Author’s Corner: Dianne Salerni
We are thrilled to introduce a new series to our blog site—The Author’s Corner. We are so fortunate to have so many PAWLP friends and fellows who are authors willing to share their writing processes with us and our readers. For our first entry in our Author’s Corner, please welcome Dianne Salerni. . .
Six Stages of Accepting Editorial Feedback
By Dianne Salerni
I’m sure I’m not the only writer who hyperventilates when an email with feedback turns up in my in-box. It might be from a critique partner, a trusted beta reader, or feedback won in a contest from someone you don’t even know. Further down the road, it might be from your agent, or an official revision letter from the editor who acquired your book.
No matter the source, you want the critique to say: This book is perfect just the way it is. Don’t change a word!
You’re also okay with: There’s a typo on page 57.
Realistically, you know it’s never going to be that easy, and opening that email or document is one of the hardest things you ever do.
Generally, I go through six stages when reading feedback on my manuscript.
Stage 1: NO! SHE’S WRONG! SHE IS ABSOLUTELY AND COMPLETELY WRONG ABOUT THIS!
Stage 2: Drat. She’s right.
Stage 3: BUT I CAN’T FIX IT! CHANGING THIS WILL HAVE A DOMINO EFFECT THAT MAKES THE ENTIRE PLOT UNWORKABLE. IT CANNOT BE FIXED!
Stage 4: Oh. I see how to fix it.
Stage 5: You know, this change is pretty good.
Stage 6: THIS IS BRILLIANT! WHY DIDN’T I DO IT THIS WAY IN THE FIRST PLACE?!
I’ve come to accept these stages. I understand that it’s not possible for me to skip the scary and upsetting ones, even though I know the later, more positive stages are coming. The trick is not to respond to the critique while you’re in the throes of Stage 1 or Stage 3. Just don’t do it. Wait until Stage 4 so you can thank the person for the feedback and ask for any clarification needed, while already having a revision plan in mind.
Over time, I’ve also learned something important about addressing issues raised in a critique or editorial letter. I had trouble putting the idea into words, but luckily, Neil Gaiman did it for me:
Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. ~ Neil Gaiman
You have the option of ignoring the feedback you get from critique partners and beta readers. Less so for agents and editors. But you really should seriously consider every bit of feedback you receive – especially if more than one reader comments on the same thing. Listen carefully to what they’re saying. Figure out why this element doesn’t work for your readers, and keep in mind that they can’t always pinpoint the real reason themselves. You’re going to have to be the one to figure it out. Then address the issue in a way that makes sense for you and for your story.
Most of the time, your fix will be better than the one they suggested and will get you to the glorious Stage 6 faster.
Change happens. As a writer, learn to embrace it. Just keep a brown paper bag handy for hyperventilation. It’s okay. It’s part of the process.
Dianne K. Salerni attended the University of Delaware, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, and then went on to earn a master’s in language arts education at the University of Pennsylvania. She was an elementary school teacher for over twenty years and has also written several books, including We Hear the Dead and The Caged Graves. The Inquisitor’s Mark is the second book in the Eighth Day series. Although Dianne knows there’s not really such a thing as a secret Eighth Day, discovering one would explain all the food that disappears in her house. Until then, she’ll continue to blame her husband, Bob, her two teenage daughters, Gabrielle and Gina, and her dog, Sorcia. Dianne lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania.
You hit the nail on the head when it comes to receiving feedback. I find that I approach feedback sometimes with the same anxiety that you have expressed in this article. This article will be brilliant for me to use in my own classroom. I look forward to discussing with my students that the anxiety and residence to feedback they feel is shared by all writers across the world regardless of achievement or qualification. I think that this will work to inspire confidence in my future students as they see writing as a process of change and improvement. Great article!
Accepting feedback seems to be challenging in many venues — but especially in writing. You do an amazing job of capturing the initial reactions in a humorous but oh so true way. You also share how we can accept and learn from feedback. We’re just kicking-off the Writing Institute and your post will be a perfect introduction to writing response groups!
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