Listen to ALL the Feedback, But Only Pay Attention to Some

I just had the chance to read over the feedback from the Maine Library Association’s annual conference, and it made me think a bit about feedback in general. As an author, I’ve had plenty of different opportunities to receive feedback on many different levels, from alpha readers giving their first impression of a draft, to professional reviewers saying what they thought of the final version, to actual readers giving their honest opinion. And with all that feedback, I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two about how to respond to it.

First up? People can’t have wrong opinions. If someone says they hated your book or your presentation or whatever, then they’re entitled to that opinion–even if it’s for crummy reasons. Telling someone that their opinion is wrong is just a useless argument to try and have. So listen to that feedback, and then weigh it for how much you want to pay attention to it. Is it an opinion expressed by others? If you’ve got a hundred responses, and one person says one thing and 99 say something else, do yourself a favor and listen to the 99.

Unless it’s 99 family members, I suppose.

That goes both ways. I’ve had to really work on not focusing just on the positive feedback or negative feedback. Each comes with a price. I don’t watch American Idol anymore, but back in the day, the audition rounds were full of people who only listen to positive feedback. They’re shocked–shocked–when the judges tell them they’re no good. They protest, saying how much their mom/friend/teacher/dog likes their singing. And then they fume. They put the blame on the judges, saying the judges don’t know what they’re talking about.

Classic signs of only listening to the positive.

The other side is just as bad, however. Only listening to the negative? Why do that to yourself? I think this is often caused because we can all feel like we’re just pretenders. As if any moment, everyone’s going to find out that we’re not nearly as good at what we do as we try to claim we are. And that first bit of negative feedback? That’s the tip of the iceberg waiting to sink our Titanic. But negative feedback isn’t weighted any more heavily than positive feedback. Just because 10 people disliked something doesn’t discount the 10 who liked it. In the conference feedback, some people listed as their least favorite presentation the same exact presentation that others listed as their most favorite.

No one’s right or wrong in that argument. It’s all a matter of taste.

So if you have one student who hated your class and 15 who loved it? Don’t dwell on that one. I’ve got 239 ratings on Vodnik at the moment on Goodreads (wow–up to 239? That’s cool–I hadn’t checked in a long while). 6 people gave it 1 star. Should I freak out that those 6 people didn’t like the book? Nope.

Feedback is there to make us better. That’s it. As long as you always remember that and use it for what it’s there for, then you can’t go wrong. Lots of people saying something’s not working? Fix it. Lots of people loving something? Remember it, and do the same thing next time. If you’re using feedback to validate yourself as a writer or librarian or teacher or whatever, then you’re setting yourself up for the day when Simon Cowell tells you how awful you are. If you’re using feedback as an excuse to give up being a writer or librarian or teacher or whatever, then you’re throwing your dream away just because someone didn’t like what you did.

That’s a terrible reason for giving up.

(Look at me–giving you negative feedback on your decision to listen to negative feedback. How meta do we want to get here?)

And I guess that’s all I have to say about that.

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