Critical Critiques: Feedback from Friends and Family

By Natalie Lorenzi

You’ve heard the same advice over and over — nix the pink paper for submissions and don’t ever ask your loved ones  to critique your writing (unless they are writers themselves — and even then, it’s questionable). Why are so many writers negative about feedback from friends and family?

Feedback from Friends and Family

I’ll concede that writers should avoid pink (and otherwise colored) paper, but as for shunning feedback from friends and family —  I’m not so sure. Certainly there are writers who caution against familial feedback. Why? Because the people who love you will undoubtedly claim that they adore your work, since a) they don’t know any better, or b) they don’t want to hurt your feelings. But I have to ask — is that really so bad? The answer: it depends on why you’re asking for their opinion.

You’ve already heard the major reasons to avoid soliciting feedback from familiar folks. Don’t do it…

. . .  to improve your writing skills.

Great Uncle Percy probably won’t offer any tips on subplot, nor will your best friend from high school shed insight on how to revamp your dialogue. And even if your neighbor really is a writer/publisher/editor/agent and hates your work, she can’t just send you a form rejection letter and pray that she never hears from you again. At the very least, she’ll still have to greet you when you take out the trash and pick up your mail.

. . . to impress an editor.

“My kids just adore this particular story . . . ” I can already see the harried editor cringing as he tosses your query over his shoulder. And it won’t matter if your kid’s entire fourth grade class voted your story as the best one in the annals of children’s literature — you might as well open your query with, “Hi, I’m new at this . . . ”

. . . for advice on submitting your work.

When you send in that article on the FDA’s new food pyramid, don’t follow your niece’s suggestion to put scratch-and-sniff food stickers on the envelope. And when your colleague suggests: “Random House publishes a lot of books — why don’t you send your story to them?” remember that you’ll still need to research markets to find the perfect fit for your piece.

Ok, so we know what our loved ones can’t deliver.

Now let’s take a look at why we should seek out their opinions anyway:

To give your ego a boost.

When I e-mailed my first children’s story manuscript to my best friend, she responded the same day: “I’ll be the first in line at your book signing when you hit the New York Times best-seller list!” How can you read something like that and not smile? And from my mom, the avid reader — “Oh, honey, it’s the best story I’ve ever read.” The gushing was palpable. Do I really think it’s the best story she’s ever read? Probably (ok, definitely) not. But even if it’s a story that only a mother can love, her comment still gave my writing ego a boost.

To ease the sting of rejection.

When an editor of a major women’s magazine passed on one of my queries, my sister’s response was: “That woman’ll be sorry one day when your story shows up in one of their competitor’s magazines!” I can just see her raising her eyebrows and nodding sagely. My dad confirmed: “What does that editor know? I don’t think that particular magazine is all that popular anymore, anyway. Why don’t you try one of the bigger magazines?” He had no way of knowing that “that magazine” boasts more than 13 million readers — he just knew that none of those 13 million would be reading his daughter’s article — their loss, apparently. Sure, I was disappointed about the rejection, but picturing my dad admonishing this big-time editor did elicit a smug smile from my lips.

For improvements

What? Didn’t I just explain that someone who loves you can’t help you improve your writing? Well, this may be true most of the time. But you just might discover a few nuggets of literary lucidity buried amongst all the “Oh, it’s wonderful!” comments. After my husband read my middle grade children’s manuscript, I sat back, ready to bask in the glow of his compliments. And he did say some nice things. But what sticks with me are the words: “Honey, all of your characters are boys. Girls tend to be more avid readers, anyway. Won’t you be alienating a good portion of your market by not having any female characters?” Huh? I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that. He was right, of course, so George became Susan, and thank goodness for the “Find/Change” feature that took care of all the instances of “she” and “her.”

Do you want the truth about your writing? Constructive feedback, maybe? Join a critique group, or take a class. Do you want a boost after finding your twenty-seventh consecutive rejection lurking in the mailbox? Then ask your loved ones to read your writing. Don’t use their feedback to hone your craft; use it to fill your heart. If you want to remind yourself that you’re worth more than the sum of your rejections minus those scant acceptances — go ahead and send a copy of your latest piece to your grandmother. I’ll bet she says it’s the best thing she’s ever read.

Cover of Natalie LorenziNatalie Dias Lorenzi is a full-time school librarian in Fairfax, Virginia, where a majority of her students are immigrants. She has previously taught in the US, Japan, and Italy, specializing in English as a Second Language. Natalie also writes curriculum guides for writers and publishers. She is the author of Flying the Dragon, which was a Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Book of the Year. She’s a great writer — just ask her friends and family. Natalie Lorenzi has a Website

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