How to think laterally about editor feedback #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

How to think laterally about editor feedback #amrevising #amediting #editing

In my opinion, the editor is always right . . . about the existence of a problem. Or at least usually. For the sake of this article, I’m bundling critique partners in with editors, and the more experienced the editor or critique partner, the more often they’re right about there being a problem in the first place. What they’re less often right about IMHO is identifying exactly what the problem is, nor are they always right about what the best solution is, nor is it always a problem that should be fixed. And sometimes, they either haven’t explained the logic of their point-of-view, or their explanation is just plain confusing. If you couldn’t tell, this post is about developing the skill of thinking laterally about feedback.

I let feedback ping around in my head for a day or three, and more often than not, it will land in one of the following seven categories:

  1. Right problem; right solution: The editor is bang on, and I’m taking her suggestion.
  2. Right problem; wrong solution: I love when my editor or critique partners workshop fixes for any of my manuscript problems. I sometimes use their solutions verbatim, and other times deviate slightly, or come up with an entirely new fix. Let’s say my editor is worried that my character’s vanity is too unlikable. She suggests toning down the vanity. But maybe I feel a better solution would be to explain (or show) a little more of Mary’s back story, so that readers understand that Mary is vain because growing up, she had an overbearing mother who weighed her daughters daily. My solution keeps Mary as vain as before, but readers now have a reason to empathize with the character.
  3. Right passage; wrong problem: The editor has identified a passage or character inconsistency or other issue, but their reason doesn’t make sense. I try looking at the issue from different angles to see if there is anything else that could be wrong with the passage/character other than what the editor has identified. For instance, let’s say my editor says there’s a timeline issue with my story. How does Jill make it down the hill before Jack if Jack fell first? I would then realize that this isn’t a timeline issue at all but an error of omission. I forgot to mention in the story that Jill fell down a steeper face of the mountain, which in fact means that she made it to the bottom long before Jack.
  4. Right passage and right problem; solution achieved by fixing a different How to think laterally about editor feedback #amrevising #amediting #editingpassage: For example, perhaps my editor is saying they don’t understand a character’s motivation, why Jennifer—who seems non-violent—would throw a glass at the wall. Maybe the solution comes not from changing the current passage so that Jennifer doesn’t throw the glass, but instead by showing Jennifer’s increasing fury in the events leading up to the glass-breaking incident, so that her reaction is more believable.
  5. Right problem and right solution if the editor belonged to my target audience: Sometimes you’re trying to accomplish something with your story, but the critique partner that you’re trialing wants you to change something to fit their ideology. If you’re okay with not reaching the audience that critiquer represents, then maybe making a change to the problem they identified isn’t what you want to do. You could consider compromising, but that’s up to you.
  6. Vague comment that needs editor clarification: When I’m critiquing work, I’ve often found myself in a position where something isn’t ringing right for me, but I’m at a loss for words to explain why. The result is that I’m only able to give a vague comment and hope that the author, who knows their project better than me, can figure out if there really is a problem, and if so, what that problem is. When I receive vague comments that I can’t figure out on my own, I set them off to the side, so I can send my editor or critique partner all my follow-up questions in one shot.
  7. Valid comment, but I want to get a second opinion: In my first year of working with critique partners, I placed many comments I received into this category. Not so much anymore, and I’m searching for a reason. The best I can come up with is that I try harder to understand comments now than I did before, and I usually can figure out what needs to be done without waiting to see if someone agrees or disagrees with the first opinion. Also, I’ve noticed that different critique partners have different strengths, and just because a second critique partner doesn’t pick up on what the first critique partner did, doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.

Do you have any advice on how to interpret feedback? Any stories you would like to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

73 thoughts on “How to think laterally about editor feedback #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. Great discussion, Raimey! I agree with all the lookouts you stated – we do need to take any advice with a grain of salt, the salt being our own rationality.

    Another fun analogy of Jack & Jill, btw. LOL

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Terrific bit — great insights. It is a completely different relationship once you share work with others, between you and the work and the others…..Have found the day or three from comment to my response helps tremendously!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Post like this are great for helping us not feel like the Lone Ranger out here. I sometimes wonder what’s worse – lots of feedback or no feedback. Because with either there are times when you feel you feel like you’re at square one save for the grammar/punctuation call outs.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Number 5 (Right problem and right solution if the editor belonged to my target audience:)
    This a thousand times, yes!
    I see this problem so often. People always want to make a manuscript resemble their favorite genre. This can ruin an otherwise good book. I always caution people to make sure they get feedback from people who read in their genre. Imagine having a horror aficionado giving you advice on your Anne of Green Gables retelling? EEK

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I can’t say I’ve ever broken it down like this in my head, but I’ve definitely noticed a lot of these things about feedback I’ve gotten over the years. It’s nice to see it all laid out like this.

    Oh, and I also get those vague comments less now, but I think that’s because the quality of my CPs & beta readers has improved dramatically.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I think that’s a great point about editors (and feedback in general) In my experience, when someone points to the existence of a problem, they’re usually right, but sometimes fixing it takes a bit more work or the problem might not have been pinpointed exactly. I really like how you broke this down.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Being an editor, and having had my work edited, I think you nailed it. Or at least I can’t think of anything to add. When I see a problem in a story I’m editing, I do offer suggestions that the writer can take or work off of to make that suggestion work better. I always explain issues I spot and point out inconsistencies. One I tend to find is a characters name or the spelling of it changes. It’s also important for editors to go back over a story a second time. I’ve ended up removing comments I put in during the first round after a second readthrough and either found the answer was already there or realized I had missed a tiny point the first time.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Great post, Raimey! When editing, I rarely tell anyone “This is wrong, do X to fix it.” Rather, I point out the potential problems and offer suggestions, a lot of the times under the form of a question (“What if you tried it like this…?”). I especially love that you mentioned that we have to factor in the experience of the editor – so true! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I’ve worked with editors twice. The first one gave me 19 pages of revisions, er, points of light. I cut two unnecessary scenes. The second editor sent me suggestions one at a time. Go through the entire manuscript and eliminate the word “that”. Done? Okay, now go through the entire manuscript and eliminate the word “very”. Etc. Etc. I got so sick of that book I could have thrown up.
    Fortunately, I got my rights back and self-published. I still take criticism from critique partners and beta readers. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Hi! This is true. I’m lucky that my editor for Chasing Eveline was right on with me and I agreed with all of it. Unfortunately I’ve had another editor who basically made sarcastic comments as means of suggestions. Lol. That was not helpful. And she didn’t really understand what I wanted to accomplish. So it’s definitely important to be able to know how to react to editorial comments!
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No, she just made sarcastic comments that were supposed to be suggestions. The suggestions she was intending to communicate were good, but I probably would have preferred a different delivery haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I like how you take feedback and analyze all potential fixes, not just the immediate one. Especially in the example of escalating the fury and anger to include the scene you wanted to show. Excellent post Raimey.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great advice! I’m often at a loss to figure out how to use the great feedback I’ve gotten back from classmates and writing partners, and my system for using feedback is quite nebulous and inconsistent. The seven ways of categorizing feedback is a great starting point to go through it in a more systematic way. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I like these tips. Sometimes, especially if you’re new to working with editors, it’s easy to doubt yourself and think that you shouldn’t disagree with the editor because they obviously know more than you, right? But I think the best editor-author relationships are the ones where feedback flows both ways. It should be a learning experience, not a battle. I think this is some good advice on how to teach authors to politely say “you’re wrong!”

    Liked by 2 people

  14. This is excellent advice, Raimey! I’ve shared it online. I agree with the breakdown of tips. As I continue to write, I’m getting better at seeing what critique comment truly applies to the story I’m trying to tell, and what is outside my particular story. Thanks again for all you do to make Toolbox posts so pithy for writers.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Hi! Like the other comments, I never really thought there were this many angles to the critiques. Very interesting. I’m more inclined to listen and absorb. Like you, I let the comment ruminate for a while before I do anything. Sometimes we know our characters and the story so well, we forget to tell it all. Adding a little something often helps. Other times we work too hard to make something work that isn’t going to work. That’s the hardest kind of criticism for a writer to accept.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. As an editor, it’s so good to see this out in the world. Naturally we are completely fallible and these are great “grains of salt” to take with any comments from BRs or CPs. I especially love “Right problem and right solution if the editor belonged to my target audience” as it is THIS little bit of wisdom that has set me back entire revisions on several projects before. Having a second opinion on things you’re not sure of is also very important. And when YOU are the CP/BR, it’s good to remember not to be too vague and to try and offer alternatives/solutions (more than one if possible).

    In the end, stay true to yourself and your vision; if that means CHANGING that vision, then sure, as long as you still love it!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Great post. I like breaking down the feedback I get from editors/critique partners as well. Like you said, I’ve sometimes found the actual problem is earlier (than the section the editor marked) in the manuscript. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Wow, you’re wonderfully thorough! A great, clear set of tips. Me? Read through the document and sift through comments. Do the same with all of the critiques. If more than two say something similar, I pay it more attention. I basically go with the majority. I used to assume other people knew more than me about everything – no confidence – but not now. Receiving feedback is a negotiation in my mind with the comments, and if necessary, with the readers if I need more clarification.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Taking advice is a tricky business. Every word should be considered carefully, however, not everyone who offers it sees your vision of what the story should be. Editors are the best qualified to offer feedback. Sure, but incorporating everything they suggest into the work can be challenging. I always try to do as they ask.

    I want to make everyone happy. That said, there are times that teaming up and brainstorming is a better solution. Editors aren’t always 100% right, but they are part of your publishing team. I say work together.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Great post! You’ve got me thinking about the way I edit …

    As a freelance editor I’d like to think all my advice fits in #1. But I know that’s not the case. The author will always know the plot, the characters, and the overall series arc better than me, so there are some writing choices that make sense in the big picture even if they don’t make sense on the page.

    What I try to do is pull out those passages that don’t make sense to me as a reader. If they don’t make sense to me, they are likely to confuse other readers as well. I do try very hard not to be editor #5 – I will turn down work if I don’t think I can read and assess it as a target reader would.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Great insight into interpreting comments. I had an editor that didn’t know basic grammar rules. Once I discovered that, i didn’t trust any other input she had on my story. It was very disappointing, but because I know grammar rules, I was able to stop any errors from being introduced into my manuscript. Working on structure issues is even harder. I think very hard about comments i’ve received before making any changes. I love the way you’ve broken the types of comments into groups. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. That reminds me of something I once heard Neil Gaiman say, “When someone tells you there’s a problem with your story, they’re right. When they tell you what the problem is, or how to fix it, they’re wrong.”

    I think your observation that sometimes the problem shouldn’t be fixed is an interesting one.
    I once read a story that had a very rough beginning, but when I finished the story I realized the author couldn’t tell the story any other way, and still deliver the same impact.

    I also definitely agree that a little distance in time goes a long way. My own writing is often a sensitive topic, and not everyone expresses themselves well. The right ideas are sometimes concealed by what sounds like a hostile tone.

    You also provide a nice break down of the different types of feedback. I think lists like that provide a nice framework/foundation for others to build upon.
    I think “right problem and right solution if the editor belonged to my target audience” is particularly well made.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Great advice on interpreting and applying feedback. I have several critique partners who are well-versed in my genre. When they flag something it sometimes seems like their distance from the genre is the issue, but after letting it marinate I almost always find there was a tweak here or there that had to happen. I take every comment to heart and I think my work is stronger for it. I am sure with this great advice yours is too.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. So far, all I’ve had are critique partners looking at my manuscript. One day I’ll work y way up to an actual editor, but that’ll have to wait until the book is done. In the meantime, I’ve learned that I should never dismiss their suggestions out of hand, no matter how wrong I think they are at first glance. With a little reflection, I often discover they did find the right problem, but simply suggested the wrong answer.

    Liked by 1 person

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