Let’s face it: you’ll go through maybe a dozen drafts before you’re ready to publish. And while the early drafts only you might read, eventually you’ll need an outside source to give you their opinions. Things may make sense to you, but that’s because you wrote it. You’ll need fresh eyes. And honestly, you won’t always like what they have to say.
Yes, it’s awesome to hear someone say they love your story, or they’re in love with your MC, or whatever. And it’s sad to receive feedback that just says “it’s alright.” Good reviewers will not say these things. Good reviewers will be honest, but not cruel. And you need to know how to get the most benefit from your reviewers as possible.
First off, trust that they’re trying to help you. If they know what they’re doing, they will be honest. They’re giving you an outside, unbiased opinion. Not all your readers will think on the same wavelength as you, so you need to realize they’re saying these things for a reason. Maybe they misunderstood your foreshadowing, but there’s a reason they misunderstood it. It’s your job to listen, find out what caused it, and adjust accordingly.
You’ll get feedback that disagrees. Anyone who’s had a story workshopped can vouch for this. He says there was too much description, she says it was just the right amount. She likes a character, he doesn’t. He LOVES that hilarious line of dialogue, but you were iffy about it and another person says to cut it, because while it’s funny, it doesn’t quite fit the situation. The feedback will not always point you down a clear path to improvement. If a lot of people comment about the same issue, it’s probably something you should focus on. If you get varying opinions about something else, then it’s up to you to decide. Listen to arguments on each side and consider what you know about your characters and your story.
That said, you don’t have to do to everything they say. Someone might tell you to cut a character that you have no intention of cutting. Some might say to expand here or cut down there, and none of that was in your plans. Maybe they’ll say you should scrap it all and rewrite in first person instead of third. And you should listen to them. Listen to all of it, and try to understand where they’re coming from. But you don’t have to make changes based on everything they’ve said.
Try to understand them. If you reread your story with their thoughts in mind and find yourself agreeing, then awesome. Make the change. But you’re the expert on your story, so you get the final say on that decision. Sometimes you can just tell when your reviewer doesn’t know jack about what’s best for your story.
In general, take their advice with a grain of salt. And remember, they’re on your side! Be open. Listen. Try to understand. If you’ve given their opinion some thought and you still disagree, you’re the one who gets the final say.
And here’s the first part on giving constructive criticism (for reviewers)!