Too Many Cooks – How Do You Handle Conflicting Critiques? by Mary Lindsey

What do you do when you receive conflicting opinions on your manuscript from beta readers, critique partners, or even agents and editors?

The answer? Well, there is no finite answer. You simply have to follow your instinct. Lame, I know, but that’s all I’ve got.

I find revision ping-pong happens frequently in forums and large critique groups. Someone posts a first chapter or some pages. One person says something and then others jump on board based on that point and it becomes a suggestion frenzy. Sometimes comments regarding the same passage conflict and there are so many suggestions it’s impossible to know which one to take. Then, the writer ends up changing things that are working and adding things that don’t in order to please others.

The same can be true of agents’ suggestions. One told me the pace in my opening scene was too slow, another too fast and a third said it was okay but listed a billion other things. All wanted revisions. I had no idea what to make of it.

Subjectivity. That’s what I ended up making of it. Many aspects of publishing are subjective. Every reader is different. They bring to the table their own preferences and biases. Just as each writer does.

Where do you start when you have conflicting opinions?

First, as with all criticism, do not take it personally or you cannot objectively evaluate the input. Then, consider the source. How well do you know this person? What are his/her qualifications?

Some of my favorite beta readers are teens familiar with my genre. They are not writers at all, but they don’t critique my work; they simply give me overall impressions and pinpoint voice inaccuracies. My critique mates, on the other hand, are excellent writers who write different genres, but are familiar with mine. I like critique partners who are in a similar place career-wise or further ahead.

Still, even with skilled writers as crit partners and betas who are knee deep in my genre, I come across this conflicting suggestion problem. Who do I believe?

Me. That’s who.

I step back for a day or two, sometimes a week, and then read over the suggestions again. Often, that’s enough. The time away has let me sort out how I feel about it, divorcing my preferences and vision for the story from what others say. Most of the time when I come back over it, I clearly see why the suggestions were made and I am in accord with the changes because they fit my vision but make the project stronger. The time away also allows me to sort out the comments that are contrary to my goal. Remember that not all suggestions are good ones for your story.

So, I guess my advice is to consider what folks say, but don’t forget to take into account the most important opinion: that of the writer—you. Don’t let too many cooks spoil the broth.

Reposted from STET! with permission of the author.

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Photo by Brittany Hammond

Mary’s writing is a natural expression of her love of reading and a fascination with the flexibility of the human imagination. Books make the impossible possible.

Prior to attending University of Houston Law School, Mary received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Drama from the University of Houston. She has taught drama and playwriting in a large public high school and English in a private school. Currently, Mary teaches acting to children and teens at a private studio in Houston, Texas.

She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette from the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Mary lives in Houston with her husband, three kids, two dogs, her daughter’s pet rats, an Australian Bearded Dragon and dozens of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. (The roaches are long story—don’t ask.)

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