The Three Essentials of Helpful Feedback

Many writers find that the more they share and talk about their work, the more feedback they receive. In addition to editors and agents, family members, friends, writing groups, and critique partners can all provide valuable feedback on a manuscript draft. However, not all feedback is helpful, and too much feedback—particularly in the early and late stages of the writing process—can do more harm than good.

When receiving feedback, it’s important to consider three essentials: the source; the timing; and the content.

The Source of the Feedback

Is the feedback solicited or coming from someone whose opinion, knowledge, or expertise you trust? Or is the feedback unsolicited or coming from someone you’re less familiar with? 

If you weren’t looking for feedback or don’t trust its source, consider whether you’re likely to find reading it helpful or frustrating. Are you able to easily disregard feedback that doesn’t resonate with you, or is it more likely to make you question your instincts? Remember that you don’t have to read every critique or consider implementing every suggestion you receive. Instead, you might decide to put the feedback aside (whether for now or forever); to first share the feedback with someone whose opinion you trust and who can help you to separate helpful from unhelpful critiques; or to only consider the suggestions that align with feedback you’ve received from other trusted sources. If you are uncertain about the source of a set of feedback, considering its timing and content becomes even more important. 

The Timing of the Feedback

Before you solicit or read feedback, consider whether you are truly ready to receive and engage with it. Are you ready to brainstorm solutions to challenging questions; to reconsider plot threads and character details; and to begin revisions that may be longer or more difficult than the initial drafting process?

Hearing early feedback—however constructive—on an in-progress or early draft can stymie the creative process, sap the joy out of writing, spark self-doubt, or make the road ahead seem too difficult to continue. It can also be frustrating to hear feedback that belabors issues you’re already aware of and actively working on.

Likewise, feedback that arrives too late for writers to be able to address it—such as suggestions that would require significant rewrites when a book is being proofread or has already been published—can cause authors to second-guess their choices and to focus on rehashing their past work rather than continuing to write new work.

If your manuscript is in one of these early or late stages, you might decide to put aside any feedback you receive or to clarify that you’re sharing your work for support and community, rather than for critiques.

The Content of the Feedback

Of course, the true value of any feedback is its content. As I’ve shared before, it’s important to evaluate the feedback you receive before you begin implementing it. Does the feedback resonate with you and align with your creative vision for your book? Will the feedback help you to get one step closer to the story you are trying to tell? If the suggestions don’t resonate with you, consider whether the feedback is pointing to an underlying issue that you might solve in a way that aligns with your story goals.

Considering these three criteria whenever you receive feedback can help to make the revision process a bit smoother. Next week, we’ll discuss another important consideration for receiving feedback: the feedback funnel, or how to avoid too many cooks in the kitchen.

Your Editor Friend,


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