Writing a Book: Do you want your feedback now or later?

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For years, Fram Oil Filters ran ads that suggested that you could “Pay me now or pay me later.” Those ads aren’t entertaining as the Frampa ads, but they make an important point.

The Fram ads were about preventative maintenance. You could pay a small amount now to maintain your engine with a Fram oil filter. Or, you could pay a large amount later when your engine seized up and you had to rebuild it. There’s a similar message that’s important for writers. It’s about feedback. When would you like it?

Feedback Is Emotional

Think of Christmas morning. There’s a present from your spouse you’re eager to open. You pull away the ribbon and rip apart the paper to find a gift certificate for a weight loss clinic. The gift is meant well. But you can’t help but think to yourself, “My spouse thinks I’m fat!” That’s not a rational response, it’s pure emotion. That’s the kind of response that feedback generates for most of us.

We’d like to think that we can view our writing dispassionately, but most of us can’t. I sure can’t. Even if it will make my piece a lot better, it’s still hard to take. The truth is, if you’re a writer and you publish what you write, you will get feedback. That gives you two choices: you can get the feedback now, or you can get it later.

The Hardest Time to Get Feedback Is Also the Best Time

When we’re in the middle of writing a book, we’re emotionally involved. That means that any criticism you get, any suggestion about how you could do something better, is likely to be hard to take. For me, when I’m in the middle of writing, any feedback that’s the slightest bit negative hits me like that dagger in my heart.

I make the best of it by repeating my mantra, “All feedback is a gift. Some of it is useful.” It helps, and I use the feedback to make my books better, but it’s never easy.

A few years ago, I wrote the first draft of what became my book, Become A Better Boss One Tip at A Time. I thought I had it nailed. The book was based on a series of blog posts I’d written over three years. The posts were well-received. Alas, my first round of beta readers didn’t think I turned them into a good book.

They thought that the tips were good, but the book was poorly organized and needed some additional material. I went back to the drawing board. Twice. It took a two more rounds of beta readers for me to get it right. All of that was hard, but the book is far better because of it.

Here’s another example. I spend my days helping people write great business books. Many of them don’t come to me with an understanding of what the entire process from idea to finished book looks like, so I wrote a white paper to explain the process. As usual, I sent a draft out to several people asking for feedback.

Most of the feedback was good, but one reviewer, Bruce Rosenstein, asked some really penetrating questions and suggested some significant changes to the white paper. That was tough to hear, especially because other reviewers hadn’t made the same comments, but when I looked at the manuscript, I saw that Bruce was right. The result was a reorganization and revision of the white paper. If you read it today, and like it, you can thank Bruce.

Getting feedback in process is certainly the hardest time to get it, but it’s not the worst time.

The Worst Time to Get Feedback on Your Book

You can skip all the drama and emotional distress that goes with getting feedback on a work that you’ve poured yourself into. Just do without the feedback and publish the book. Then what?

If you wait until after publication to get feedback on your book, it can be destructive to the sales of the book and to your reputation as an author. That’s probably what happened for all those books on Amazon with one- and two-star ratings and very few sales.

Bottom Line

If you’re writing a book, you can get your feedback when it’s hard to take but when you still have time to make the book better. Or, you can risk your reputation by waiting for feedback until you’ve released your book to the world.

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