Sunday, March 17, 2024

How To Handle Editorial Feedback

By Terry Whalin

It may be strange to make this admission. As a writer, I dont enjoy getting editorial feedback--especially the most helpful kind. The most useful feedback is when your manuscript isnt published and is still being improved and refined but will often take a lot of work on my part to adjust it.  

When I work with an editor, they often use the tracking changes feature of Microsoft Word, which in general is a standard program within the publishing community. Yes, there are other programs like WordStar and WordPerfect but in general writers who use these older programs are stuck and dont want to learn to use Word. One of the most famous authors in this category is George R. R. Martin who writes the Game of Throne novels. Follow this link to see the extent that he is maintaining his old writing pattern. Most of us dont have such an option. 

Several years ago, I was contracted to write a book. This particular book involved working on a short deadline and multiple editors reviewing and making editorial suggestions on my manuscript. If you have a single editor, the Word changes appear in a single color. If you work with multiple editors, each editor has a different color and the manuscript looks like a rainbow of colors with many things to address in each paragraph. Multiple editors and a short deadline to review and return this material made this book a challenge. At that time I was not just a freelance writer but also working a fulltime day job at a publishing house. With a dose of persistence, I completed the book and it was published but the editorial process was grueling.

When you get editorial feedback, there are basically two ways to handle it. Initially when I get this feedback I fume and mutter to myself that I dont want to do it. Ive learned not to respond but to give myself a day or two to think about it. Usually during this cooling off period, I determine the truth in the feedback and the need for revision. I decide to do what the editor asked me to do.

Because Ive worked in publishing for many years, Ive seen the opposite reaction. Authors write lengthy retorts about why they wrote something the way it was written. Some authors will battle over every single word changed in their original work. These authors do not endear themselves to the editor or publisher or agent. Instead of an author you want to help, they become someone to delay, avoid and reject because of their lack of teachability and being coached. 

The editorial process is designed to produce an excellent work for the reader. Some authors forget this important detail in the back and forth process. Admittedly the process is subjective and has room for dialogue and discussion but at the core is the search for an excellent book.

One of the best ways for every writer to get editorial feedback is to join a critique group. Early in my days as a writer, I joined a small group of four people who met every month for breakfast. We wrote something each month for the group. Maybe it was a short magazine article, a query letter, part of a book proposal or a chapter in a book. Each person got the manuscript at least a week before our meeting date. As a member of the group, your task was to print the material and mark it up with editorial suggestions for improvement. During the meeting, we quickly ordered our breakfast, then took 15 minutes with each person. The focus of our time was not to visit or chat about anything other than the work that we were critiquing. At the end of the meeting, each person went home with three versions of their work.Then you can take the input and see if you agree (make the change) or ignore it. 

As writers, we grew in our writing and learned from each other in this editorial process. I found it gave valuable insight. If you are not in a critique group or want to improve your group process, I have much more detail in this article

As an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing, every day Im involved in this editorial process. Recently the feedback for one of my novel authors was she needed to get a developmental editor then resubmit her work before getting a contract. This particular novelist had published a number of nonfiction books but this manuscript was her first novel. She needed some professional help before the foundation of her story would be excellent for publishing. Its not easy to tell authors such decisions and encourage them to move forward to get an excellent book--yet it is all part of the process of producing excellent books. 

Another option for writers to get editorial feedback is to hire an outside editor before sending your material to an agent or publisher. If you use this option, it can be an expensive way to get an excellent manuscript but if you learn from the editor as they make suggestions, it can be a valuable part of your growth as a writer. 

Its not easy or straightforward for any writer to handle editorial feedback but it is a necesary part of the process of producing an excellent book. How do you handle this process with your writing? Tell me about your experiences in the comments.

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4 Comment:

At 4:24 AM, Blogger Amy Houts Left a note...

As the author of 100+ picture books, I’ve had my share of editorial feedback. Of course, I hope to submit a perfect manuscript that needs little or no editing, but that rarely happens. I try not to take criticism personally. While it takes a few minutes to process, ultimately, I’m grateful for editorial guidance and feedback.

At 6:45 AM, Blogger Rebecca Velez Left a note...

I agree about mulling over advice before accepting or rejecting it. At first, taking critiques was difficult for me, but I've found it's gotten easier over the years.

At 7:47 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


Thank you for this feedback. It's not easy for any writer but valuable if we are open to insights from others.


At 7:49 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


Thank you for sharing your experience and this comment.It's definitely a process to improve our work and we should not take it personally.



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