When you send a draft out into the world and it’s returned with anything less than glowing feedback, the overwhelming feeling of protectiveness is the literary equivalent of watching your alpha readers rear back and kick your baby.
You want to throw your body over the helpless little thing and fight to the death to protect it. Right? Yeah. Don’t. This isn’t a baby-baby. It’s a story. And you sent it to alpha readers so they could tell you where it’s broken.
Remember, if you wanted someone to tell you how fabulous you were, you could have used your mama.
The only way to grow as a writer and to identify the places where your story isn’t working is for someone else to point out the weak spots. If your response is to hunker down and howl defiantly that your story is indeed not broken, you might as well take your toys right now and go home.
You’ll never succeed.
I’m not kidding.
But if you’re willing to shed that defensiveness, realize that you aren’t being criticized, your idea isn’t being criticized, but a peer is trying to help you, then we have something to work with.
You might need to put your feedback away for a few days and let it simmer. A manuscript covered in comments can be a hard pill to swallow.
When you thought you’d created the next great classic hero, learning your main character is unlikable and a brooding nitwit can stings.
Step away. Breathe. Come back in a day or two.
Really listen to what your alpha readers are trying to tell you.
The reader is always right. Always.
If you feel the need to email your alpha reader back and explain a scene, stop. Your job is to flesh out that section of the text, so the reader doesn’t need an explanation. I mean, are you going to be in every library and bookstore to author-splain your novel to every single reader?
Didn’t think so.
If an alpha reader is confused, you missed a critical connection.
The reader is watching your Technicolor movie through a peephole. And not just any peephole, but one covered in waxpaper that’s a little crooked around the edges and probably has less than perfect focus.
So when the alpha reader says I’m confused, listen.
When I give critiques, I always tell the author to take everything I’m about to say with a grain of salt, and if my part of my advice doesn’t resonate with them, ignore it.
Because even though I just finished telling you to always listen to alpha readers, also bear in mind that everyone comes to the table with their personal biases.
We all have favorite and least favorite genres. There’s always going to be “that character” who reminds us of our ex, high school bully, or painfully lost friendship. Our natural trigger points will be hit, and we’ll react in a way that’s not a response to the story but our memories.
How do you tell the difference between a biased alpha reader and honest feedback?
Get to know your alpha readers.
Learn their strengths and weaknesses. Understand their limitations within certain genres. Know who’s good at content edits and who’s better at line-edits.
Play the numbers.
If more than one alpha reader tells you the same thing, listen. The problem is in your story, not the readers’ biases.
Whatever you do, don’t take feedback personally.
The only way to improve as a writer is to learn what you’re doing wrong.
So suck it up, buttercups. This is a tough business, and if you can’t take a manuscript critique, you won’t last fifteen minutes out there.