partners hadn’t given me such great feedback and encouraged me to approach an agent. So glad I took their advice. The first novels of all three of my published series were heavily critiqued by my partners. They helped make my writing stronger. Although we don’t have the time for an organized critique group now, we still seek each other’s opinions. Oh yes, I met my agent at an ACFW conference when we were still ACRW. Loved her right away. 🙂

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    Meghan Carver June 20, 2013 at 6:50 am #

    That’s an incredible picture! I’ve received excellent feedback from contests, and I’m just getting involved with critique partners. I have beta readers who gives me specific helps as well as encouragement, and I treasure their input.

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    Jeanne Takenaka June 20, 2013 at 7:17 am #

    As has been said, that picture is A-MAZ-ING. Your daughter has a true talent.

    As far as feedback, I began entering contests to receive feedback. I knew early on that I didn’t know enough about writing craft to not need the insights of others about what I was, and wasn’t, doing write in my stories. I’ve learned what some of my strengths and weaknesses are, and this has enabled me to work on those weak areas. I’m trying to stay teachable, because this is the best way for me to grow.

    With unflattering feedback, after I get over the initial sting, I look for the nuggets I can take from it to use to improve my writing/story. Usually, there’s something.

    I think the best feedback I received was from a contest I entered earlier this year. I did better than I expected to, and I got some real positives in the scores and comments. I also received some good suggestions. A couple stung a bit, but I’m looking for ways to improve the areas that were weak.

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    Melissa Finnegan June 20, 2013 at 7:34 am #

    Wow, that picture is awesome.

    I have gotten feedback from “regular” people, I also choose people I knew would be tough on me and not afraid to tell me the truth.

    I am currently working with an editor who is amazing. She gives me feedback but in such away I am never offended and truly excited about the suggestions she makes.

    Unflattering feedback….I cried. But after a day went back to read it and realized it wasn’t that bad and it was true. I think we definitly need to take space away from feedback that might hurt and then see if there is any truth to it. More than likely there is, it’s just hard to swallow 🙂

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    Angie Dicken June 20, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    What an incredible picture…and wonderful prospects! I love ART!
    I have received meaningful feedback in all the ways you’ve mentioned, and my writing is better for it! The first time I ever entered the Genesis, I realized how much I needed to learn based on the judges’ feedback. That’s when EVERYTHING changed for me…I joined ACFW and began to learn craft…and I met my critique partner on the loop. Because we have both grown together in our writing (three years now), she gets my voice, knows my strengths and weaknesses, and pretty much understands the way I think, so her feedback is VERY meaningful to me.

    I also received great feedback from several of my conference appointments, including from you, Tamela, when it came to changing the tone a bit in the beginning of my story. A couple years ago, an editor may as well have taken a huge shovel and dug to a whole deeper level of my story…I can’t wait to hopefully thank her in person soon!

    When I get unflattering feedback, I tend to set it aside for a while, think on it, then go back and read through it. Sometimes, the unflattering feedback is that niggling I needed to work on something that I was trying to avoid, and sometimes the feedback isn’t valid according to the rest of my story, or my voice (usually I find this in contests…the parameters can be so black and white on a score sheet, but I don’t think writing can always be judged that way).

    Overall, I think feedback is absolutely necessary to pushing a writer to their absolute best! I sat for a few years getting no feedback at all, and once I did, my writing changed drastically…for the better! Great post, Tamela!

  9. Avatar
    Jaime Wright June 20, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    You’re SO right! Feedback is what makes my writing richer and I learn so much. I have a few crit partners who are my angels disguised as cruel and wicked 😉 The amount of red they put on my ms’s is brutal but sooo helpful. I’ve also received some amazing feedback from an editor I worked with last year. After reading my ms she took the time to correspond through several emails and really break apart some areas I needed to polish before I’d be publishable. THAT was amazing for me and I wrote my next manuscript this last year and incorporated her advice and it was so much richer for it!

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    Lindsay Harrel June 20, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    Feedback is soooo essential for improvement, but yes, it can sting. It’s important to develop a strong backbone and just remember that the point of it is to make you better.

    I have an amazing critique partner and I couldn’t do this thing without her. I have a few other critters who look over my work occasionally too. It’s great to have a few different perspectives. Contests and agent/editor feedback have also been helpful.

    One of the best things I did was attend My Book Therapy’s retreats (Storycrafters and then Deep THinkers) with Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck. Those two ladies know their stuff and when you’re at the retreats, which are small, you learn, brainstorm your ideas and get immediate feedback from them on your work. That personalized attention from authors who know the biz gave me the extra boost I needed to work harder, learn more, and get stronger as a writer.

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    Dawn Kinzer June 20, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    Love the picture! I’m a visual person, and art speaks to me. How she’s incorporated words into the strands of hair is very cool. I wish I could read more of them. Can you tell us anything about them?

    I’ve entered the Genesis, the First Impressions, and the Frasier. All three have given me helpful feedback on my manuscripts. But with each one, I received some conflicting feedback. So, I’ve learned to look for statements from the judges that agree . . . and then see if they resonate in my gut and heart.

    I’ve received some insightful suggestions from you! 😀

    I listen to my two critique partners who have been with me for 8 years. Both are traditionally published—both have edited for traditional publishers—both write in my genre. After working together for so long, we trust each other enough to be blatantly honest.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 20, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

      Dawn, thanks for asking! She used lyrics from the songs she composes. She sings and plays piano and guitar.

      • Avatar
        Dawn Kinzer June 20, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

        That’s really cool that she used her own lyrics. She’s more than a triple threat! 😉

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    Laura Jackson June 20, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    I love that picture!
    I hired an editor since I’m new to writing with the intent of being published. I’ve found it worth the money.

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    Kathryn Elliott June 20, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    I received wonderful feedback from a critique partner – brutal, but wonderful. I think a great many new writers get discouraged when those first comments aren’t the sunshine and flowers you were hoping for, but feedback helps weed the garden for a prettier MS.

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    Iola June 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    “Many quality manuscripts are not marketable”

    Unfortunate, but true, and why writers also need to keep an eye on what is currently selling in the market, what new authors are being signed and what they are writing.

  15. Avatar
    Sharon Kirk Clifton June 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    The first major conference I attended was the now-defunct Central Ohio Writers of Literature for Children Conference. In order to schedule a sit-down with an editor or agent, we had to submit in advance ten pages (I think it was) of the work we were pitching, along with some peripheral materials. By the time we met with our person, she had had time to critique the work and make notes. That was so helpful, because the editor or agent was by then somewhat familiar with our style, etc. We went through the notes and discussed the work, but we also had a few moments to get to know one another. I pitched two novels, and both editors requested fulls. (Unfortunately, both editors left their positions before I had opportunity to submit the full MSs.)I found that process extremely helpful.

  16. Avatar
    Jackie Layton June 20, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    I love you daughter’s picture.

    I’ve been part of a critique group which I’ve learned a lot from. This month I’ve entered two contests and hope to get some valuable feedback.

    Thanks for sharing this today.

  17. Avatar
    Andrea Cox June 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    Hi Tamela! I’m so excited for your daughter. That sounds like a wonderful opportunity for her!

    I have received feedback on my manuscripts from family members and friends who have offered to take a non-biased look at my work. They don’t mind handing out the difficult comments when necessary. I find that their opinions have improved my writing in the fact that my vision is expanded with each new piece of feedback, which makes for deeper, more thought out stories.

    Unflattering feedback is never easy to hear. I generally cry about it to release the stress, then look at it with a fresh, objective viewpoint. This method has also improved my writing and helped thicken my skin.

    My best feedback experience was on one of my screenplays, actually. The feedback I received in a contest said the main character in my story would challenge an actress all the way to the award season. I was pleased and excited about that; I had worked really hard on my character development, and I was so thrilled to see my toiling was appreciated.

    Thanks for such an interesting and informative article, Tamela! I enjoyed reading it.


  18. Avatar
    Ruth A. Douthitt June 20, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    Beautiful artwork!

    I have received excellent feedback from agents and contest judges that put me in the right direction. I was able to tell the agent “thank you” for her helpful feedback when I met her at the ACFW conference. My critique partners have been essential in catching my mistakes and offering suggestions.

    I highly recommend obtaining feedback when you can. It’s the way to learn!

  19. Avatar
    Peter DeHaan June 20, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    Feedback is essential. I never realized how valuable it was until I joined a critique group.

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    Julia Matuska June 21, 2013 at 5:49 am #

    Your daughter’s artwork is interesting and lovely. “Fall back through fire” caught my eye, first thing. 😉 We do go through the fire when we put our work out there, don’t we.

    I am also an artist and have entered work in juried shows for years. That experience transferred over nicely when I decided to enter my work in writing contests(Frasier and Genesis). Good practice for learning to strain out the useful comments while remaining true to your vision/voice.

    Tamela, thanks for the thought provoking post(as always) and best of luck to your daughter in her art journey.

  21. Avatar
    Thomas Allbaugh June 21, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

    Valuable post. I’ve found my critique group to be vital to my growth as a writer. It has helped that the members of my group have different gifts and strengths–one’s a short story writer, another great at dialogue, another a poet. But all of them are open also to my weaknesses and strengths, and they know how to address both. This is both encouraging and challenging.

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