Getting the Most Out of Revisions and Feedback
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Oct 21 2015
When rejecting requested material I almost always give feedback on why the book didn’t work for me. Sometimes it’s pretty straight-forward, like not connecting with the characters, but other times, when I really wanted to love the book or really loved parts of it, I might have more specific suggestions about plotting or characterization, things I would recommend fixing. Things that really jumped out at me as problematic.
If an author replies, she’ll typically reply with a simple thank you or something along those lines, but every once in a while I get that email that tells me the author is going to toss my letter into the garbage pile (they don’t often say those exact words, but I’m reading between the lines). Either what I said doesn’t resonate with her, she disagrees, or my suggestions are so overwhelming that she’s going to ignore them. Whatever she decides to do with the letter is fine by me, but taking a look at any feedback you get might just help make your book and your writing overall, stronger.
Editing is just as subjective as writing and I’ve had many authors/clients tell me they don’t love my ideas, but it is the successful author who says she doesn’t agree with exactly what I’m saying, but what I said helped open her eyes to what the problem is. In other words, I might not always pinpoint exactly why the book isn’t working or how to fix it, but a successful author will take the time to read between the lines of what I’m saying to dissect it herself.
I understand how frustrating submitting to agents is and how annoying it can be when an agent gives you feedback you don’t agree with or feel would change the entire book, but take the time to try to hear what she’s saying. Put the letter aside for a few days and come back to it later. Read what was said and see if maybe there’s some truth to it. Maybe there’s not. I know I’ve told many clients to ignore some rejection letters. Some of it is just personal. But maybe, just maybe, that one sentence will be the lightbulb moment you need.
When an agent or editor has given advice I’ve always considered it carefully. Apart from being professionals in the industry, they’re also readers. I believe most agents represent books in certain genres, so therefore must have experience with that genre, and they know what they like to read. They certainly know what’s selling, and as much as writing is a passion for us as writers, it’s also a business.
An editor recently made some suggestions for my latest book, A GIRL CALLED RANDOM.
and as much as I believed in what I’d written, I took a step back, put it away for a few days and went back to it. I could see where he was coming from, so I made some changes that I was happy with. We also have to be objective about our work.
It can be overwhelming to get a letter telling you why your writing isn’t working, but the advice is sound. Put it aside for a few days along with any hurt feelings, and then look at it and your story with fresh eyes and see what truths the feedback holds.
I just got one of those polite rejection notes from you. Not only did I appreciate the promptness of the reply, but also your comments about why my query didn’t work for you and your encouragement to keep submitting. Nobody likes rejection, but specific reasons are always better than just a curt “no thanks.” Anybody who is serious about writing (and publishing) better learn how to deal with both kinds of responses to submissions.
Putting the letter away for a few days and NOT responding in a snarky tone to the person who took the time to provide feedback = great advice.
It’s OK if the author disagrees with your suggested fix, but the author should always consider the point being made since, as you said, it could be illuminating.
Did you see the NYT article earlier this year regarding Julie Strauss-Gabel, John Green’s editor? https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/business/media/the-barbed-pen-behind-the-best-sellers-of-young-adult-fiction.html?_r=0
It’s one of my favorite reads. All of us writers should be so lucky to have someone who cares so much about our writing that she pushes us to deliver the best possible version. And that’s what solid feedback does–pushes us to consider all the options and possibilities (yes, even the feedback we disagree with!).
Thank you Robyn. I missed that article and it’s wonderful.
Maybe I haven’t had as many full requests in the past as some, but I always treasure any agent feedback. It’s usually very helpful. If nothing else, I’m overjoyed that an agent took the time to read my work, and demonstrate they’ve read it by giving thoughtful comments.
A writer should treat any criticism as gems to be cherished. I am yet to be published, but I image collaboration between author, agent, and editor is what leads to a successful novel.
Writing like all other walks of life, requires a learning curve. It doesn’t matter how successful an author can be, he should be ready to accept advice on how to improve his work.
Isn’t the idea to publish the best novel that we can?
Yes, thank you for the article link, Robyn. Now I totally want to read Julie Strauss-Gabel’s senior thesis on fairy tale tropes in young adult literature. I guess that officially makes me a literature nerd.
What Colin said. I appreciate every comment I receive!