Feedback is a gift. Even when it doesn't feel like one.

I'm not really sure what I expected when I first sent Ancient Tide out to BETA Readers. It was the first time that anyone was going to read something I'd written. I thought it was good, of course- I mean, you have to believe in yourself don't you! - but thinking something is good and being told it actually is, are two different things. 

If I'm totally honest,  I got more than I bargained for. The response was overwhelmingly positive, the scores high, the comments constructive. I was leaping for joy as another 8/10, another 9/10 came bouncing into my inbox. I was on a roll and it felt good. Then my bubble burst. A 6/10. Yes, a six. Ironically, I would have settled for that when I first sent the book out for feedback, but I'd been so spoiled by the ego-massaging from those who had read it, that a 6 felt like a slap in the face. They didn't understand the plot. Ridiculous, I thought. How could you possibly not understand it. Don't you know this book is going to be the next big thing? I suppose when you see it at the movies, you won't understand that either! 

Their feedback haunted me for days, weeks. It shouted at me far louder than all the positive comments combined. It hurt, like an annoying hangnail. I could focus on little else. I felt deflated. I wondered why I'd even bothered giving it to them to read in the first place. I mean, I wanted to be told how great my story was, not what was wrong with it!

And then I realised two things. First of all, that regardless of whether it was now or in the future, someone was going to criticise my story. Old adages of you can't please everybody sprung to mind. I consoled myself with statistics. 19 out of 20 loved it, that was a success rate to die for. I should have been pleased! But I wasn't. I couldn't handle that someone had read something that took me two years to write and didn't appreciate it. I guess I will just have to get used to that. Then the second, and far more important thing hit me. Perhaps they had a point! I bought them a coffee, keen to find out more. And do you know what? They did have a point! It turned out that their feedback was far more insightful, far more powerful than any of the wonderful feedback that the rest of my readers had provided. In those few, direct comments, and their subsequent points, they forced me to close a loop in my plot that I had never thought of.  Ancient Tide is a better story for it and I'm so glad that I listened. Eventually! 

It was a great lesson that I will carry around with me as an author. From now on I will explore all constructive feedback and then make informed decisions about how and whether to make changes to my work. Having said that, I think it's only fair to confess that I do still prefer it when people tell me how great my writing is- it is, after all, one of the most awesome feelings in the world.

Finally of course, not all feedback is constructive. But do you know what? If someone can't be bothered to point out how I could have improved something that they openly criticise, then I can't be bothered to listen.

Simon Harding