I find one of the great crevasses that we might fall into as writers is when to listen and when not to... (and deciding WRONG). When do we take it to heart and when do we ignore it. When do we REALLY LISTEN and when do we smile and nod, then go about our merry ways... There are actually several questions here, so I'm going to run them down AS I SEE IT. There is a recurring theme in this blog though, that you may as well take to heart now. I know some stuff, but what I KNOW is a microscopic ISLAND next to the continents of stuff I DON'T KNOW. It will make sense in a minute...
I think the VERY first thing you want to consider is WHO is dishing advice. Is it a peer with LESS experience? A peer with the same or MORE experience? A published author? A published author IN YOUR GENRE? An AGENT? An EDITOR?
I think you want feedback from ALL these types of people, but CLEARLY you want to give a lot more credence to what an EDITOR or AGENT has to say. They are practiced not only at WRITING but at reading for what is publishable. I'm not saying never say NO to these people, but if they suggest a change, ALMOST ALWAYS you want to smile and nod and DO IT. When my agent has suggested changes with my cozy, I have accepted 95% of them, and another 4% I change to some DIFFERENT thing—a compromise, because I don't necessarily agree with the suggestion, but can see some middle ground is necessary (or that I haven't been clear, based on her suggested change)
Peers ahead of you obviously get more credence than peers at your level or behind in process, but there is another thing to keep in mind... the PEOPLE are ALWAYS RIGHT. Publishing may not be a democracy, but in some ways READING is, so if several readers spot the same problem, no matter HOW inexperienced they are, chances are you should listen to them.
What's on Second
What kind of advice ALSO really matters. If somebody is saying 'I don't like this character' then you might consider giving them an endearing vulnerability, or maybe you WANT them disliked for a while (character growth is a nice feature)--though be sure to make them interesting enough to surpass the repulsion impulse—few people want to read about someone they don't GET, and a few more, but still a small number, want to read about someone they can't root for in some way (and I am not using the Aussie iteration of root here, though that IS one way to get someone to root for them... make readers want to ROOT for them *cough*LuciusMalfoy*cough*)
If someone corrects grammar or spelling, make sure you publish in the same country. This sounds laughable but there are a number of differences between British and American English standards. The British fear of the letter Z and the American fear of the letter U are only the tip of the iceberg. There is the Oxford comma (of which I am a fan) but also a dozen other subtle things to do with verb tense and sentence structure.
There are ALSO a thousand things which can go different ways depending on the editor in charge, so it is not implausible you will put it one way, your agent will make you change it, and your editor will change it back. If we are talking commas, JUST ROLL WITH IT (even if you have a serious comma fetish, as I do).
It also depends where you are in process. I actively TELL my readers on first round DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE LITTLE THINGS! Chances are I will catch them, but it is EVEN highly likely everything will get reworded ANYWAY. Some people will insist on correcting (I think it is part of the editor persona, and if it helps them get in character, more power to them) but I usually only pay attention to the content and structure feedback on round one.
But THIS is one of those reasons you want to be so careful about listening to agents and editors. By the time something GETS THERE, it should be pretty darned close to RIGHT and it is THEIR JOB to perfect the work so readers will BUY it.
NORMALLY (well, normal for me)
I send first cleaned draft (I write, then I do my OWN correction for the annoying things that I CAN SPOT)--most often typos and LARGE plot holes—draft AFTER this) goes to 3 readers. “Please look for inconsistency, lack of clarity, are you pulled along, do you like it?” then I revise. Then it goes to 2 or 3 DIFFERENT people... pickier feedback—grammar, clarity... fix that... and FINALLY, I send it to someone asking for PACE... At least that's what I think I am doing... my first book got first read as I wrote CHAPTERS, so it didn't go this way, but for LEGACY, my second, that is my plan.
The Cozy has to, because of having a deadline and me wanting to be sure I am doing this right, has 3 people who will read chapters as I write, then three fresh people to read the whole thing... then ideally, my Cozy Mystery Writer friend ELIZABETH to read what I think is cleaned and tell me if I've got it, THEN it goes to my agent... So the order is different, but that is because I've never worked under deadline before and just want to make sure I don't muck it up.
So there you have it... decide on the expertise of the source, look at the size and agreement level of the voters... insert a good dose of 'gut' keeping in mind that 'you get you' but it is possible that your GREAT STORY may not quite be coming across, so listen to what HELPS YOU, not what the words may sound like.
In Other News: Two Things
Pitch Slapped is inviting people to be INTERVIEWED. She wants people PREpublished, PREagented, and she is amusing and entertaining in her process. I figure it can never hurt to get our name out there... improve our googlability, find some new readers... so if you are interested, head on over!
And it is TIME... For my Tartiversary I promised a CRITIQUE to a commenter (giving a few extra chances for a few different things... I am going to use a random number generator for the line in the Excel file where I have all the names... and the winner IS... Okay... this spreadsheet is at work... give me until 9am Eastern time, US...
AND THE WINNER IS...... Alex Cavanaugh!!!!