A former student got in touch with me about some feedback he'd had from his writing group about his planned novel. He wanted to know what I thought of it (the feedback, not the novel) and should he accept it? So I had a think... and my answer was No. Here's why:
1) This was feedback about what he proposed to do i.e. his plans for his novel. They were commenting on something that hadn't been written, so in effect were assessing its market viability. Now, I'm sure the feedback came with the best of intentions, but the question has to be: were they qualified to comment on 'the market'? Unless they were all experienced agents, editors or publishing marketeers, then I'd say no. And it should be noted that even the most experienced agents, editors and marketeers get it wrong frequently. Basically, no one knows where the market is going to be in two months time, let alone two years. It's pretty much all guess work.
2) The feedback was also concerned about plausibility: he was writing about a location he wasn't a native of, nor had lived in. Would any potential buyers accept this? Well, why on earth not? Yes, some authors are writing based on autobiography, but a lot - most? - don't. And there have been many best sellers written by authors who've never set foot in their setting - what about Steph Penney and The Tenderness of Wolves, or Martin Cruz Smith and Gorky Park to name two.
3) Do readers know or care about an author's background if the story is good? A successful novelist I know writes tender romances for Harlequin Mills and Boon. Does it matter that, despite the feminine name on the cover, the writer is a strapping male former paratrooper? Is JK Rowling a wizard for that matter?
4) Sometimes the feedback is factually wrong. Too early to say in this case, but before I was published and in a similar feedback group, one of the group had written a story aiming for a specific slot on Radio 4. Using my knowledge as a former actress, I thought the dual narrative split between male and female narrators would cause problems for casting a sole reader. Luckily the author didn't pay any attention to my advice, sent the story in and it was broadcast (with a male reader).
5) Writing a novel is hard enough work as it is. If you don't write what you really, really want to write, if you don't write the book of your heart, if you don't write from your gut, then why write?
So, that's what I thought, and why. But that doesn't mean my advice was right. The only person who can decide is the author themselves.