Articles, Writing

The Right Kind of Support

As I write this, I am in the final stages of preparing my second monthly newsletter – in it will contain something juicy for my subscribers for my upcoming project. This weekend, I prepared an Instagram story as a call-to-arms for anyone in my meagre following to join up before I drop the newsletter on Monday.

This all seems straightforward, does it not? By my own confession, I am not a social media marketing expert; indeed, the whole process seems very much smoke-and-mirrors, but I do try to do it a bit better each time. I don’t think I could’ve made my newsletter easier to sign up for, and I’m thankful to all those who have subscribed so far.

However, I’ve had feedback to my social media efforts that, on the face of it, seem fair and critical – and indeed useful – but I’m struggling a little to deal with quite how they’re being framed.

I’m quite lucky to find myself involved in a few communities and with a group of fellow authors who are very supportive. I never take that support for granted, and indeed, signing up to my newsletter is a personal choice by any reader or supporter, as there’s nary anything quite as personal in today’s digital age than an email address. Being able to beam my message right to people’s email addresses is a powerful privilege and not one I take lightly.

But let’s get back to the matter of feedback. Should we value feedback from those who claim to support but don’t put any action behind those empty words.

Let me expand on the personal experience I have had: I’ve received feedback on a promotional Instagram “story” from a follower on my Instagram who has made no effort to actually engage with the stall I’m setting out. They won’t sign up to my newsletter as they “don’t want clutter in their inbox”. Fair enough. I think it’s true that it’s more important that my newsletter readership is engaged, rather than just being merrily sent to the inboxes of people who will never read it. It’s a nonsense to spend time crafting a newsletter – as I have done – that sits unread in an inbox full of junk mail. I won’t ever get a return in engagement on that. The comment from this particular follower that there’s no point them signing up to a newsletter they have no intention of reading is valid, on its own, on face value. Initially, I was minded to take this feedback in isolation, but as we will discuss, my thoughts on even that have changed.

But then I pondered a bit on the particular history of this follower, who I do know on a personal level. They didn’t choose to buy – or even read – my short story The Landlady as it was “too scary”. Despite not even looking at it. My upcoming newsletter will mention an upcoming live-stream I’m hoping to hold in connection with Nightmare Tenant (I’ll absolutely blog about it soon) – even this did not tempt them to subscribe, even to see what the announcement was. It was a completely cold reaction; fair enough if my writing exploits are not to their interests, but the framing of this came across as very mean-spirited. No sign of a “good luck though”, just a blunt rejection. The impression I got from them was that they’d make a point of being busy so as not to engage with any of my promotional endeavours.

I’m really excited about Nightmare Tenant but I can’t help but feel a good amount of disappointment and dismay from these responses. Sure, there’s some good standalone points that I can use to improve. But this particular ‘supporter’ has pretty much confirmed that nothing I do will ever be ‘good enough’ for them to actually engage. That’s a pretty disheartening, especially as this is a personal contact who purports to be on friendly terms with me.

I get absolutely that my writing thing is not to everyone’s interests, and I do not take support in any of these endeavours for granted in any way. But two things emerge from this situation:

  • Is this feedback valuable? Even on face value, some good points were made. However, they came from a source that has expressly said they will never engage. Do I feel incentivised to take this on board? Not really, honestly. This is something from an author’s standpoint. I feel there are some good points in the comments that have been made, but the way they’ve been framed to me puts me on the complete defensive.
  • As a supporter, remember that those who you offer criticism or advice to are human. I feel quite disappointed that, while offering some good ideas for improvement on face value, this supporter has become unaware that how they’ve framed their criticism – without any positive balance, no “That’s nice, maybe next time try…” – no, it’s just finding faults. And they’re not prepared to make any investment; indeed, it just comes across as less helpful, more snide and nitpicky.

Once again, there is no obligation for anyone to support my writing endeavours by subscribing to the newsletter, buying any of my work, or even reading my blog or social media pages. I am so, so grateful to all the full-throated support I have received, and it keeps me going. I enjoy the community I’m in so much, and I am grateful for their support.

But this kind of completely negative support doesn’t help me. Sure, the points being made to me, in isolation, are good for continual improvement but it’s more the framing of them that just leaves me feeling quite demotivated and upset. I’d have found it less upsetting or distressing if this had been a random online internet troll but the fact it’s from someone I know on (apparently?) friendly terms cut a bit deeper. That’s less easy to dismiss out of hand.

I feel there’s a social contract here – I’m more than happy to support my fellow authors as my support – signing up to an email newsletter – ultimately costs me nothing. I give people the support I hope they would give me – not because it’s a quid-pro-quo, or that they then owe me their support as I’ve lent them mine, but because they genuinely want to help me like I’ve helped them.

The social contract between creator and supporter should be two-way: a supporter can offer genuine and earnest feedback in goodwill but should be prepared to invest a little in that creator in terms of tangible support. Conversely, as a creator, I am much more inclined to take heed of feedback, suggestions or comments if the person has made that tangible commitment.

My strategy from now is not to take this particular instance to heart as ultimately it doesn’t matter. I’m not angry about this; rather, I think it is their loss if they cannot find a reason to offer genuine support. I’m grateful, more, for the real and full-bodied support I enjoy and will focus on that rather than this negativity. I would prefer to surround myself with this kind of support – enthusiastic, but not sycophantic as criticism needs to be constructive and helpful for continual improvement – than focus more on this than needed.

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Articles, Writing

Defrosting The Thaw: Analysing Beta-Reader Feedback

For my post-apocalyptic novel The Thaw, I’ve been lucky in that I have recently gained a great deal of useful feedback from a series of beta-readers, all of whom have now completed their reading of the third draft of the book and submitted their reports to me.

These comments are extremely useful and I’m grateful of the time all of the beta readers put in to reading the book and also offering the feedback.

The question I have at this point is, now that I have the feedback, what do I do with it, and how can I make the most effective use of the comments I’ve been given, so I have recently given some thought as to how I can glean from the feedback the overall trends in the comments.

For the second draft, this plan was a lot easier as I only had one beta-reader report to deal with, and drawing up an action plan from that was easier with only one opinion to go from.

To draw up an action plan for the next edit, I quickly realised that this needs to be organised or it won’t be effective, and I think in previous posts I’ve talked about my shoot-from-the-hip approach to planning the story. I don’t want to rely on my intuition as much as it’s unreliable and it provides more of a mental tax on the creative process, which bogs one down.

So, as each of the reports has come through, what have my tactics been so far?

  • Firstly, I’ve been conducting a series of “debriefs” with each beta-reader, where possible. This has taken the form of an unstructured chat about the reading experience, dipping in to the feedback and generally just talking out ideas to resolve issues and points made in the feedback. I’ve already had some great ideas the implement into Draft 4 from these so far and I’ve more to do!
  • All of the feedback I’ve got has been imported from the individual responses into a main feedback spreadsheet. This has helped me, at a glance, view the different responses to each question. I’ve also tried to plan ahead and highlight salient points in the feedback as positive (in green) and things that need improvement (in red). I am deliberately not describing these red comments as “negative” as I think that term has connotations that don’t apply in this situation.

At this moment I have the main feedback form comments imported into my feedback spreadsheet (questions to the left, each beta-reader’s comments get their own column so I can at a glance compare and view different answers to various questions) and highlighted as appropriate. My next task is to add to the spreadsheet the various notes from the online debrief sessions I’ve been doing.

As I mentioned in my previous post about this beta-reading experience, I want the feedback to be all in one place for easy analysis, and this method of logging the feedback in an organised way is going to make my next task – drawing up an action plan for each of the questions, which will then feed back in turn into an overall master plan for the next draft – a lot easier.

Already I feel that I am a lot better prepared to squeeze the most value out of the feedback I’ve got for this book – I’m feeling confident, but there’s plenty of work to do. I’m glad I sent this draft to the beta-readers now as I was confident of its stature but there’s some golden ideas to further enhance it.

I think also looking back, my belated epiphany to the level of organisation is already paying off for this project and other ones. I’m working on a new project which I hope to talk about very soon wherein I’ve learned my lessons from the planning aspect of this story and it’s making the writing process considerably easier and more enjoyable!

I see myself as a “technical writer” so these insights into workflow and how it’s changed over time – for the better, I must add – help me reflect on my own process and how it is constantly evolving and becoming more efficient! Hopefully readers find this interesting too and helpful also.