Evaluating Critical Feedback (i.e.: Not all feedback is created equal)

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I touched on this when discussing how to find critique partners "on your level," but this is something that is going to come up over and over again as a writer as you share your work, whether it's your manuscript or your query/pitch. While it's important to learn to take criticism gracefully, it's also important to note that: not all feedback is created equal. Sometimes critical or negative feedback from someone just isn't worth much to you, and you can and SHOULD disregard it.

Consider the source: is the person a writer? If so, what kind of writer are they? Are they producing polished, cogent, compelling prose? Have you read their work and did you like it? Feedback from a source whose work you respect is worth listening to. But if you don't think what they are writing is worth much? Disregard.

If they're not a writer, what's their background and how are they approaching the work? Non-writers can give great feedback--most agents/editors are non-writers who give critical/editorial feedback!--but that doesn't mean all reader feedback is qualified. How well-read (especially within genre) is this person? Are they providing sound logic/reasoning behind their criticisms? Do they have background/area of expertise/experience/education that might make them uniquely qualified to give such feedback/advice?

Writer or non-writer: what is the person's agenda? Why are they providing critical feedback? If you've posted to a forum, especially a public place such as Reddit (some subs in particular), could the person be jaded & bitter about the industry? Could they be the type who loves to tear down work regardless of its quality/substance? Or someone who is not well-versed/experienced in critical/editorial feedback and doesn't realize that critique need not always include negatives/tear downs.

Many inexperienced critiquers tend to believe that they need to find fault in something to provide substantive help. Not so! As you see in my Working with CPs section, I outlined many ways to approach feedback that involve asking questions/making statements, and otherwise engaging with material without tearing it down/apart. Novices, especially on the Internet, may default to "brutal honesty," and their comments may be lacking in context or substance.

Could the person's background, personality and preferences be coloring their comments? For example, let's say you've written a feminist character who confronts misogyny. Someone who reads that who is uncomfortable with "confrontational" women and who is more comfortable with patriarchal structures may tear your work apart. In fact, many people do not like "unlikeable female protagonists" and so you may want to discount those opinions. (That said, if you get consistent feedback from a wide variety of people about an unlikeable character, female or otherwise, you may need to evaluate your character arc.)

This comes up with diverse works, as well. If you have written something that is far outside of a reader's comfort zone, especially work that explores experiences beyond white, middle class (&up), you may get pushback about "not finding XYZ relatable" or things making a reader uncomfortable.

That's the thing: consider consistency of feedback. If only one person brings something up, it may be an outlier. However, if multiple, independent parties bring up the same topics repeatedly, that is when you will need to take those issues into consideration. Whether it's three out of four CPs telling you you have a pacing problem, or 6 out of 10 editor rejections telling you your worldbuilding isn't deep enough--when multiple people point out a problem, it's likely a real problem.

It's important to assume good faith when working with someone new, but definitely be on the lookout for these red flags and signs that you're not a good fit. Not all feedback is good feedback!

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