|"I'm not listening!"|
That’s a trick question, of course! You should never completely ignore feedback.
There are times when you get feedback (from a critique partner, a beta reader, or even an agent) that seems useless to you, but even suggestions you aren’t going to use can tell you something about your manuscript – and the effectiveness of your story.
For example …
Genre Prejudice (“This isn’t what I usually read …”) – When I critique a manuscript in a genre I don’t normally read, I usually warn the writer that my suggestions may reflect that lack of experience. If the person giving you feedback doesn’t come out and say this directly, you can still usually tell, because s/he picks on elements that distinguish your genre. Sometimes, the reader does read your genre, but doesn’t like what you’ve done with it – or thinks you’ve broken the rules. This is a form of prejudice too, and the fact is, a unique twist to your genre makes your book stand out from the rest.
How You Learn From This – Make sure that you have your world-building and genre elements down pat. A person who doesn’t normally read your genre will critique the unfamiliar elements and maybe point out some weaknesses you overlooked. If you do break the traditional rules of your genre, make sure you do it in a consistent and logical way that actually benefits your story.
Sloppy Reading (“Who is that character again …?”) – Sometimes it seems as if the person giving feedback wasn’t paying attention while reading. They ask a question that you just answered and ask for clarification when you just explained the situation. They mix up characters.
How You Learn From This – Just because you explained something doesn’t mean the reader picked it up. Perhaps the explanation was in the wrong place or buried among extraneous information. You might need to remind the reader of something you already mentioned, or provide a more complete explanation. And if your reader is mixing up characters, consider that their names might be too similar, or you might not have given them enough distinguishing characteristics.
Piddling details (“What train did he take and how did he pay the fare?”) – Readers will sometimes ask for details that seem unimportant or which will slow down the story if you explain them. You find yourself looking at the critique notes and wondering, “Do they really care about this, or were they just looking for something, anything to pick on?”
How You Learn From This – You may be right and the details requested are not necessary for telling the story. But make sure you have the answers straight in your own head, or what seems like a piddling detail might become an actual plot hole. (ie: There is no train that will get him there in that amount of time, and don’t you remember, he lost his wallet back in chapter four?!)
Reader Hijacking (“If I were writing this story …”) – This kind of feedback can be particularly aggravating, because gosh – it’s not their story! No, you don’t want to turn that character into a werewolf, and no, you don’t want to change who wins in the love triangle, and no, you weren’t going to explore that side plot.
How You Learn From This – If the reader went off and envisioned a totally different story from the one you planned on telling, then your manuscript must have lacked whatever it needed to hold his/her attention. Figure out what was missing, and fix it!
Remember: no feedback, no matter how maddening, is ever truly useless!