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Getting Feedback

| March 14, 2011 | 6 Comments

In the past couple weeks, I’ve been asked for feedback by a number of creators on their work.  I’ve also asked others for feedback on the first draft of an ambitious new mini-series I’m working on.  Not surprisingly, critiquing comics has been on the brain.  It’s time to get on my soapbox for spell.  This week, I’m going to talk about getting feedback, and next week I’ll tackle giving it.

Why Feedback?

It should go without saying that getting feedback on your work is an invaluable part of the creative process. Unless you’re writing solely for yourself (which, if you are writing comics is usually not the case) you need to be sure you’re writing to entertain an audience. Getting an outside perspective on this from time to time throughout the development of the book is the best way to do this.  And getting critical feedback after a book is complete is one of the best ways to make the next book better.  After all, we are all works in progress.

While I’m all for pulling oneself up by his or her bootstraps, and am a big proponent of the D.I.Y mentality, I believe editorial oversight is one of the main things holding many indie comics and creators back.  Steven King has an editor.  Geoff Johns has an editor.  Still, I’m baffled at the number of indie creators who think they don’t need one.

Still, I get it.  Finding a good editor, someone you can trust, is tough.  And scraping up the cash to pay a good editor can be difficult, especially when you have art and color and printing to pay for. In fact, that is one of the reasons this site exists.  Creating a safe, positive, constructive environment where creators can link up and get solid, actionable feedback to make their work better is at the core of the ComixTribe mission.

Feedback from Family and Friends

When you’re just starting out, it’s hard to find people excited about reading a first draft of your scripts. So, what do we do? We turn to the people in our lives who love us and can’t say no. It’s important to recognize what this feedback is and isn’t.

Getting feedback from mom or your buddy is good for the old ego. And you know what, if you’ve just finished something, you DO deserve a “thattaboy.” Hell, you’ve created something. You’ve put something new into the world that didn’t exist before, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t have people that care about you have the chance to read it and acknowledge it. So get your slap on the back. (And occasionally, an idea or two about how to make it better. My mom, as it turns out, has a great knack for proofreading. And I, as it turns out, have a great knack for typos.)

This kind of feedback is also good for getting the everyman’s reaction. Human beings are hardwired to recognize a good story when they read or hear one. If something is supposed to be funny and they laugh, you’ve probably done your job. Likewise, if something is confusing to them, you probably were not clear enough. Sometimes it helps to watch them as they’re reading. If they’re turning pages and engaged in the script, that’s a good sign.

However, friends and family often have a tough time providing one thing in their feedback: honesty. If a reader cares about you and has a stake in your emotional well-being, you can’t expect total honesty from their critique. Most often, rather than getting what they truly think, you’ll get what they think you want to hear. And that won’t help you one bit.

And even if they are brutally honest, and have no problem calling a turd a T-U-R-D, unless they’re professional creators themselves, it’s unlikely they have the expertise to give you the kind of constructive feedback you need.  Most of your friends and family aren’t writers in the genre or format that you are writing in. Just because someone has seen a few movies or read a few comic books doesn’t mean they can ably critique a script for either. Most people can give an opinion on a portfolio of sequential art, but lack the trained eye to point out flaws in anatomy, perspective, or pacing.  Therefore, family and friend critiques are a poor means to get serious, actionable suggestions and solutions for improving your craft. For that, you need a professional.

Feedback from an Objective Professional

I use both the terms objective and professional loosely here. To a certain extent, we all have subjective biases that color our opinions. And by professional, I simply mean someone who has experience doing what you’re trying to do. Want feedback on a comic script? Find someone who’s actually written a couple of them.

There is a drawback to this kind of feedback. Unlike family or friends, these people have zero stake in your emotional well-being.  They’re likely busy with their own projects, and unless you’re paying them, don’t be surprised if the feedback you get is blunt and direct to the point.  Some reviewers are tough.  Most pros are brutal.  So, if you know you can’t handle someone tearing your work to shreds in a seemingly cold-hearted fashion, don’t try to get this kind of feedback.

However, if you’re not ready for this sort of critical feedback, you’re not ready to have anything published either.

If you think it’s tough getting negative feedback from an editor who is looking at your work with an eye to make it better, how are you ever going to deal with feedback from the readers at large? It is FAR better to be eviscerated in the draft stage when you can still make changes, than to publish and have the world trash your work.

SIDEBAR: Frank Miller on getting brutal critiques from Neil Adams.

What feedback from objective professionals can provide is a strong road map to improve your craft. People who know the medium of comics can point out specific suggestions about what works and what doesn’t and often can propose solutions to problem areas. For this reason, this kind of feedback should be sought out.  While you might not always agree with Steven Forbes’ analysis, you can’t argue that The Proving Grounds provides constructive, actionable feedback for writers.  (By the way, it’s worth mentioning that Steven has an incredible FREE EDITING offer going on right now.  Take him up on it, writers.  He’ll help you level up, guaranteed!)

The Best Time for Getting Feedback

The earlier in the process, the better.  Now, I like to make sure I have the bare bones of an idea before I look for feedback.  But if you have a title, a high concept, and a one paragraph synopsis highlighting beginning, middle and end, that’s a great time to get initial feedback.  If you can’t get someone excited about your story with a title and a high concept, then you have more work to do before you start scripting.

Once you’re confident you have a story worth telling, I recommend taking time to do a solid draft or two on your own before presenting to reviewers.  With THE RED TEN, a story I’ve been pulling together gradually for the past six months, I did a couple drafts of the first issue before sharing with my editor, and a few others.  The more confident you are in your draft, the more helpful the feedback you will get.  If you send out a draft that you know is unpolished, with glaring weaknesses, plot-holes, poor grammar and formatting, etc., then your reviewers are going to spend most of their time calling you out on that stuff.  They won’t ever get to the stuff that really matters, that will make your book sell, things like story, character development, pacing, and plot.  And they’ll be less likely to want to look at your stuff again in the future.

Asking for feedback at the finished comic stage is a different beast.  While a script is just a blueprint, and by definition, always a draft that can be changed, once the art is in, there’s not a whole lot of room for making changes.  Thus, when a creator asks me for feedback on finished work, I realize any critical feedback has the potential to “hurt” more.  A few months ago, I told a fellow indy creator that I thought the lettering of the book was weak.  Now, given that he’d probably just run off at least 100 copies of the issue, that’s going to sting.  But ideally, I’m saving him from continuing to make the same mistake on future issues, and a year and a half from now running off 1000 more copies of the graphic novel with the same horrible lettering!

Still, It’s YOUR Name on the Cover

While feedback is incredibly helpful and highly recommended, you cannot rely on others to make you the writer you want to be. YOU have to develop your own internal editor. YOU have to learn to objectively evaluate your own work with the same critical eye you apply to the work of others. YOU have to do the real work, sitting your butt in front of the keyboard for hours on end to make your story sing. Getting feedback from others does not free you from the responsibility of learning to edit and revise your writing.  You need to simultaneously be your biggest fan and toughest critic.

Shut Up and Listen

Humans are defensive creatures by nature. Upon hearing criticism of your work (your baby!), your first instinct will be to come to its defense.


Don’t try to explain what you were trying to do in a script or on a page.  And seriously don’t bother trying to explain to the reviewer why you are right, and he or she is wrong.  And NEVER make excuses.

Just listen.

Remember, the whole reason you are writing is to stir an emotional response in another.  You’ve spent many many hours in a room by yourself, pounding the keyboard, essentially telling yourself a story.  Once you put it out for feedback, it’s time to shut the hell up for a minute and LISTEN to the feedback you are getting.  This feedback will be your first clue as to whether or not you achieved your goal.  Don’t blow it by spending all of your mental energy defending your work, and thus closing your mind to the possibility that it COULD be improved.

Ask Tons of Questions

When you listen to feedback, do so with the understanding that what you are hearing is simply one person’s informed opinion. And that their opinion MAY be right. Not that it is right. But that it may be.

And because it MAY be right, instead of defending your work, ask questions! Ask questions like:

– “What lines didn’t work for you?”

– “Would it be funnier/scarier/better if I tried ____?”

– “Which character do you think needs the most work?”

– “Which scenes go on too long?”

And so on. This is how a constructive dialog with an editor works.  Only explain what you are doing or why you did what you did if your reviewer asks you.  (Because otherwise, he or she probably doesn’t care all that much.  It’s your story, not his.)  You explaining why you’re right and he’s wrong might make you feel better.  But it probably won’t improve your story. And that’s what this is about.

Your story.


THIS ISN’T PERSONAL! Getting critical feedback is not an affront to your abilities or promise as a writer. The feedback is on the specific work you placed in front of the editor. That’s it. So listen.  Probe.  Mine any pearls of wisdom you can from the critique, and move on.

After all, you’ve got plenty more tales to tell.

Next: Giving Feedback


Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, and educator residing in Newburyport, MA.  He is the writer and co-creator of EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and Tears of the Dragon, a swords and sorcery fantasy.  His past work includes OVER, a romantic comedy graphic novel, and Super Seed, the story of the world’s first super powered fertility clinic. His work has been published by DC and Arcana comics.

Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, a new website empowering creators to help each other make better comics.

Contact Tyler via email (, visit his website, follow him on Twitter, or check him out on Facebook.

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About the Author ()

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at

Comments (6)

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  1. Very good article. Thank you James. Something we all need to remember as creators.

  2. Jules Rivera says:

    Some people say that I can be a bit brutal as a critic, but I’m Glinda the good witch compared to some out there. I believe criticism is important to grow as an artist and a creator and I believe if you work in a vacuum with everyone congratulating for simply existing you will never improve.

    Whenever I get a negative review of something, I always ask myself “what can I learn from this? Is there anything meaningful to take away here?” Often times, there is. Is your story moving too slow? Do your characters get enough development? Are your crazy colors putting potential readers off? (in my case, that last answer was “yes”) There are things to learn from bad reviews for sure.

    There is one caveat I have to this. Sometimes, readers make negative comments about comics that don’t really have anything to do with the quality of the person’s work, but more to do with whether or not they like the author. I’m not the most dandiest person in the world and sometimes my harsh words towards whatever have preciptated people leaving nasty comments on my websites. This had nothing to do with my work. Most never even read my comic past the first chapter. They just had a beef with me personally. I write that sort of stuff off.

    My point is that growing from feedback takes an understanding of the difference between constructive criticism, criticism, and out right flaming. If you know what to follow and what to weed out, that can make you a stronger creator.

  3. Ruiz Moreno says:

    Enjoyed the read as always Tyler.

    As a new comer to writing comics I found it enlightening. I understand that getting opinions from friends and families can be more crippling than resourceful but they are great for the “pat on the back” moments.

    When it comes to reading a comic I enjoy I always try to give the creators any kind of feedback I can come up with. I couldn’t make it as an editor at this stage because I believe in the old saying: “If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.” I’ve found Twitter to be very useful in feedback and have gotten small comments on articles I have written on comics.

    When the time comes and I present my first script to an editor I know I’ll be okay. I’m a very open minded person and I understand you have to take the comments and learn from them. I’m always trying to learn as much as possible. Every day I learn something new and I try to utilize my new found knowledge. Otherwise, how else do you improve?

    • Does that mean you’re going to hire me to destroy your ego–um, I mean, lovingly guide the words you carefully strung together with the gentle, gloved hand of gentleness-nes-ness?

      • Ruiz Moreno says:

        Ha! Believe me when I say this Mr. Forbes you would be my first choice in enlisting editorial services because I would expect the red digital color of doom to come down on my script(s). Like I said, I’m open minded and willing to learn!

        In regards to my (non-existent) ego, the only person who could ever truly damage that is my wife. 🙂

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