21 thoughts on “How Do You Know When Editorial Feedback is ‘Right’?

  1. Clare B. Daly says:

    Having had no luck so far with my manuscript on submission, I approached Robert Doran for a professional edit and he saw a major flaw and has recommended a complete overhaul of point of view. I was floored by this but I know he’s right and I’ve started my rewrite. Everything you’ve said makes sense. I know in my gut its the right thing to do for the book, even though the thoughts of a complete rewrite is a nightmare. In taking his advice I’ve discovered things about my characters I didn’t know before and my writing is (I think, I hope) better. Fingers crossed its the change needed to give it some traction. Just need to finish it now!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      It IS fun. The hard bit is done. You can break out the Post-Its. You can start actually enjoying the coffee you’re drinking by the litre. And at the end of it all, you have a better book and can binge-watch Netflix guilt free. What’s not to like? 🙂

  2. Elizabeth d'Anjou says:

    As a professional editor, I was so pleased to read this positive, clear-eyed post about editing from the author’s point of view. I especially loved this line: “When we write books, there’s often a gap between the idea of it we had in our head and what we actually produce on the page. An editor will help you close or at least narrow that gap.” This is exactly what editing should do! May I use this quote with my editing students?

  3. Deborah Jay says:

    Ha ha, it’s good to know I’m not the only one who loves editing. My problem is knowing when to stop!
    And I totally recognise your five phases – I do exactly the same.
    My first experience of being edited by a publishing house editor was a huge shock, and I spent much time yelling loudly about his ‘stupid’ suggestions, and ‘didn’t he understand the point I was making?’ But when I sat down and got on with it and, after speaking to a friend who has had several books published, realised I didn’t have to accept every single point, I was able to recognise how valid most of them were, and how they actually improved the book.

    • Elizabeth d'Anjou says:

      I have an old friend who, upon first receiving a professional edit of a manuscript, called me in a funk of WHY DOES THIS PERSON HATE WHAT I’VE WRITTEN?! DOES SHE THINK I’M AN IDIOT? went over the editor’s comments with him, and he was able to begin to relax when it began to sink in that “Do you want to consider moving this scene closer to the end, for XYZ reasons?” doesn’t mean “You suck at pacing and I say you need to move this.” It actually means, well, “Do you want to consider moving this scene closer to the end, for XYZ reasons?”

      He said to me, slowly, with wisdom dawning in his eyes, “Oh, I get it—these queries are actually QUERIES!”

      Because I am a very good friend, and I know writers with new drafts are vulnerable, I only laughed at him a little bit.

      • Deborah Jay says:

        You are very kind 😉
        I took mine away with me to Spain (I was competing out there in a series of dressage competitions) and my poor, long suffering room mate (owner of my horse, and acting groom) had to suffer through the shrieks of indignation.
        I think she wished she’d packed ear plugs.

  4. Joel D Canfield says:

    I was going to spell out my reaction to The Email from Tom the Editor landing in my inbox. But then you wrote out the same 5 steps I go through. Fortunately, he is immune to being called a heartless addlepated weasel (he has an older sister.) Also fortunately, I get to the good steps (4 & 5) faster now than in the early days.

    When Tom raises practical questions, the answers are usually easy (keep or toss? Tom’s way or my way?) But when he raises character or story questions (at which he is stupendously adept) the answer is always in my character’s character or the story’s theme. I know my story and I know my people, and that makes it easy, or at least possible, to know the answer.

  5. ridicuryder says:

    Hi Catherine,

    I have had a fair bit of critique and editing with a manuscript that will be going to a “final” editor soon. The Trust Your Gut stuff was really good to hear. I’ve made a lot of changes…that were easy (or at least fairly easy) to make. Whenever I would hesitate on a perspective or suggestion, I would let it sit for a few weeks / months and come back to it periodically.
    I quickly realized the validity on “easy” stuff that my gut welcomed. When doing these fixes, I noticed that my new stuff would at times, slightly address things that I was still unprepared to work on elsewhere. Leaving questionable feedback until last helped me A) “Drift” in towards what needed addressing. B) Write a patch in another area of the work and let the original work hold where I wasn’t willing to bend. C) Refine other areas of the story where I felt more confident of the tone / style I was originally going with.
    B and C are similar, but different. Basically, doing the easier (gut approved) fixes first brings a better shape to your story and gives you better footing to make the harder adjustments from.


  6. Avril Silk says:

    Many years ago I had a friend who thought everything I wrote was wonderful and said so profusely. You might think that would be great, but it really wasn’t. By the same token, I’ve met people who seem devoted to negativity and belittlement. Paying them too much heed is a big mistake, but they maybe once in a blue moon they say something that needs attention. Learning whose judgment to trust matters, as does learning to be selective about advice. I heard Tessa Hadley talking on the radio recently about the moment when she felt she had authority as a writer. A good editor will support the development of a writer’s confidence and authority.

  7. Sarah Weaver Author says:

    I’m perfectly OK with editing, although I think some writers make the mistake of assuming any editing is good editing for any genre of book. An editor that specializes in hard science fiction (besides being an arrogant pomp, that doesn’t know anything about science at times) may not be the most relevant if you’re writing an Urban Fantasy Western.

    Even with the scope of science fiction, it’s important your editor has read widely enough in your specific sub-genre that they know what is expected from that genre, giving you tips on how to fulfill that expectation while allowing wiggle room to break some of those expectations that function for no other reason than tradition.

    An example is the constant jabbering conversations I hear on Wattpad about “Free Energy and Perpetual Motion” doesn’t exist, assuming of course that we will even be in the same place technologically in the next one hundred years. Technical illiteracy is not an admirable trait in a science fiction editor.

    To me there is a difference between an editor whose opinion you trust, and some random person that may or may not be as good a writer as you on say … Wattpad, giving you advice on how to write a science fiction novel that you didn’t solicit.

    Then you get into the whole issue of your Sf being so different from previous sub-genres, an agent simply can’t sell it because it doesn’t feature anything that exists in any current category. Or perhaps existed but was unclassified.

    Editing is good. Technical illiteracy or Dawkins-esque atheism in a work of fiction is not.

    This tends to happen when you write about Remote Viewing and Faster Than Light travel, with people juxtaposing atheism into the realm of technical and scientific literacy in fiction.

  8. hilarycustancegreen says:

    Good stuff here and I agree. I have found Literary Consultants very helpful on this front. My problem has been a tendency to ask advice from too many sources and then to try and please everyone, I need to trust my gut a little more often.

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