Handling Editing and Feedback, Especially When You Doubt the Editor

I know the advice is to always try and gain something from any feed back of your work. I am also very aware that my MS is far from finished.

I recently took part in an on-line class with one of the RWA chapters, it was a research one and well useful. It also offered a free 1 chapter edit, so I explained to the tutor that although my MS still needed work, I am working on the second draft, so things are far from complete. But if she was happy to do so, I would like feedback on my voice, that kind of thing. She agreed and I sent her the first unedited 10 pages.

This morning I have my ‘edits’ back, the email, questions almost every sentence. I think there are some language problems because some of her questions are answered in the scene and I know some Yorkshire slang comes through.

Some of the advice in the feed back is needed, tell not show, its something I seem to be able to do in some situations and not others.

Other questions seem to be questions just to be difficult, I know that sounds like an author who got bad feedback.

​[redacted to protect the privacy of the reader]

After reading the email it took me a few hours to pluck up courage to open the file, my 10 page chapter is now 20 pages long. I haven’t read the comments. ​

So my question is, and sorry for rabbiting on at you, is all editing and feed back good? I thought it might make an interesting blog question.

Now I’m going back to my plot hole, I’m sure that word should be cavern, I need to lose a dozen humans, it’s my own fault I shouldn’t have forgotten about them.

I have one easy answer to this question. No, not all editing and feedback is good. Some, in fact, can really mess you up. It seems to me you recognize this already.

In an ideal world, the more experienced the editor the better you can trust the feedback. For the most part, this is the case, but sometimes even the most experienced of us can miss things or not understand a certain novel enough to edit it properly. It’s one of the reasons I stress that finding the “right” agent or editor is so important. The wrong agent won’t necessarily understand your work enough to be able to edit it.

When giving feedback, I always make sure clients know that they should only do as I’m suggesting if it feels right to them. Even if the editor is right, if you don’t see it in the same way you won’t be able to make the changes work. If it doesn’t resonate, it’s not right for you.

In this case, I think you need to overlook the number of comments. There might be some great suggestions in there. I tend to write long comments and give lots of suggestions. I know it can be overwhelming to the author, but for me long comments on the manuscript tend to be picky things and a lot easier than a short letter that simply says, the entire plot feels far too convoluted and needs to be rethought.

For me, plot suggestions are an easy way for the author to understand what I’m saying or where I’m coming from. It’s the way I work and usually helps the author see things in a new way. It also takes up a lot of space in comments. That being said, I don’t expect the author to take my suggestions.

The really hard thing about revisions is we also need to be ready to hear them to really understand them.

Thank you for the great question. I hope I was of some help.

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6 comments

  1. When you’re in the right frame of mind to read it (which may not be right now), long comments can be a good thing. I often find myself leaving longer comments than absolutely necessary, because “fix this paragraph” isn’t anywhere near as helpful as “your voice isn’t coming through here as well as it was last page, but I think part of the problem is your hero feels slightly out of character here – would he really be this willing to talk about his ex this early in his relationship with the heroine?” And sometimes you – as the author – are gonna say “Yeah, actually, he totally is,” and that’s fine because it’s your book and you get to write it however you want. Sometimes you’ll say “yes” and then later decide maybe there’s something you can tweak after all, though, and that’s good too.

  2. “The really hard thing about revisions is we also need to be ready to hear them to really understand them. ”

    This line sums it all up for me. It’s not just about being “ready” to hear criticism emotionally, it’s about being far enough along in your craft to really get what the critique is saying. On top of that, you have to have the experience to recognize the difference between a helpful critique and one that can be mostly ignored.

    It’s taken me years to learn how to look beyond the critter’s words and see what the REAL problem is. A lot of people can tell something isn’t right with a manuscript, but they misdiagnose the problem. That’s why good, experienced editors aren’t as numerous as one could want.

    Jessica makes another excellent point: if suggestions don’t resonate with you, don’t follow them. When you make changes just because someone said to do so, you’ll more than likely make things worse.

  3. A few thoughts about edits. First, editing is definitely a special skill set. I’ve been published since 2005 and I’ve critiqued a few manuscripts, but I don’t do it often and I always (I think) warn the writer that I’m not an editor. I’m really not sure that my critiques are worth a whole lot. The reverse is also true–most editors aren’t writers. On my last book, my editor had a few “small” comments that she apparently truly thought could be easily fixed with a sentence here or there. Ha ha. I had to do a LOT of work to fix those “small” problems.

    Which leads to my second thought: the major benefit to me of editorial comments is that they point out problems. The editor may suggest a fix, but that’s not really so important. Her fix might work or it might not–it’s the identification of a problem that’s important. Sometimes the fix for that problem is in another part of the manuscript entirely.

    Lastly, I’m really bad. I won’t let anyone read my stuff until I’ve edited it myself as much as I can. Once it’s as “perfect” as I can make it, then I figure it’s time to have fresh eyes tell me what I’m not seeing. So maybe you just have to shelve those edits because you got them too soon in the process? Though all writers write differently–some like ongoing critiques I imagine.

    Anyway, I definitely wouldn’t stress about them. Take what resonates–if anything does–and move on working on your writing. Good luck!

  4. When someone asks me to read their chapters I tell them right away that when I read I make A LOT of comments. It’s almost stream of consciousness. The author knows exactly what I’m thinking at every point. So I guess you can say my comments are long and I know I’ve returned chapters twice as long as they were originally. On the flip side when I get chapters back with lots of comments I read them then put it all away for a week or so. It gives me time to let the comments ferment and usually when I come back to them I can look at them objectively.

  5. Like others who have commented here I usually write detail, because when I get feedback that’s what I want (nothing worse than a generic comment – for example “I didn’t like the protagonist” which I got once – that doesn’t really leave you with any idea exactly what the problem is).

    Whenever I critique for someone I stress they are to take the comments that resonate and leave the ones that don’t. Of course, you have to make sure you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, so be aware there might be valid comments you don’t want to hear!

    If you are worried about reading the 10pages of comments what about getting a trusted writer friend to read through them first? They can let you know how much is reasonable, or whether it’s just a lot of explanation etc.

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