Handling Editorial Feedback

From Writer Unboxed: Handling Editorial Feedback Without Getting Overwhelmed

I’m sharing this post because so much of this method rings true to me. Of course, “rings true to me” means I personally deal with editorial feedback pretty much this way, not that everyone else in the universe deals, or ought to deal, with editorial feedback this way. Nevertheless, I think this is a good and useful method of dealing with editorial feedback.

Editorial feedback, by the way, is large-scale critique on things like pacing and whether certain scenes are effective (or, indeed, necessary); the way tension is handled; whether characters act in ways that are in character; all that big stuff. It’s got nothing to do with proofreading. Dealing with proofreading feedback is super easy: fix all the mistakes and make decisions about all the comma queries, boom, done. Editorial feedback takes a lot more thought.

Here is how this post suggests handling that:

  1. Only read feedback when in a good frame of mind
  2. Read it all once and then do nothing for a few days
  3. Break down the feedback into bulleted lists

    Each list depends on what editorial feedback I received. I cut and paste all the points raised into lists in a new document. When I’m done, I have several pages of concrete things I need to fix in the novel. I cross each one off as I fix it in the manuscript, so I can track whether or not I’ve addressed all the issues I needed to. An example of list categories:
    • Minor fixes – Anything easy to search and replace, involves one line of work to fix, or involves one scene.
    • Character – Note any inconsistencies, or backstory that need fleshing out more, and how to fix it, if I can.
    • Worldbuilding – Note inconsistencies, or things that need to be better explained.
    • Plot Issues – Subplots, or plot holes that need fixing and how they can be fixed.
    • Major issues – Things that I need to thread through large chunks of the story. For example, fixing the pacing in the first half of the novel, or redoing the motivation for one character.
  4. Finish my story outline
  5. Tag everything I can fix in my feedback lists
  6. Fix all the easy things first
  7. Go through the manuscript beginning to end, with my list of fixes beside me for reference

Comments under every point at the linked post.

Here are the steps I personally follow:

  1. Read through the editorial comments, paying particular attention to positive comments and skimming critique.
  2. Do nothing for a couple of days.
  3. Turn the critique into a bulleted list of things to address.
  4. Fix all the easy things first, using strikethrough on those bullet points or deleting the bullet points as each is completed.
  5. Work through the items until nothing but really big issues, including clarifying the motivation of characters and stuff like that.
  6. Go through the manuscript from beginning to end.

I do think it helps tremendously to turn paragraphs of critique into a bulleted list of items to address, with or without comments about how to address those items. That’s why I left that step more detailed in the list above. These categories of items to fix do fairly closely follow the categories I also find helpful.

And I also think it helps a lot to strikethrough or delete items as soon as I feel they are satisfactorily completed. If I’m not sure, then I may use other techniques, such as bolding the list and de-bolding any items that I think have been satisfactorily completed, but feel I may want to re-evaluate later. Going through the manuscript from beginning to end is the re-evaluation process.

I don’t do anything similar to the OP’s step four — completing the story outline. But it’s kind of a neat idea. I’ll write down one sentence description for each scene in the book, numbered by chapter and scene. For ex. 5-1 = Chapter 5, Scene 1. This helps me find all the places where I need to fix things, and when things happened. I hold all that in my head, and frankly I can see that there’s probably a lot to be said for this outline method.

I should add one more step:

7. Send the manuscript to one more trusted beta reader or back to your editor and specifically ask whether, eg, the pacing now seems to work better.

You’re not likely to be able to tell. Or at least, I’m not likely to be able to tell. Not just pacing issues can be hard to judge; for me, a last query can ask, “Does the character arc for [this character] work for you?” Or even more open ended: Does [this character] work for you? That is the most important thing for me, or one of the most important things, and sometimes it’s hard to tell, particularly after repeated revisions. Beta readers who are especially focused on relationships are therefore especially helpful in getting a final thumbs up regarding the coherence and believability of character arcs and the relationships between characters.

Anyway, good post, click through to read the whole thing.

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4 thoughts on “Handling Editorial Feedback”

  1. Do you find it harder to manage when you’ve got multiple critiques from different people? I would think consolidating ONE person’s critique into that bullet list, etc, etc, would be pretty straight-forward, but the logistics of trying to pull in the information (sometimes contradictory) from multiple people about multiple things sounds overwhelming.

    (Hey, even just all the proofreading corrections that come up–because I’ll mark typos and such even when doing an editorial critique because, duh, I’m right THERE, but there are so many of those, too. (Well, at least, the last two books I beta read had a LOT.) That’s a lot of back and forth!

  2. Deb, that was the issue you picked up on with No Foreign Sky — too many revisions based on too many different people’s critiques. It can certainly be a problem, and I don’t plan to let that happen again. Ideally someone will do a critique that instantly seems right, and that’s what I’ll go with, period. With Tasmakat, one reader suggested combining two characters. I immediately saw that this was a good idea. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about — an instant “Oh yes, of course” reaction. If I don’t get that, then I probably won’t make the revision, especially if other early readers give that element a thumbs up.

    Proofing is absolutely not a problem. I just do multiple passes where I fix the typos each person found, ignoring anything substantive. That’s a brainless sort of activity that’s tedious, but easy. I don’t read the manuscript at all when correcting typos, just go straight through from one typo to the next.

    The most tedious thing in the world is very late-stage proofing, where I may have finalized the paperback and hardcover versions. If I don’t want to do it over, then I’ll correct the exact same typos in the ebook, the paperback, and the hardcover, one after another. THAT is annoying. What I’ve learned to do is make a quick and dirty paper version to check page numbers and give me something to proofread in that format, then throw it away and do it over from scratch when I think almost nothing will need to be tweaked. That way nearly all the proofing gets done just to the ebook file.

  3. I take notes. It helps put emotional distance between me and the comments.

    When taking many people’s comments, tick off how many people had the same complaint. If one or two object, you might dismiss it. If several do, consider it deeply. If most do, you have a problem even if they misdiagnosed it.

  4. I don’t think I have ever had multiple people with the same complaint. If I ask a specific question, such as “Does the beginning work for you?” or “Does this secondary character work for you?” then I either get one reader saying no and everyone else saying yes, or everyone saying yes.

    What tends to be more valuable for me are observations that I didn’t see coming at all, but immediately see are correct, such as “Maybe you should combine these two characters?” or “Is this scene repetitive given this earlier scene?” or “I think I’m lost. Which way are the mountains from here?”

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