Editorial feedback: When to make the change & when to stick to your guns
If you're a writer and you've let at least one person read your work, you've likely received feedback on your writing that you might not entirely agree with. You might even strongly disagree with their opinion.
When this happens, you probably ask yourself the following questions. How much stock should you put in one person's opinion? It's your work after all, right? Shouldn't you get the final say? How do you know which feedback to accept and which to ignore?
Conflicting feedback always creates a frustrating issue, the degree of frustration varying depending on who gave you the feedback. Here's a little guide for how much weight I put in people's feedback, from least to most.
Readers/reviewers. I whole-heartedly encourage readers and reviewers to voice their opinions, good or bad, on the proper channels (i.e. review sites and not, say, tweeting/emailing authors what they hated about their book). That said, reader and reviewer feedback just isn't very helpful simply because the book is already done! If someone read your book and hated your main character, it's not like you can change it. It's too late! Not to mention, readers have wildly different opinions. One person could think your book is a masterpiece, and someone else could think it's a dumpster fire. It's best to not get hung up on reader feedback, for the sake of your own sanity.
Beta readers. Beta readers' opinions hold more weight than your average reader, mainly due to the fact that you've asked this person to give their feedback early in the process. You've given them your manuscript because you want to know how they react to it. Of course, just because you've asked, doesn't mean you're always going to like what your beta readers have to say. Much like your average readers, beta readers are going to have subjective opinions. What if you have two betas with conflicting opinions? Who do you listen to? Maybe neither! Beta feedback should always be considered (particularly if they've flagged something potentially problematic/offensive) but remember, they're the readers and you're the writer.
Agents you're querying/editors you're submitting to. Things start to get tricky when you've made it to the point that you're placing your manuscript in the hands of agents and editors. These are the industry professionals who know more than you. Their word should be gospel, right? Well...not necessarily. Once again (I know I sound like a broken record) their opinions are very subjective. Publishing is a subjective industry! What one agent/editor hates about your book, another might love (I have experienced this firsthand). However, that doesn't mean you should ignore agent and editor feedback when they've passed on your manuscript. You should take it under serious consideration, because when it comes down to it, they know the market and what will likely sell. If your book is missing the mark in an important area, you're going to want to fix it. And if more than one agent/editor gives you the same feedback, it's probably worth listening to. But also, don't rewrite your whole book based on one agent's opinion unless you agree with it. In the end, it's still your book. If you're not happy with how it turns out, then what was the point?!
And, the most important opinion comes from...
Your agent or editor. This is whose feedback carries the most weight. The agent and/or editor you've signed with (should) absolutely have your best interests at heart. They want you to produce the best book possible, just like you do. And by signing with them, hopefully that means you agree they are an amazing fit for the vision you have, and you trust their judgment. In theory, most (if not all) of their edits should make the story better.
Of course, that doesn't mean you and your agent/editor are always going to be in sync about everything. Debates will likely happen. Us authors can get incredibly protective over specific scenes and characters and details.
Over the years, I've gotten much better at receiving constructive criticism. However, my initial reaction is always to dig my heels in and resist any change. "My book has to have this," I'll wail dramatically. "This scene/interaction/line of dialogue/plot line is integral to the entire story!"
After thinking this, I usually chill for about a day and then revisit the suggestion. By then, I tend to be much more amenable. I can see where my agent/editor was coming from. I can start to envision what the book would look like if I made this change -- how it might actually be better. Then I'll rewrite the scene with the change, and compare it to the original. Nine times out of ten, my trusted agent/editor was right, and the book has improved even more.
I can think of two specific examples when both my agent and editor had me change something I didn't want to initially change, but it vastly improved the story. In the first draft of Another Day, Another Partner, I had the male lead (Dom) as a real ladies' man. Every other sentence out of his mouth was suggestive, and he seemed more focused on seducing the female lead than solving the case they were working. I liked to think of Dom as a lovable douche, but my agent was concerned readers would simply find him to be too sleazy. At first, I was convinced this change would ruin the whole vibe I was going for. But after doing the revision, I realized Dom was much better as the good, just kind of flirty, cop. (And yes, readers loved him this way.)
For my upcoming book Bad Press, I had a debate with my editor on a much smaller detail, but an incredibly important one. It was time for my two main characters, who'd been flirting and building tension for the entire book, to finally kiss! The original scene I'd written was emotional, with my characters being brutally honest and a little awkward. I thought it was intense and real and perfect for them. My editor disagreed. She wanted the opposite -- she wanted a lighter, more fun scene. She thought these two shouldn't do so much gut-spilling, and that maybe it was enough for now to just have them give in to the mutual attraction, nothing more.
I was mulling this idea over for several days. I'd been so attached to the overly emotional kiss for so long, the idea of changing it to something light and playful was hard to adjust to.
Still a little resistant, I decided to write the scene my editor's way just to see. And (insert big sigh here) it was so much better. The kiss happened so much more naturally in this second version, and my characters stayed true to their personalities. Suddenly, I was so grateful for my editor's suggestion that initially launched me into defensive mode.
So, to wrap things up, here's my quick advice for dealing with feedback you don't necessarily agree with:
Trust your agent/editor enough to at least try out their suggestions.
Sit with feedback for at least 24 hours before making any decisions.
Remember that all feedback, no matter who it comes from, is subjective.
If you don't like how a revision turned out, don't make the change.
Make sure you always love your book!!!