Jul 10 2019

Even Negative Feedback Can Be a Positive for a Writer

I entered the 2019 WriteClub contest. I didn’t make it this time. But, for the first time this year, feedback was offered.

Goodie goodie, a chance to learn!

Here are my takeaways.

No writer can ever please every reader. That just isn’t possible.

My story was a YA for adults who read YA, because it’s also a semi-historical fiction. Are the 1990’s historical? You know what’s great about Speculative Fiction? That they can be.

In the space of 496 words, I didn’t write “Hey, it’s the 90’s!” Instead, I alluded to it with references people roughly age 35 to 50 would get as being this setting. (I don’t know the ages of the judges. I’m guessing most weren’t in my target.)

Here are snippets from the feedback. And my thoughts. :

visual of setting

(An ominous setting) wasn’t a good hook. / I LOVED this (opening)!

To be fair, I wasn’t vague in the single sentence. If a reader knew the flora I mentioned, it’s creepy. (See above image.) “Sharp” and “pointy” were the fall-back adjectives I used. Also, the area that all of those could grow is very small. The trouble is that I forgot how few people would be able to paint a picture in their head with names of certain flora. One person loved it, one person hated it.

Where is (the love interest character) other than the MC’s imagination?

There’s absolutely no way anyone would realize this right now, but he was in the scene disguised as an inanimate object. Had I got in, it would have been revealed in a later round.

Left too many unanswered questions.

Previous years of WriteClub are often won by stories that are split up, using the same character and storyline each round. So yes, I very intentionally left unanswered questions to secure the votes of people who are on the fence but would vote with the hope of getting answers. It didn’t work this time. That’s the gamble. No regrets.

What have they done to (deserve a certain punishment if caught)? (x3)

If I had made it in, this question would have been answered in round two. The purpose of the line was to leave the reader wondering about it. And that purpose was accomplished at least three times.

Who is the other “they” person here? He’s only mentioned once.

Yup, another case of something that would be obvious in the next round. No regrets.

Why was a favorite song mentioned? No one knows this band. I don’t like this band.

It’s number 70 of the US top music sales of the 1990s decade, where it went platinum SEVEN times. It was number 1 in Australia in 1997 for a year, where it went platinum TWELVE times. In Canada, it went Diamond.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that a few people know the band and the song.
The song is mentioned for four reasons.

  1. There’s a paragraph based on the lyrics. People in the fandom would have been giddy. No regrets including it.
  2. It locks the story into a certain year without my saying what year it is.
  3. Some people can tell a lot about a person by what their favorite music is. This was a song that wasn’t a hit when it came out, but it just refused to go away, and got more and more popular as time went on. That’s the opposite of how music normally works. For it to be his favorite shows a commitment to a song that not everyone knew immediately, but that most grew to love.
  4. The band is named for a line in a book. (Notice how no one objected to the book reference. It’s an international best-seller from a series with movies, tv, and a Broadway play.) I rewrote a paragraph from the book and included it in the story. I also referenced the book’s main character’s nickname. It’s funny if you know the books.

I didn’t actually include it because it’s my favorite song. It isn’t. I like it, but it’s not my favorite. Thanks for guessing.

spiderman image humor

I know how Happy felt in this Spiderman Far From Home scene.

Loved the (paragraph that is a rewrite of song lyrics). (x3)

Song lyrics were the inspiration for this paragraph. If that song was stuck in your head at this point, it would be glaringly obvious what I had done. Full-on geeking out would have happened. Oh, and three of nine judges loved this paragraph. No regrets.

Why does the MC (only go to school) 38 weeks of the year?

Because that’s how many weeks a year the school is in session and students would live there. That’s a normal amount for where the school is located.

Werewolves & romance.

The main character isn’t actually a werewolf. There are only two clues about this in the story. To be fair, seeing him shift into a wolf would give this impression. But, had the story gone on, it would have been clear he’s more. And that takes the romance to a different place. Also, the main character is a teenage guy who has never been kissed.

Good contrast between the two mentioned settings. (Forest and school)

So grateful for the judges who caught that. It was the goal of the scene to show how this character is torn between the world he belongs in and the world he has to fit into. Which also mirrors his love conflict.

I didn’t understand this paragraph. A CD player and mention of spring break and blackberries?

Really just trying to hammer home that the story is in the late 1990s. The window for someone carrying a portable CD player is really small. And the mention of spring break and blackberries? In conjunction with the other clues, a reader could figure out the WEEK this story is set. Breadcrumbs!

So, to every reference book out there suggesting that readers can figure out settings based on context clues, I present you with proof that no, not really. Not unless they’re deeply invested in trying to do so.
Also, the CD player was from the dad with a note saying sorry SON. The entire point of which was so the reader would know the dad called the main character his son, inferring a male. It was a way to work the gender of the main character in the story. This mattered because I’ve learned people will not assume it’s a gay teen boy unless given a reason to make that guess.

Lots of well-revealed emotions.


I love this ending! This ending feels weak.

Did I mention you can’t please everyone? Two judges loved the ending. One hated it.

Not enough happens.

Fair enough. It wasn’t action heavy. I focused on making readers want to vote in the hopes of getting answers in the next round. Again, no regrets.

Made my top 30 favorites, even though I don’t like this genre.

I see this as a compliment.

I’m grateful for the feedback. Even the negatives felt like positives to me. It wasn’t liked by people who didn’t know about something that was wildly popular at the time the story is set. That sounds about right to me. Mostly, I’m glad that it wasn’t rejected for being a story with a gay main character. (I had entered it elsewhere a year before, and that was the reason it lost that time.)

I took a gamble based on previous wins. It didn’t pay off this time. Still, no regrets. I feel I learned from the feedback and am grateful for it.


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  1. I am so glad you got feedback- and it is interesting to see how consistent or inconsistent it was between the judges.

    I am SO curious about the song now. I hope you will share. 🙂
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    1. J Lenni Dorner and Savage Garden
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      1. Ah! I know that song. I had tried to figure it out and that was one of the songs I thought it might be from your clues- but I had a few choices that also seemed like they could fit. 🙂 Thanks for giving the answer to the mystery. 🙂
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  2. It’s no wonder writers walk around in circles scratching their heads! Am I a good writer or do I suck? Does this opening have a strong hook or will the reader close the cover and move on?

    When I read book reviews I’m astounded at how widely they often differ and I get very severe stomach cramps just thinking about launching another book. What will they say about this one?

    I loved your post today. It made me feel less alone.
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    1. Since my beta readers give me such a hard time, I’m not going to worry about the reviewers any more!
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    2. I am always happy to make someone feel less alone!
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  3. That last comment might have been mine. :O

    I can’t remember which yours was, but it sounds familiar, and I think I was confused but enjoyed it. But then I read all 190 entries, or however many it was. Only 11 of my top thirty listed made it to the prelims, so you can imagine how I felt about my top 3 not making it in!! Then again, three of my top 12 made it to the playoff – and one of the other three I’d ranked really low; the winner wasn’t one I rated highly originally, but I liked their later entries more. In any case, ranking them for final selection was incredibly hard. I might blog about it some time.

    What it all really means, is that you have an audience; just maybe not the judges 🙂

    And then again, I remember reading about one contest with eight finalists and eight judges, and each judge was adamant their choice was the best – an eight-way tie.
    Jemima Pett has this post to share Book Review | The Unwinding by Juliana RewMy Profile
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    1. I think it was good feedback. And yeah, most stories appeal to certain audiences. That’s what all the marketing books tell us.
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  4. I assure this would be beneficial for most of the people.
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