The Point Of Giving Feedback

Feedback on writing is taken seriously at “The People’s Friend”

The Chambers dictionary offers this definition for Feedback: Response or reaction providing useful information or guidelines for further development.

Do you agree? Is that what you expect of feedback on a story? Useful information or guidelines for further development?

Having no feedback

A colleague’s partner is a writer. He recently sent off his manuscript to a publisher, and received a response that was basically “thanks very much, but not for us.”

Naturally, he’s extremely disappointed, and he’s also frustrated. Why didn’t his work suit? The feedback was so vague that it didn’t tell him anything useful. Was it all of it? A portion of it? The beginning? The ending? The characters? The plot? He was given no clue. He has nothing to work on and no knowledge of how he can improve.

And how do you move on from that? You don’t know where to start, do you, in trying to rewrite.

Constructive criticism

We’re very conscious of that on “The People’s Friend” fiction team, and are famed for offering as much constructive criticism as we reasonably can.

But to be useful, comments can’t only be praise.

If we read your story and say lovely characters, interesting plot, good theme, but we’re not taking it, that doesn’t actually tell you anything you can work with. You’re like our friend, wondering where it went wrong.

That means that sometimes we’ll be quite critical. And that can be hard to take.

Using criticism to improve your work

We have a high level of respect for writers here at the “Friend” and our feedback always reflects this.

Some words I’ve used recently in returning stories: melodramatic, overwrought, silly, thin, slight, predictable, shallow. Yes, quite robust criticism. But if I’d soft soaped and diluted my words, I’d also have diluted my message and the writers’ understanding of my reasons for returning their stories. And that would have rendered the feedback bland and kind of pointless.

Another colleague is associated with dance competitions and the marking of them. And it’s another area where trying too hard not to be critical can leave the dance student asking, If I danced that well, why didn’t I win?

Remember that feedback definition? It has to be useful.

Read more from Shirley’s Fiction Ed Blog here 

Shirley Blair

Fiction Ed Shirley’s been with the “Friend” since 2007 and calls it her dream job because she gets to read fiction all day every day. Hobbies? Well, that would be reading! She also enjoys writing fiction when she has time, long walks, travel, and watching Scandi thrillers on TV.