Considering Differing Opinions While Editing

I'm a big believer in getting multiple opinions on a piece before I publish. There are very few people (if any) who I would take as the last and final word on any particular decision about my books. However, one of the disadvantages of multiple opinions is sometimes they don't get along well together.
So for this post I'm going to list some real examples from critique circles where one reader/critiquer said something that is completely opposite to what another said about the exact same scene or section and make a couple of different suggestions about how you can react/handle/use the advice.

The most important thing to remember is this: YOU CAN'T PLEASE EVERYONE!
Eventually you may have to make choices that will turn off half the readers and really appeal to the other half. No one likes every book. Just take a look at how many people hate certain classics. These books have endured the test of time and still speak to people after decades if not centuries, yet there are always some people who can't stand them while other people live and breathe them.
Don't try to write for everyone. Most likely outcome: you'll please no one.

"I thought this conversation went on a bit long, and I think you could cut it down."
on the same chapter as
"I loved the interaction between these two characters and wanted more of it."

Some readers really like to see characters talk to each other. Some find it boring. There are a couple of ways to try and please both.

  1. Give the characters some compelling or necessary action to do while talking. This is not always possible but sometimes just having them moving from one place to another will satisfy the "why are they just standing around talking" crowd.
  2. There is some logic to cutting it even if some of your betas/critique partners/ARC readers like it. After all, most readers won't be turned off by not having it and won't know what they missed. 
  3. Decide what this particular exchange is supposed to convey. If it conveys it early on in the conversation, consider cutting down the later half. If it conveys it later in the conversation consider having them get to the point quicker.
  4. Just leave it in. You can't please everybody and as long as some readers like it, I personally don't mind a pause in the action for some good heart to heart character stuff. This is especially true if there has been action in recent chapters. 
  5. Rarely is adding more a good idea unless the reader said specifically what they wanted more of (I'd like to hear this character's opinion on this or get an idea of their emotional state). Leaving readers wanting more is actually a good thing. You can put that on a resume. Just like, "This book was too short and I was sad when it was over" is not really a criticism.
"I don't understand this concept/phrase/idea/how this works. . ."
on the same passage
Silence/No comment.
I know, kind of cheating to have the disagreeing opinion be silence, but stick with me. Occasionally I'll lightly brush over an idea or phrase that I think is common knowledge only to have one reader have no idea what I'm talking about. For instance, I used the phrase "murder of crows" (if you aren't aware, a flock of crows is technically a murder) and one person asked if it was a typo. Recently I put in that an old man in his dog died within days of each other because I thought the concept of an old dog dying from grief after his owner passed would be something most readers would have a reference for and one reader wanted an explanation for how they just coincidentally died so close together. 
Not everyone has the same life experience or knowledge base. 
If it is only one person expressing confusion, it may not necessarily be something you need to explain. It honestly drives me crazy as a reader if the author explains things I already understood (how the internet works, for instance. To pull a reference from television, CSI: Cyber should be called CSI:Exposition because every five minutes the characters stop and monologue about what "phishing" is or some other concept I've known about for over a decade.).
So in this case: 
  1. Go for a majority. Do a substantial amount of people understand it? 
  2. Double check that your other readers didn't misunderstand as well and just forget to mention it. 
  3. Ask a random sampling of friends if they know what the phrase means or if the wording makes sense to them.
  4. Then you're probably okay to leave it in . . . 
  5. Alternately, if other people get back to you with "I've never heard of that . . . how does that work?" You can slip in an explanation, or replace the word with a simpler one. 
I love this character!
I hate this character!
Think of any real person you know. Does everyone like them? Does everyone dislike them? Probably not. It's going to be the same for any well-rounded, fully realized character. Even ones you don't totally flesh out, readers will have opinions about. I've noticed that a lot of times if you leave certain aspects of a character's personality or appearance unstated, the reader will fill in the blank based on their expectations for that character. This can actually be really fun to see, but it does take some control out of your hands as a writer, so you want to be careful with it (and you'll probably get blasted by those less into 'Imagining' for having two-dimensional characters). So if one person really likes a character that another reader loathes, these are my suggestions:
  1. Find out WHY. If they said something non-specific like "I don't particularly like her," try and get to the root of it. If they say something specific like "I think Joe is a selfish man" ask if there was something specific he said or did that gave the impression of it. Often it can be one word or phrase, one facial expression (he frowned when his sister told him she was pregnant! He called his niece 'silly.') that set the reader into that frame of thinking. If it isn't the frame you want, change that phrase. I once had a character assumed to be "shallow" simply because in her introductory scene she called a guy "cute." 
  2. Decide if "liking" that character is necessary for the plot line. In my current book I have a character who pretty much everyone starts to hate about the midway point. I'm okay with that. I gave him a grisly end and people were happy. 
  3. If you have the opposite problem and people are really liking a character you want to be a villain, consider going back and adding in some body language to make his inner evilness more apparent.