Thursday, December 03, 2020

Editorial Feedback: Friend or Foe?

By Sherry Howard, @SherLHoward

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: Feedback is a valuable part of the writing process, but it can also be intimidating. Sherry Howard discusses why you don't need to be afraid of what people think of your writing.

Sherry Howard lives with her children and silly dogs in Middletown, Kentucky. Sherry is the author of the picture book ROCK AND ROLL WOODS, with a starred Kirkus review. Her poems and stories have appeared in multiple journals and anthologies. She also writes for the educational market, with about a dozen books. Her middle grade book, SPIRITS AMONG US, released in October.

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Take it away Sherry...

There’s mystery and fear around the idea of editorial feedback. 

That might be because just about anyone can call themselves an editor, and some folks have had bad experiences. More on that later. But, more likely, it’s about that writerly insecurity that is a small child inside us cringing while someone looks at our work—our heart.

Like a hierarchy, writers tend to look up to someone who can help them improve their writing. But one of the companies I do some work for said that while editors are respected, writers are the talent with the magic sauce—the voice that makes writing sing. Needless to say, I did a quick needlepoint of that quote and hung it on a wall.

Janice talked about one of her editorial letters a while back. So, visit that post for some basics. I’d like to talk about the broader field of editorial feedback. Editorial feedback can happen in many different formats. I’ve appreciated all of the editors I’ve worked with. 

(Here's more on Three Things to Remember When Revising from a Critique)

One of my most effective editorial sessions happened in Skype with Mira Reisberg. 

My records show it lasted 57 minutes and 29 seconds. The meeting was a final sweep through my picture book, Rock and Roll Woods, which later received a Kirkus star. We were able to look at specific pages and discuss cutting words that weren’t needed because the illustrations spoke. It was a very efficient way to do an edit for a picture book at this stage, much better than back and forth in emails.

Another effective editorial meeting happened on a telephone conference call. 

It was a work-for-hire job, and I was way off base in my interpretation of what they wanted in a non-fiction job. Two editors conferenced with me for about an hour. By the end of the call I clearly understood what they wanted and successfully completed three books.

Helpful editorial feedback came in the form of a numbered list of things to consider with my middle grade that just released, Spirits Among Us. The list came from an agent who ultimately passed, but was wonderfully helpful along the way. Somehow those numbers spoke to my brain and allowed me to have a structure that appealed to me. 

(Here's more on Listen to Me: Putting Feedback to Good Use)

Sometimes editorial feedback is daunting. 

I’ve gotten editorial feedback during work-for-hire jobs that really challenged me. One book that ultimately is being published was probably written in at least five different versions—the entire book re-imagined and re-written. That’s important for writers—that re-imagining, “killing our darlings” as Stephen King tells us.

Other times editorial feedback is fun. 

Yes, it’s true. I had fun with the feedback from Wiley Blevins, my editor on my middle grade mentioned above. His feedback was complimentary (who wouldn’t love that?) and easy to follow. I enjoyed making the edits on that book. 

(Here's more on Working with a Freelance Editor (Part One))

Need editorial feedback? So, how do you choose an editor? 

That’s a hard question to answer. In many cases, our editors are assigned to us. For people who like to hire editorial feedback before submitting or publishing a manuscript, it’s critical to find an editor you trust. Many people provide editorial services without credentials to support the title. Like many things in writing, there is no one standard for editors. It’s up to a writer to do due diligence. Check background, get recommendations, try a sample edit, ask questions. 

(Here's more on Hiring an Editor - Yay or Nay?)

So, you aren’t comfortable with editorial feedback you’ve received. What should you do? 

Your written word is yours. Examine why you aren’t comfortable with the feedback. Sometimes it’s hard to judge our own work. Sometimes we have trouble hearing a hard truth. But, sometimes people get editorial feedback that doesn’t improve their writing. You’ll have to figure out whether to accept the feedback or not—it’s always up to the author. 

(Here's more on Writers: Ignore This Writing Advice. If You Want.)

Still have questions? If you find me on social media, I’m always happy to chat. I apologize, but I’m maxed out with Twitter follows right now, so I may not be able to follow right back, but tag me there if you have a question.

Scooter has been wheelchair bound ever since the accident that took her mother's life. Carrying on her mother's ghost hunting work, Scooter and her best friend Harlan create a YouTube show called Spirits Among Us. Wanting to get a message from her mother before she passes over, Scooter buys a special ghost-hunting camera and places it in her family's cemetery. But, when a string of robberies frighten the locals, will the camera capture more than a ghost?

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