Freelance editor and proofreader reveals the 6 most important steps to getting the right feedback on your manuscript and using it in the best way!
Sending your work out for feedback can be a very scary thing. Up until that point, you may have been the only person who has ever read your manuscript, and it can often feel like your creation is something you want to nurture and protect.
But getting an outside view on your writing is essential to making it the best it can be. Often, a writer is so close to their work that they are unable to see potential issues or areas for improvement. I know I suffer from this problem, as a writer. I find it incredibly difficult to revise my own writing without outside assistance, even though I work as a professional editor, and have no trouble helping other writers improve their work!
So, once you’ve made the decision to get some help with your writing, how do you make sure you get what you want out of the exchange, and are in a position to receive the feedback in a constructive way that will help you improve?
1. Make sure you are very clear about what type and level of feedback you are requesting
At a very early stage in the process, you might choose to let a friend or family member look at your piece, just to get some reassurance. In that case, you should be clear that all you’re looking for is a positive response, highlighting the aspects they particularly enjoyed. This is a perfectly valid way of gaining confidence in your writing – you’re not asking them to lie, just to emphasise the good things so you can feel better about taking your writing to the next stage.
Once you feel you’re ready for more balanced feedback that focuses on how you can improve, you should discuss the stage you’re at with a book editor, and give them clear instructions about what you’re looking for.
Book editors will likely be happy to tailor their feedback to your needs – balancing both encouraging and critical comments, focusing on particular areas you feel are your weakest, being completely brutal in every way, if you feel you’re up to it, etc.
The editor’s role is to help you, and that won’t work if what they provide is not what you want. But bear in mind, if you are paying for their services, you might as well make the most of their expertise and get as much constructive criticism as you can.
2. Enjoy the break
Most book editors will take a few weeks to do a comprehensive review of a full-length novel. You will have agreed a deadline for the feedback to be sent, so you know how long you’ll have to wait.
Try to use that time to completely forget about your project – take a total break from writing, or work on something shiny and new, perhaps – but don’t obsess over what the editor may or may not be thinking or feeling about your work. The feedback will come through in good time, and you might as well enjoy not having to think about that project for a while, since there’s nothing you can do now to alter what’s been sent out.
This will also mean you’re in a better frame of mind to receive the feedback when it does arrive, rather than winding yourself up into a frenzy of anxiety and despair.
3. Allow yourself to feel your feelings
When the day is finally upon you, and that all-important email comes through from your book editor, take a deep breath and read the feedback through once. Regardless of how experienced or inexperienced you are with receiving feedback on your writing, there are going to be emotions involved when reading someone else’s opinions about it.
I have a wonderful editor who has worked on all my novels to date. We have a great working relationship and know each other well enough now to understand how the process works and what will bring out the best end product. But still, every time I get initial feedback from her on a project, there’s always something that rubs me up the wrong way or instantly makes me think the entire novel is irredeemable and a complete waste of my time.
This is natural! And you should allow yourself to process those feelings, rather than trying to shove them away. BUT – and this is the important bit – don’t allow them to discourage you. Know that they will likely come up, but that they will be fleeting, and that you will recover and be able to move forwards with your writing, no matter what the feedback says.
(Unless, of course, it says, “This novel is irredeemable and a complete waste of time…” But honestly, that’s not going to happen, I promise!)
4. Let the feedback sit for a while before you take any action based on it
Following on directly from the point above, you should always leave your writing completely alone for at least a few days after your first read-through of any feedback from a book editor. Due to the heightened emotions involved, you will not be in the right frame of mind to accept constructive feedback in the way it’s intended.
Any large-scale revision plans you make at this point will likely be driven by an irrational response to any perceived criticism of your writing, and won’t be what will best serve your project in the long run.
Trust me on this – take some time to absorb what’s been said, get through the phase of thinking, “How dare they say that???” and bring yourself back to the feedback with fresh eyes and a calmer perspective once you’ve had a chance to settle down.
5. Be methodical and reasonable
Once you feel you’re in the right frame of mind to approach revisions in as objective a fashion as you can, go through the feedback again in more detail, and consider each comment carefully. It may be that you can’t understand how someone could react to a specific part of your story in the way the editor has (this happens to me all the time with my husband’s feedback!) – but remember, you know exactly what you intended with each word, but they don’t.
Different people are always going to react in different ways to the same piece of writing – so you should see any confusing reactions as an excellent opportunity to predict how other people may feel about your writing too. With any good editor, you should also have the opportunity to send back at least a few questions about the feedback, so take advantage of that. Also remember – this is your story and you have final say about every part of it.
If you don’t agree with a particular comment, you don’t have to accept it! But it’s a good idea to think about the editor’s view as rationally as you can, before deciding what to act on and what to ignore, since they are the expert and their opinion may be valid.
So, don’t discount anything out of hand, but keep in mind that their suggestions are not mandatory. Go through all the feedback, point by point, and make notes on what makes sense to you and what doesn’t, consider everything carefully, and then build a revision plan that fits what you want to achieve for your project.
6. Get a second opinion, or third or fourth
If possible, get more than just one person to read your work and provide feedback on it. This doesn’t mean you have to pay multiple professional book editors to essentially do the same work over and over again (though it’s certainly worth doing this with one professional editor).
If you know other writers, you could perhaps offer an exchange – you will offer feedback on their work if they will offer feedback on yours. If you also have supportive friends and family members who are willing to offer comments on your writing, take them up on it (but remember point 1 – otherwise all you might get out of your mum is, “It’s lovely, dear!” which is nice, but not particularly helpful).
Every new person’s perspective on your work is likely to be slightly different, which is all useful information to you as a writer learning about your target audience. The best advice I can give is this – if everyone says the same thing about a particular aspect, you should probably listen to them and consider how you can improve it.
If several people give contradictory feedback (which will happen – on one of my novels, one person said they thought the dialogue seemed stilted and unrealistic, while another said they thought it was really natural and the best thing about the book!), then you have the freedom to choose which perspective you want to agree with.
You’re never going to please every reader, after all. Just take a look at any bestseller on Amazon or Goodreads, and they’re bound to have a healthy smattering of one-star reviews along with the thousands of five stars!
I hope this has provided some useful advice on receiving feedback on your writing. It’s always tough letting other people read your work, but with the right approach and the right frame of mind, it can be the key to making your book the best it can be.
About Annie Percik
Annie Percik lives in London, writing novels and short stories, whilst working as a freelance editor. She writes a blog about writing on her website, which is where all her current publications are listed, including her novels, The Defiant Spark and A Spectrum of Heroes. She hosts a media review podcast, and publishes a photo-story blog, recording the adventures of her teddy bear. He is much more popular online than she is.