Friday, January 14, 2005

Evaluate Editorial Advice

When I was a beginning writer (many years ago), I recall showing my manuscripts to anyone who would read them. I've received my share of the standard rejection letters and when anyone scribbled anything personal, I tried to immediately follow up and rework the piece and return it.

I joined a critique group and learned to respect--but I also learned to pick and choose their counsel. I began to attend writer's conferences and meet editors and other professionals--and listen to their advice and feedback about my magazine article or my book proposal or my manuscripts. Some times the advice worked and some times it completely failed--part of my learning curve here about advice. I began to formulate a few questions about the feedback --that I consciously or unconsciously use most of the time.

1. Grain of salt. Instead of immediately making the changes, I try to take any advice with a grain of salt. Take some time to evaluate the feedback and see if I agree with it.

2. Consider the source of the advice. Are they experienced and what type of track record do they have in the writing and publishing business?

3. Consider the circumstances of the person who gave you the advice. Did they rush off a little counsel or did they thoughtfully put together some detail? Sometimes this criteria makes a difference how much I will consider taking the advice or counsel.

Often I will recall an incident at least 12 years ago at a Christian Booksellers Association meeting. I was shopping one of my nonfiction book proposals. As typical, I had 30 minutes with an editorial director at a well-known publisher. At the end of the conference, he looked through my proposal and gave me a series of on-the-spot comments about my proposal. I took detailed notes and even stopped to fill out my notes after our session, returned home and reworked the proposal. When I sent it to the editor, he didn't recall ever having seen it before. I was crushed--but I learned to evaluate the circumstances of the advice. Now as an editor, I fully understand the blur of those meetings and how I was unwise to have over-prized this editor's counsel in that circumstance.  Also I understand why an editor can’t give some feedback about a manuscript. Follow this link to learn more detail about the reasons.

The subjective nature of this business is difficult. There is no right or wrong way for many aspects--which is why science combines with art. I love what I read one evening this week in the February issue of Men's Journal and it seems to resonate with me here--and looks like a book I need to find:

"The strange thing about gut instincts is that the part of the brain that engages in them uses the sweat glands on your palms as a signaling device. Long before you've consciously decided that turning down that dark side street or placing $2,000 on red is a bad idea, your gut has made the call, and notified your palms. the moral: Listen to your hands. they may know more than you do." Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Little, Brown) examines the science of split-second decisions.

Thankfully as Christian writers, we have more than sweaty palms. Through prayer, we can instantly communicate with the Lord of the Universe--then listen carefully as we evaluate the advice.


1 Comment:

At 12:45 AM, Blogger Mary DeMuth Left a note...

My very first piece of advice about my very first novel came from the mouth of someone who didn't write novels. For fifteen minutes, she shredded my words, ridiculed me. I nearly put the project down. Thankfully, my writing mentor (a novelist) picked me up and dusted me off. She gave me hope. I was about 50 pages in when I got the first damning critique. After my friend came alongside, it took three months to complete the novel. ALthough it didn't sell, the writing in the novel caught the eye of someone who would become my agent.

My advice? Weigh it. When someone seems bent on destroying you, ask another person. It just may launch a career.


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