Posted On January 30, 2013 by Print This Post

The Importance of Feedback and How it Can Make you a Better Author – Oliver Rhodes

Ever wanted to know how to deal with feedback – both positive and negative? Help me welcome back Oliver Rhodes as he leads us through the winding path of good vs evil feedback. (Please note Oliver is on GMT – check back later today or tomorrow for his responses to your posts!)

Every author loves positive feedback – the five star ratings, the glowing reviews, your agent or editor raving about your latest book.

But what about the one star rating? Or the rejected manuscripts?

With something as personal as writing, that kind of feedback can hurt. Sometimes it can seem easier to put your hands over your ears… “la, la, la, I’m not listening…”

But here’s the thing…

For those working in creative industries – where there is no right or wrong answer – feedback is crucial. Authors aren’t alone in that.

Designers, musicians, journalists, artists – even marketers – all have to live with criticism.

We’ve all seen the X Factor or American Idol contestant on stage singing their hearts out, only to be brought thudding down to earth by the judges’ comments.
The ones that take that criticism on board and redouble their efforts are the contestants that improve, who we take to our hearts, and who go on to do great things.

Constructive feedback is what we learn most from and can improve your work. It is valuable, and you need to treat it that way.

Don’t view negative feedback as a personal slight – but as an opportunity to learn. In fact, ask for more feedback. It will make you a better author – and engage your audience.

Here are 4 tips on getting the most out of feedback:

1) Don’t be disheartened by negative responses
The fact that someone has spent the time to read your work and to respond is awesome. You are clearly doing something right!

Negative feedback is very rarely meant personally. It’s the view of one person, and is part and parcel of sharing your work.

Agents, Editors, and even readers rarely all like the same thing – if one person doesn’t like your writing, there are hundreds and maybe even thousands out there that will.

Can’t convince an Agent or Editor to take a chance on you? Prove them wrong. Amanda Hocking and John Locke both became bestsellers whilst self-publishing and went on to big-money traditional book deals. In today’s era of digital publishing, readers will have the final say.

Finally, keep a list of positive feedback that you’ve had. Look at those comments when you need a reminder of what people love about your work.

2) Figure out WHO to listen to
An Editor or honest critique partner will provide constructive criticism that‘s invaluable in honing your story before sharing with a wider audience. But even more important are readers.

As a writer, you need to know your audience (or ‘target market’). Who are the people that will invest their money and time in your books? Get into their heads the same way as you would a character you’re writing.

You can build up a profile of them – perhaps you’re targeting 20-40 year old women who are big fans of HOT paranormal romance. They could be based anywhere in the world, but you know they’ll be fans of JR Ward and Sherrilyn Kenyon. Whilst they like their books dark, dangerous and sexy, they also want a HEA and it’s important that you create a world they can completely lose themselves in.

The great thing about online retailers and social networks is that you can check readers against your profile. Get a bad review on Amazon or Goodreads? Look at that person’s review history and work out whether they’re part of your target group.

You can’t appeal to everyone – so stop trying. Concentrate on what those in your target audience think. And use reviews to teach you more about the type of person that loves your writing.

Your social media connections will give you even more information about readers – those who follow you represent some of your most loyal fans.

If someone in your target audience, especially a loyal reader, tells you that they didn’t like your latest plotline or book cover – take it seriously. Readers are hard to get – you need to do everything you can to keep them. And bear in mind that for every person who bothers to tell you, there are probably 10 who thought it.

Finally, when readers tell you what they love about your writing – make a note of it. Start to see a pattern? That’s what your author brand means to people.

3) Encourage feedback
Being open to feedback is the first step. But I think you can go further than that. Proactively seeking feedback will reward you with more of it – and make sure that you’re hearing what you need to.

How?
There are more ways than ever before to get feedback from readers. Of course scouring reviews is one way.

But the simplest – ask people. And do it regularly.

Why not put a note in the end of every book with your e-mail? Have a feedback page on your website? Ask your twitter followers?

One great way to get constructive feedback is to build up an e-mail list of loyal readers. E-mail makes it easier for people to share things that they might not feel comfortable bringing up in a public forum.

Feeling clever? Put together a quick survey using a free online tool such as Survey Monkey. Bear in mind that the more information that you ask for, the less people will complete the survey.

And always remember to thank people for their input.

What?
Feedback can be retrospective – what did you think of my last book? Was there anything that could have improved it?

But why not look forward? Share a couple of options for your next cover design. Ask readers which secondary character they’d like to see have their own story told.

Feedback can also be a little more interactive and fun. Why not create a Pinterest board for your series, allowing readers to pin pictures of who they’d like to play your main characters in a film?

Why?
If one of your loyal readers didn’t enjoy your latest book, would you rather he/she:

a) Silently added you to her ‘never-read-again’ list OR;
b) E-mailed you to tell you what they didn’t like about it.

Equally, if your readers are dying for you to write a sequel, wouldn’t you like to know?

Feedback lets you know how well you’re meeting reader expectations. But it can also do a lot more:

• Asking the reader’s opinions and responding to negative feedback shows that you care what they think and can increase loyalty.
• You’ll learn more about your readers – and improve your creative decision-making.
• Using social media for feedback will create conversations and help you to pick up new followers.
• Getting other’s creative input can help spark ideas.
• Collaborating with readers – for example on your next cover design – can create ready made brand-ambassadors for your work.

4) Remember – you are in control
Feedback is just feedback. It doesn’t compel you to change who you are or what you do.

Yes – listen. Yes – consider. But YOU decide what to take on board. After all, your creative control is what makes you the author you are.

So here’s my own feedback request.

I’m going to be writing a series of posts for RU. I’d love to hear what you think so far and, more importantly, what you’d find useful going forward.

I’m happy to talk about marketing, branding, cover design, web design, social media or publishing in general. Let me know what you’d like to see featured, either in the comments section below or via twitter: www.twitter.com/ollyrhodes

***

RU Writers, how do you handle negative feedback? Can you turn it into a positive?

Join us on Friday for Handsome Hansel and his post Valentine Schmalentine!

***

Bio:
Oliver Rhodes is the Founder of Bookouture – a digital publisher of romance and women’s fiction. Recently picked by The Bookseller as one of their ‘Rising Stars’ of 2012, he’s passionate about building global author brands.

Formerly Marketing Controller at Harlequin UK, Oliver has worked in publishing for over 12 years. Some of his highlights from his time at Harlequin include launching Mills & Boon’s New Voices online writing competition and rapidly growing it’s MIRA imprint – establishing authors such Debbie Macomber, Diane Chamberlain, Susan Wiggs and Alex Kava in the UK market.

www.twitter.com/ollyrhodes

www.twitter.com/bookouture

www.bookouture.com

www.oliver-rhodes.com

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19 Responses to “The Importance of Feedback and How it Can Make you a Better Author – Oliver Rhodes”

  1. Hi Oliver,

    Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. I know writers who keep all rejection letters and negative reviews in binders. I read them and move on. The negative has power. I try to diminish it by not letting it block the positive. You have a very impressive resume. Look forward to more posts.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | January 30, 2013, 6:56 am
    • Hi Mary Jo – I definitely agree there’s no need to dwell on the negative – if there’s a lesson there to be learnt, then learn it and move on.
      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment – appreciate it!
      Oliver

      Posted by Oliver Rhodes | January 30, 2013, 8:15 am
  2. Morning Oliver!

    I will always remember my first big web design project. We’d proofed it, tweaked it, beautified it and then sent it live. The next morning I woke to a short email in my inbox. Something to the effect of ‘if you can’t even spell microwave correctly, I’m sure your company isn’t the right one for me.'(that’s paraphrasing quite a bit more nicely than what he said!)

    And sure enough, right there on the front page – mirocwave. That was one of my first encounters ever with public feedback. There have been more, and will be again, and no matter how thick your skin is, it still smarts.

    I’m a “people pleaser”….I WANT to make everyone happy….I can see big trouble ahead for me once I get published. =) How do you sort out those people who are well meaning and wanting to give you good feedback, compared to those who are just being mean? I’m afraid I’d take all comments to heart….

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | January 30, 2013, 9:03 am
    • Hi Carrie!

      In terms of dealing with comments, I think the right question to ask is ‘what can I learn here?’. Of course you can learn from both positive and negative comments – but if someone isn’t being at all constructive, then you might not be able to learn anything. In that case it’s best to just move on and focus the useful feedback that you do get.

      Web design is actually an interesting parallel, because there’s often a ‘beta’ testing phase where a select number users get early access to the site in return for their feedback. It’s acknowledged that the service won’t be perfect, but those early users help to improve it – and often become advocates of the site that help spread the word.

      That’s starting to happen more in the Publishing world too – with fan fiction, and sites like Wattpad and Movellas.

      It was also something that we found incredibly popular when we ran Mills & Boon’s New Voices online writing competition. Friendships and writing groups were forged through that process of giving and getting feedback that I know have been incredibly valuable for authors.

      So perhaps there’s something in that concept of ‘beta’ testing that we can all learn from too.

      Posted by Oliver Rhodes | January 30, 2013, 9:31 am
  3. Thanks, Oliver, for a really helpful post. I particularly liked your comments about knowing your audience, and recognizing that much of the negative feedback to your work will come from those who are outside of your target audience.

    One way to get acclimated to getting negative feedback is to offer feedback to others. Honest, constructive feedback, intended to help another writer improve. When you learn to provide such feedback for others, you then learn to recognize it when it comes your way.

    Posted by Jackie Horne | January 30, 2013, 9:33 am
    • Thanks Jackie – really good point about giving feedback yourself to learn about the process – it’s actually surprisingly tricky to do.

      One technique often used is the ‘praise sandwich’… I loved this / but not this / and this was great too. If nothing else it’s a good reminder to look for the positives in someone’s work.

      Posted by Oliver Rhodes | January 30, 2013, 9:41 am
  4. Hi Oliver!

    Negative feedback smarts, but I agree that a writer can learn from it. I also tell myself that a bad review or critique is just one person’s opinion.

    Should an author respond to a negative review?

    Thanks for another informative post.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | January 30, 2013, 9:43 am
    • Hi Jennifer!

      Ohhhh, that’s a tricky one…

      The easy, and safe, answer is no. In fact having negative reviews can sometimes have a positive impact by encouraging people who disagree to write a review in your defense.

      Having said that, I think there are some situations where it’s ok to respond to a bad – but constructive – review. In fact the conventional wisdom with customer service generally and brands on social media is that it’s good to respond to negative comments. The key to this is obviously getting the response right.

      As an example – someone has written that they normally love your books, but the latest didn’t live up to their expectations… This is clearly a loyal – but disappointed reader – and you should care what they think.

      Let them know that you’re sorry the book didn’t live up to expectations, and that their feedback is important to you. You could also let them know that they’re welcome to e-mail/tweet/facebook you and perhaps tell them a little about the latest book you’re working on.

      Showing that you care what readers think can go a long way to encouraging loyalty.

      Posted by Oliver Rhodes | January 30, 2013, 10:17 am
  5. Thanks for a great post, Oliver. I can handle negative comments, but they often send my writing to the deep freeze. I have pretty thick skin but sometimes when I’m doubting myself a few negative words can send me into a tailspin.

    My problem is giving too much weight to critical comments. I find myself wanting to “fix” things but – as you mentioned – it’s impossible to please everyone. Sometimes I’ll try so hard to please everyone else that I practically erase my voice from the story.

    I’m getting better about trusting myself, but I think this will always be an issue for me.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 30, 2013, 10:53 am
    • Hi Becke,
      I think that sensitivity to critical comments is perfectly natural amongst all creative types. For me, the key is trying to use feedback so that it has a positive impact on your writing, and learning to let comments go that don’t help you develop (easier said than done I know!).

      Remember to keep that list of positive feedback too – and good luck with it!

      Posted by Oliver Rhodes | January 30, 2013, 11:18 am
      • Thanks, Oliver. I should point out that the negative comments I’ve received were all extremely helpful. I feel bad for published authors who get reviews that are just downright mean – I don’t think there’s any benefit in losing sleep over those.

        Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 30, 2013, 4:55 pm
  6. Thanks for the great article Oliver! You are so right that both positive and negative feedback provides writers with a wealth of information.

    I wanted to offer my unique perspective as a book marketer around negative feedback on Amazon.

    With all the recent information about paid reviews on Amazon and doubts around the impartiality of reviewers, one or two less than seller reviews can actually improve an author’s credibility. If the vast majority of your reviews are 3-5 stars with one or two crackpots hating your book, this is actually a good thing. People are more likely to believe that a book is pretty good if they see that most people loved the book, but not everyone.

    Finally, If the reason for the bad review is that the reader has a problem with formatting, get Amazon involved and get the problem solved for the reader. Most readers will go back and change a negative review once the source of their irritation is removed. And they will appreciate your effort on their behalf.

    Rachel Simeone
    Book Marketing Consultant
    ZetaBlue Marketing
    http://www.zetablue.com

    Posted by Rachel Simeone | January 30, 2013, 11:07 am
  7. Hi, Oliver.

    I don’t mind negative feedback if it’s done in a professional manner. Particularly if the feedback is specific to what the reader didn’t like rather than “This entire book stunk.” LOL.

    I do think it’s important for authors to trust their instincts though. I tend to take some chances with my story lines, but I also have a core group of trusted people I talk to about my ideas before I go ahead with them.

    Looking forward to more of your posts!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | January 30, 2013, 12:51 pm
    • Thanks Adrienne!
      Having a group of people to run ideas by is a great support to have – I do the same when I’m writing blog posts… and I always love to get constructive comments – sometimes they point out things I hadn’t even thought about. It’s nice to get positive comments, but it’s the constructive ones that improve things!

      Posted by Oliver Rhodes | January 30, 2013, 2:12 pm
  8. Oliver,

    Another great post!

    I’m sure I could brainstorm a dozen topics for you :-). But one that strikes me (because I’ve been pondering it lately) is building a profile of your ideal reader and then how to best utilize that profile.

    Feedback is so tricky. It can really get inside you and mess with your head. I think one part of the problem is knowing when someone has YOUR best interest at heart, rather than their best interest forefront. I’ve taken negative feedback from a range of folks in the publishing world and have been surprised by the generosity of some and the spitefulness of others.

    Thanks for being at RU!
    Kelsey

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | January 30, 2013, 1:10 pm
    • Hi Kelsey,

      Great – reader profiles is a good one!

      Knowing who to listen to is definitely tricky – but I think anyone in publishing unprofessional enough to give spiteful feedback makes that decision an easy one!

      Thanks for having me back again.

      Posted by Oliver Rhodes | January 30, 2013, 2:18 pm
  9. Great timing of this post as it’s the next email down from an editor’s letter highlighting my need for a significant rewrite!

    I think I need time to mull over the feedback, but you’re right – it can only make my writing stronger.

    We all have some inkling of our weaker areas. What smarts most is having flaws you’d not seen yourself highlighted. But that’s the only way they’ll get fixed!

    (Loved New Voices BTW – it connected me to a wonderful community of writers, thank you)

    Posted by Jo Fereday | January 30, 2013, 2:02 pm
  10. I actually just found a great post from Seth Godin on negative feedback… see it here >

    http://bit.ly/TktUOq

    Posted by Oliver Rhodes | February 1, 2013, 5:38 am

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