Conflicting Feedback on Your Writing

Feedback on my writing is my favourite. No, really – it is. There’s positive feedback, which makes you feel warm and fuzzy and lets you know you’re on the right track with your work. Negative feedback can be good motivation to make you work harder. But what about when feedback from different sources contradicts each other?

Example A. The opening of my novel, The Princess Murders, a murder mystery.

As writers, we’re told the best way to get the attention of an agent or publisher is by having a knockout first chapter. I’ve reworked and rewritten my first few chapters so many times that I could recite them. I’d been feeling pretty good about them.

Simply put, this is what happens in the first few chapters:

  • The main character (MC), a private detective, is conducting surveillance on a teacher who lives in her hometown. She hasn’t been back in seven years and returned specifically for this case.
  • A reunion with the MC and her former school friends.
  • The morning after the reunion, the MC wakes up to find a text message from her friend, who is upset with her about something she said at the reunion.
  • Unable to contact her friend to apologise, MC goes to her house and is horrified to find that she has been murdered.

The opening scene where the MC is conducting surveillance establishes her life before the inciting incident, the murder. The murder triggers her to act – she has a new task, which is to solve the murder of her friend.

In the first draft stages, I received feedback from a mentor (a professional, published author) who said I should get to the reunion scene as soon as possible. To achieve this, I cut a fair chunk of out of the beginning, which was mostly the MC’s thoughts and feelings about seeing her old friends again.

Since then, I was twice shortlisted for the Flash 500 Novel Opening Competition, a competition judged on the appeal of your first chapter and synopsis. I viewed this shortlisting as a good sign that my opening chapter was not too terrible.

Earlier this year, an agent read my opening chapters and provided me with encouraging feedback, and requested to see the rest of my manuscript.

More recently, I did an online self-editing course. The feedback I received from the tutor (a professional, published author) was that the murder happened too late in the story. She said the murder should happen as close to the start of the book as possible. She questioned what happened in the first few chapters, assuming it involved the MC moving back to town to set up her agency, and concerned that this might be too much backstory.

However, the following week I had a meeting with a publisher/editor at a writer’s conference about my first chapter and synopsis. Her thoughts were quite the opposite. She said that the beginning of the novel felt too rushed. She suggested I slow it down and start the story by introducing the MC before she returns to her hometown. Perhaps a scene where she is trying to decide if she should return to her hometown, and her thoughts and feelings about that. Ultimately, the publisher/editor was not interested in my manuscript.

In summary, the professional advice I’ve received so far in regards to the structure of the opening of my novel are as follows:

  • It starts in a good place.
  • Needs to start later by bringing the murder closer to the start of the book. Don’t have too much backstory!
  • Should start earlier so we can get to know the MC better before we see her in action. Needs more backstory.

It seems like everyone is telling me to do something different, resulting in much confusion. It would be easy to get annoyed and frustrated and wonder if I should give up on this manuscript and start something new. But if I did that, I wouldn’t learn anything.

And even though the advice is different, what if they’re actually all correct?

Obviously I can’t start the book in three different places at the same time. But what if I look at the reasoning behind each suggestion? For example, I’ve been saying the murder is the inciting incident, but what if it’s not? Maybe the MC returning to her hometown is the inciting incident. And the publisher/editor suggested adding a new scene because she didn’t feel a connection with the MC in the opening action sequences and couldn’t understand why she was doing what she was doing. Evidently something is missing that needs to be looked at and reworked.

In the meantime, I’ve engaged a professional editor to review my manuscript and offer some guidance. There could be some major changes ahead and I’ll talk about these changes more in my next blog post.

Have you ever had conflicting feedback? What did you do? Please let me know in the comments below.


12 thoughts on “Conflicting Feedback on Your Writing

    1. I walked away from my session (where I was told to maybe add in more at the start of the novel, instead of starting with the action scene) and almost the very first thing that the author at the very next session said was to start your book in the middle of the action. Especially in crime fiction. Hahahaaaa… man, I’ve been so confused. I can understand the appeal of indie. Thanks for reading my post, Kirsty!

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  1. Yes! My book opens with a dream, and almost every beta who read it said “don’t start with a dream”. Funnily enough, none of the agents or publishers I submitted to mentioned this being a problem, and the small press who offered me a contract on it also never mentioned the opening dream being an issue. There’s a reason the book opens the way it does and I’m glad I didn’t give into the conflicting advice and stuck to my guns (I also hope readers agree when the book comes out 😅). My advice is to go with what’s best for the story, and as you’re the writer, you should know/work out what that is. Good luck, Alyssa! This story sounds so interesting and I can’t wait to read more about it in the next blog post.

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    1. Maybe that old advice (don’t start with a dream) has gone by the wayside. As long as it’s good writing and it draws the reader in then it shouldn’t matter if it’s a dream or not! Obviously the publisher who offered you a contract can recognise good writing. Can’t wait to read your book when it comes out!

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  2. I had a lot of conflicting advice too – advice which would have meant rewriting the whole book. In the end I stuck with my gut feel about what worked and what didn’t. Maybe think about what opening scenes would appeal most to your reader – what will hook them into the story. What hooks you into a story? I find the first 3or 4 chapters need to keep hooking the reader – whether by character or plot – and then you have a bit more free rein for the rest of the story.

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  3. Great post, I spent the last two days rewriting my first two chapters! I had a few people beta read and give me feedback, some of it completely contradictory. I tend to go with the advice that gives me a ‘ah ha’ moment, even if I don’t follow it exactly.

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    1. Sometimes that feedback that confirms what you were already thinking (like an a-ha moment) is the most useful! Hope you are feeling better about your first two chapters now. Good luck and thanks so much for reading my post!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes, I wax told by a professional editor that I needed to beef up the secondary characters in an early scene to make them come alive. A beta reader said she felt overwhelmed by too many characters at once. I’m going to leave the characters in place because they add to the setting.

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