Peer review; when is it appropriate to ignore feedback?

Reading is subjective. We don’t like everything that everyone is reading. So writing is not a guarantee that the people you intend to connect with your work will connect with it. And this includes peer reviewers.

Why peer review?

To be published, writers give others entry to their precious world. Refereeing by peers and experienced writers is a form of quality assurance.

The work of a peer reviewer is to guide you to a quality product. A good peer reviewer will identify things in your blind spot—you are too attached to the work to notice its flaws.

Catching one of more of the following gaps or flaws may save you from a publisher’s rejection:

  • The work does not adhere to submission guidelines
  • The work is too cliched
  • The plot is too complex
  • Story tackles a controversial topic
  • Spellings, typos, weak characters and runaway plots

A good peer reviewer works with you as a mentor, giving feedback that helps you refine the work.


When the peer review is unjust in its tone or content

Some people are by nature ‘catty’—think of a shrew. They are mean and lack a mentor bone. Their peer review reads like the words of a bully who wants you to feel inadequate.

When you receive this kind of peer review, acknowledge that a harsh critic can be a mentor too. To discover such a mentor in the harsh critic, one may discard what is not useful, and try to find something of use in the remarks, though unpleasant.

Conversation with a trusted mentor, for example someone whose judgement about your work you trust, is another useful way to dissect the criticism, to legitimise or invalidate it (because invalidating blunts the barbs), and to work on strengthening the criticised work.

A repressive peer can restrain your innovation, can cull your creative energy. A good peer reviewer is not seeking the death of the author but rather wishing to view the writing in its best light; feedback may go so far as to make suggestions that enhance the originality of the artist’s voice.

It is important as a writer to:

  • recognise open-minded from negative reviewers
  • grow beyond the review exercise and draw learnings rather than disillusionment
  • find the mentor in the ‘right’ referee, where the term ‘right’ does not mean the one who likes you but the one who really studies your work seriously.

Writing is a solitary task. We’re hermits. Find the right support group—it could be a writers club or a professional organisations. Surround yourself with the right people who study your work seriously and mean the best for you.


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