Blogger: Rachel Kent
While I was at the Mount Hermon conference, I briefly met with an author to listen to a pitch. Based on the short introduction to the manuscript, I had a few words of advice on how the author could change up the project to make it more saleable in today’s market. The suggested changes were not big, and I was just trying to be helpful. The author did not take this feedback well and told me that if I didn’t like the book it was okay because it was out with other agents anyway.
I do believe that sometimes one agent is just not the right person to represent a project, but to reject constructive feedback from a publishing professional is not a good move. As an author, you want to be a sponge, soaking up all the helpful information you can on your journey to publication. Now, it is good to take feedback with a grain of salt, but being gracious and receptive when advice is offered is always wise.
The agents of Books & Such often ask for an author to rework a bit of a proposal or manuscript before we offer representation to an author to see if he/she is receptive to our feedback. It’s very hard to work with someone who isn’t open to making changes that we believe will strengthen the project before we send it out to publishing houses. When an author is receptive to making changes, it shows us that he/she will work well with an editor at a publishing house, too.
On a scale of 1-10 (with one being “I’m terrible at it.” and 10 being “I am perfectly receptive to feedback.”), how would you rate your willingness to accept feedback at this time?
What is the hardest part about getting feedback or a critique for you?
Ah, Rachel, this is about more than books. I’m in a knot today because I have to give constructive criticism to someone who doesn’t take it well. She doesn’t know it, but rejection of my suggestions will likely lead to the loss of her job (but that won’t be my decision). I’m not looking for “You’re right and I’m wrong.” I pray that she will find the grace to say, “That makes sense. I’ll give it a try.” And put action to her words.
And as for me, I’ve made enough mistakes in my life to say with a smile, “I’ll give it a try.” It gets easier as I get older–maybe ’cause I’ve had so much practice. But my book is my baby, and everyone thinks their baby is beautiful. I give my face a 9 and my heart a 6. Give my heart a week, and it will almost agree with my face.
Oh, Shirlee, I have been in that situation many times. At a previous job, I was the person who had to talk to the women staff if they broke the dress code.
You wanna make friends? Try telling Christian woman that 3 inches of cleavage is showing or that “yes, those are jeans: they are denim, they have flat-felled seams, they are classic 5-pocket style.” Or how about the one that finally caused me to leave the position, “Leggings are not considered pants by the dress code.” Well, I could write a novella about that…
I hope the lady took the criticism well, and the Lord dissolved that knot.
I’m sorry you are facing such a hard thing today. I hope and pray she takes it well.
Thanks for this example of how NOT to respond to feedback. Criticism is the arena for wearing the big girl panties. Our personalities play into whether this is an easy fit or not. As a writer, I remind myself to be a student. Continue learning and realize the critique process in editing and proposal feedback is still “school.”
Very true! If we are always learning, we can always be growing as writers.
Ella Wall Prichard
Oh, I hope I meet an agent like you at DFWCon! Probably because I studied journalism, was editor of my college paper & worked as a newspaper reporter, I KNOW that a good editor makes a writer look better. I beg for honest feedback.
🙂 Thanks. I hope you have a wonderful time at the conference. I’ve never been to that one before.
Rachel, your feedback always improves my books and helps me make the sale. I’m a 10 on feedback! Maybe it’s because I spent years getting critiques, entering contests and submitting without success, but I have NO problem getting feedback. I think authors who can’t handle it will be unpleasantly surprised when they’re asked to do revisions by their editors.
Thanks so much, Jill! I’d say you are a 10 as well and you do an amazing job with the revisions, too.
I can honestly say I am a 10 at this. I love to hear feedback and I know that it is always my own decision of how I implement any suggestions or choose not to.
I certainly know enough to be gracious with all feedback.
Rachel, you can give me feedback all day long – how do you like your coffee??
🙂 I’m glad you do well with feedback, Sheila! And it would be so fun to have a coffee date with you and all of our blog friends!
I usually like my coffee strong and black, but for now I am stuck with decaf until this little guy is born. *so tired*
I appreciate all feedback and am a 10 at accepting it, but I’m working on not being defensive initially. I keep my defensiveness to myself, but it’s hard not to feel that way when someone critiques something!
It is hard not to be defensive. Best not to show it during the meeting, as you know. 🙂
I agree that it’s crucial to be open to constructive feedback. Although I consider myself on the tenderfoot end of the spectrum, I have always been receptive to the feedback of agents, editors, betas, etc. A writer cannot develop in a vacuum. I still have much to learn!
My experience with my agent was slightly different than the policy you described (of having the writer make changes first before you represented him/her). When my future agent got back to me and said she was interested, she asked if I would be open to revisions they had in mind to improve the book. I said yes. They sent a contract, and it was only after I signed it and sent it back that she shared her recommended edits. I got the impression that it was a protective move, and wondered if writers in the past had used the time-consuming feedback to make their edits, then went elsewhere for representation.
Very sweet testimony, K.B.
Yes, that is a risk we take. I usually ask for the revisions before offering representation, but sometimes I offer representation before the revisions are done. It depends on the situation.
It sounds like he thought you were rejecting him. That puts a tiny crack in my heart because honestly, I may have thought that up until a few weeks ago, when you posted a blog including this topic. You really helped me to understand. If someone had asked me to make a change prior to that, yet they weren’t fully on my side, holding my hand … I would have been confused. But I’ve gained so much knowledge here. Like Andrew has always said … make a copy of your original. Then, make the changes … in hopes that the recommended change will link your hand in another’s.
I was interested in the project, too. 🙂 I caught on to the idea, was intrigued, and that is why I had some feedback to give.
20 years ago? I was a 3. Now I think I’ve achieved a 10. We tend to grow in our craft as well as our acceptance of criticism, figuring out along the way that the two go together like butter in coffee (or is that just me?).
In fact, I have an agent (from another agency) interested in my middle grade historical. He called to say he loved my voice and writing. Practically had me blushing. But then he instructed me on changes that needed to happen before he’d consider me. He only wants to see that I can create three sellable chapters, but even that has been quite an undertaking.
Yes, I’d gone through my manuscript carefully, editing and revising. Of course I thought it was great. And I still do. But another set of eyes, especially professional eyes, can make it better. I’m thrilled to have the help. And even if he doesn’t take me on as a client, I’ll learn much from the experience and be even better the next time.
So, yeah, I think I’ve improved since getting clobbered on my first manuscript. It’s not a solo journey. I’ll take all the help I can get!
Thank you for sharing that, Ronald.
My husband puts butter in his coffee every morning. lol. I thought he was the only one!
Yes, writing and revising and learning to take critiques are all a process. It’s something you get better at over time.
I’ve made some major (middling major anyway) changes to nearly all of my published books during the editing stages. I decided with my first book to take a leap of faith and agree to every change my editor suggested that I possibly could, so that if I encountered a suggested change I felt wouldn’t best serve the story my (reasoned out and articulated) objection would carry more weight. I think I ended up taking 80 to 90% of the suggested changes on that book, if memory serves, even some big ones like combining the role of two characters into one. There were even bigger changes in my second book. But by then I’d learned to trust my editor because, wouldn’t you know it, all the changes I made in the first book made it so much better. But even on those rare occasions I chose not to make a change, the fact that one was asked for made me give more thought to that particular story element, why it was important it remain as it was, and whether or not I had communicated that importance clearly enough (I hadn’t). Either way, it all worked together to make the story better. Still, I find the initial reading of the editorial letter a painful process no matter how much the story’s strengths are pointed out as well, and probably always will. I see the work that still needs to be done (usually in a compressed amount of time) and resistance rises up in me, and weariness, probably laziness too! It’s just another battle a writer needs to get through, and then she does the work. Editing on a macro level is a whole other skill set from writing, the ability to see what is, what could be, and find a path from A to B… I’m blessed to work with talented editors.
Thanks so much for sharing, Lori!
Tough question. I have to be honest and say I’m not great, initially. My response is to ‘gibber’ in corner for a bit then get myself together and be more objective about it. Some comments I then agree with, think about and massively strengthen the story, others I take on tm make it clearer and a few I reject as individual preference. Rating my critique response. Initially anything from 1 – 4, but in the end probably a 9!
I have noticed that the way the criticism is given has a huge impact. Negative “I hated it, that’s wrong, this doesn’t work, that’s awful” really kills my confidence, but positive criticism “I like the idea, but I think this bit doesn’t fit right, there is too much that and what if. . .”, is much easier to take and work with.
After getting the full range from my first lot of test readers I know have a much stronger book, but wondering who to get to read it this time?
*If I may ask a related question that is currently bothering me. I need a pen name, my own is far too common, but am struggling to choose something. I am thinking if I do come up with something poor, how likely is an agent/editor to suggest I change it. Is it really worth my while sorting it now? Thanks
I considered a pen name, but then I would have had to create a realistic persona to go with it for bios and social media activity to build platform. In the end, I decided that would work against being the “real me ” that readers want to get to know. Since platform is essential even before an agent will consider representing me, dropped the pen name idea.
Thanks for sharing! I think a lot of people have an initial defensive reaction. Some hide it better than others. 🙂
As far as the pen name goes…you could pick something now, or wait until you have an agent or editor and discuss possibilities with him/her. It is often good enough to use a middle initial or something. I’m not sure what your last name is, but if it is Smith or Jones a more complex pen name would be a wise move.
Thanks. It’s not Smith or Jones, but it is similarly short and almost as common. Has something to do with what one might do in a kitchen 🙂 (sorry, I am fiercely against connecting too much of real life me on the Internet, you never know when it might come back at you,I’m old fashioned!)
I don’t think I am defensive on criticism, in that I don’t tell them they are wrong (hang on, isn’t that what I am doing here?), but I take it inwardly and decide that I am actually no good at this writing milarky and why am I wasting my time.
But I come out the end after a few days and knuckle under.
Not for me to judge myself in terms of receptivity; those who have worked with me can do that.
* Once I realized that when the book was finished it was a commodity I was trying to bring to market, feedback wasn’t a problem any more. The process went from ‘creative’ to ‘production’, and I ended up looking at what I wrote through different eyes.
That’s a great way to look at it. Takes it a step away from being your baby. 🙂
Rachel, it goes from baby to troubled adolescent! 😀
I’d give myself a 9.5. I can listen to criticism without getting angry and usually without getting upset. Thick-skinned ― that’s me. I rewrote three full manuscripts from omniscient narrator to limited 3rd person based on feedback from Genesis contest reviewers. I even discovered it was fun to do that.
*In general, I seriously consider every negative comment and weigh whether it will improve or weaken the manuscript. I’ll use or modify and then incorporate the good ones. I don’t feel compelled to use the ones that don’t make an improvement. Even when I don’t make a recommend change, I still appreciate the effort the person made in pointing out what didn’t work for them.
I love your description of the revision process. It is hard work, but can be fun, too!
This reminded me of the story of a famous 19th-century landscape painter who visited the studio of a lesser acquaintance.
* There was a work in progress on the easel, and the distinguished visitor made a quick gesture and said, “I’d eradicate that cloud if I were you.”
“Careful!” cried his friend. “The paint’s still wet!”
The Great Man replied, “Oh, that’s all right. I’m wearing gloves.”
The first manuscript my agent and I sent out was pretty much rejected everywhere ( save for a few houses where i think it might just have been lost forever because we never heard back). But, with every rejection, editors had been kind enough to include things they liked but things that needed improvement. I kept everyone of those letters and made a concise note of all the similar criticisms I found in every one of those letters. Working on my next project, I took to mind that these were things that I especially needed to work on and I implemented their suggestions. It not only made me ( I think ) a stronger writer, it gave me the flexibility I would need when it came to working with an editor.
Writing is a very subjective thing: in some rejections what some person liked another didn’t — so while I kept this criticism in mind as well, I was MOST challenged by the notes I saw turning up time and again across a span of different publishers.
Like everyone, you wince when someone tells you something isn’t working in your writing or story. But, when you take the suggestions and it turns into something even BETTER, you end up being glad that you didn’t die on the hills you were so prepared to die on.
Agent and Editor feedback on rejection letters is the most valuable writing lesson you might ever get.
Thank you for sharing your experience, Rachel!
Great post, Rachel. The hardest part about feedback or a critique is the immediate gut response of feeling like I failed to get a point across, make the story interesting, etc, blah,blah. Once that passes, I take a step back, reevaluate myself and my story and then become like a sponge, soaking up whatever suggestions I can get. I know I’m not perfect and neither is my MS and there is always room for improvement on both counts. I want to learn from the best so I can do better!!! Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally argue a point which I feel is vital to my story. (I’m smiling here)
* With that said, I’m still a 10 on the receptive scale.
Well said! That describes me too.
Thank you for sharing this, Lara!
Persistence and teachability – over and over I see those two traits as vital to a writer’s success.
I’d give myself a 9 – knocking off one point for the day I allow myself to pout and wallow in self-pity. But then I get to work. As one of Rachel’s clients, I’m blessed to receive her input – and I trust it completely.
I was very impressed by the writers in my mentor group at Mount Hermon. When I asked for how much critique they wanted, they all said, “Bring it on!” Not one defensive comment. In one of the stories, we had suggested some fairly major changes. The writer sent the revised chapters to me one week after the conference – ALL the changes made, and it sparkled! Not only am I convinced these writers will turn out some amazing novels, but they’re the kind of writers editors and agents will adore working with.
Thanks, Sarah! 🙂 And, like you, I met with so many amazing people at Mount Hermon! I am looking forward to reviewing their material.
After Rachelle offered me representation, she had the unenviable task of telling me that although my story had a strong opening, I’d released all the tension at the one-quarter turning point and would need to rewrite the final three-quarters of the book, some 75,000 words. The news came as a surprise, but once I moved beyond the initial shock, I realized she was right, dove into the rewrite and sent her a story that was heaps better than what I’d had before.
I’ve come to value my editors’ feedback greatly. They help me take my stories to a new level. It’s not easy to hear that I muffed up, but I’d much rather my editor tell me than for readers to roll their eyes and round file my books.
That Rachelle was hard on you! 😉
Love it. Welcome it. Embrace it. Appreciate it. Always benefit from it. That wisdom you share with us, Rachel, is a priceless treasure. May God keep us all teachable.
Thanks, Bill! 🙂 It was great to see you at Mount Hermon!
I’d rate my receptiveness to feedback at about a 9.5. I’d say 10, but there’s always an initial flash of defensiveness and/or disappointment that I have to quash before I can be truly open to criticism. I do pay close attention to what’s being said and take notes if necessary. I never make any decision about feedback immediately. Only after I’ve had time to really think about it can I see if the advice makes sense to me and needs to be incorporated somehow.
Yes, it’s always wise to ponder the feedback for awhile and figure out how to best put it to use.
I am a 10…I absorb everything. What I find, as you take it all in, the “truth” of what needs to be done rises to the top…and then you can adjust your MS where it needs it. I say, don’t make changes just because someone says to, but listen, digest, work it through, and then what needs to be done to make it better will naturally happen.
Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth! Wise words.
Sylvia A. Nash
I have three experiences that sum up my feelings on this topic. First experience: A hundred years ago–okay, maybe more like 40–I took several college writing classes with one particular professor because…he was good! And his purpose was to help each student make his or her story the best that story could be. I noticed early on that his critiques went only as far as the student could tolerate. I wanted all he had to give, so I never let him see me squirm or sweat or anything. And trust me, there were times when I left his office in tears. He was not mean or unkind. He just told it like it was–however it was! I learned so much from that man. I’m still learning from wherever I can.
Second experience: That said, I also had another experience where I had someone read–sort of like a Beta reader–and offer suggestions. Only her suggestions were never about making my story the best it could it. They were always about helping me turn my story into her story! Not the same thing!! She doesn’t read for me anymore.
Third experience: My brother (avid reader, intelligent, worldly wise, and all that) made a suggestion for my current WIP that was so alien to anything I had ever done or thought I could do or wanted to do that it actually raised my anxiety level so high, it made me physically sick at my stomach. I put the idea aside for a few days, thought about it, finally decided to try it. I think it has made the story stronger than it ever could have been otherwise.
The lesson for me from my experiences? I want to do what’s best for me and my stories, but in the end, they are my stories.
Yes, that is why I suggest feedback be taken with a grain of salt. You want to know that the person offering feedback is someone who knows what they are talking about and it is your story in the end. But listening to the feedback is always a good idea.
Sylvia A. Nash
I do try to listen even when I don’t want to. 🙂 I figure if something bothers a reader, there’s a reason, and I look for the reason as well. On the reader I mentioned above, I even kept letting her read several times until I was sure I was seeing the pattern I thought I was. I have another reader whom I love dearly, but she always loves everything I write, which is good for my ego but not so good for my story. I still let her read. I just be sure I have a couple of other readers who will be more…critical. 🙂
While I’ve submitted devotionals, not books, I’ve some experience with rejections. On the scale of receiving feedback, I’m a 7, I think.
*I’ve noticed two things about feedback: One is that I’m a lot better handling feedback and rejection with my writing than with my “day job”. I think it’s because with writing there is publishing guidelines to follow, and with feedback, I know I don’t have to make the changes. Neither is true with my day job.
*The second thing is, as Chris points out, the way the criticism is given is important. If it seems to be all negative and demeaning to me as a person, I don’t take it well, even though I might not show it. However, if the overall tone is positive, gives suggestions for improvement, and focused on the work, I receive it much better.
Being able to separate that the critique is of the work and not of the writer is a big part of doing well with accepting feedback. I think that is much harder with a day job–at least it would be for me.
And yes, it does help if someone is nice with a critique! I always do my best to be kind.
This is so timely for me! While there may be a twinge of disappointment or a sigh at trudging back to the editing room, I am probably at a 9/10 at receiving feedback. I take the village mentality. My village already includes authors in my critique group, a few mentors, an old college professor, a potential agent…and will hopefully one day also include contracted agents, editors, publishers, marketers, PR professionals, etc. It all relates, for me, to my goal. Since my goal is to ultimately reach the shelves of bookstores, then I’d be crazy not to soak up and apply the experienced knowledge of those willing to give me their advice. Some writers get to that point with very little revision. Others are like a good bread that must rise, be punched down, rise again, and so on before baking to perfection.
I love the bread analogy! 🙂
Jo Ann Plante
I think I’m an 8 or 9. I welcome feedback and if that person doesn’t like parts of my book or the ending, then that may be just one person’s opinion and not everyone’s opinion. I listen to what they say and see, if their criticism is valid. If it is, I’ve learned something to make my next book better. If I absolutely don’t agree with thri criticism, then I just put it aside and move on.
Janet Ann Collins
About one second ago I got a message from the local paper I write for that a reader had told her something in an article I’d written was inaccurate. I should have checked further instead of accepting what the person I’d interviewed had told me and assured the editor that I’ll do that in the future. I’m embarrassed that I goofed up, but the criticism was constructive and I learned from it.
I accept feedback fairly well and I credit my years in journalism at the mercy of merciless editors for that. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with the feedback, however, when an industry expert offers feedback, I believe it is wise to consider it.
Thanks for your post. Writing is re-writing and feedback is essential. Sometimes, we get too close to see something, but if we can step back, realizing the person giving the feedback has a goal to help us be successful, we can learn and rewrite to achieve good results. One of the people who left a comment received much feedback and then, really considered it when they went to the next project. That was very good advice. Thanks!
Kristen Joy Wilks
This is an interesting question to answer. In my head, I’m a 10, I desperately want to make the book the best it can be and I want to accept feedback well. That is why I always write a quick thank you note to my crit partner or beta readers before I have opened the document and read their suggestions. Than I open up the document and the full import of all those suggestions and ideas washes over me and I’m like a 5 or a 3. But then I pull myself up out of the quagmire of self-pity and I force myself to start making those changes. One at a time. At least evaluating each one and determining if it will make the story better or worse. By the end of the process I’m like an 8, I’ve made a ton of changes (not all of them, but lots) and I am gushing with thankfulness for my crit partner or beta reader and I can send them another email thanking them for specific things they have helped me with. Strange how the mind and the heart are at war with each other, but good editing can happen all the same!
Good thing our rating is based on how receptive we are to feedback and not on how criticism feels at the moment! You’re still a 10! 🙂
One word I think of when I consider constructive feedback from the Christian writing community is–Thankful! So many authors who have published multiple volumes are quick to share tips and lessons learned. Joining a community of writers and authors to critique my writing has been a valuable learning experience for me. Agents and editors can easily say, “No thank you. I’m not interested.” If an agent gives a challenge to change something, I can work with that! That’s not a “no”, it’s a second chance, right? 🙂
Jessi L. Roberts
When it comes to feedback, I’ll always try to accept professional feedback. With beta readers, I try to. I’ve found I’m good at accepting feedback when someone is polite, but when I see comments that make me think the reader hates the story, I start to put a wall up and think that the reader might be wrong. (Some of this happened with my more political stories where the readers seemed to come from a very different background.) One of my biggest problems with feedback is knowing how to fix the problems that are pointed out to me. I might see them when the feedback is given, but seeing a problem and knowing how to fix it are two different things.
Elizabeth Van Tassel
Taking warranted critique is so very helpful in all facets of life. I sought out feedback with my middle grade work, and ended up with helpful comments from 85 teens and tweens (some in rainbow marker or with smiley faces though:). Working with an editor who believes in your dream, even before letting others see it, is so very helpful as well. I, too, was a journalism major and spent years in corporate marketing and public relations running multiple publications, so editing and receiving feedback from executives was great training on the fiction front. Being mentored by best sellers and open to that red pen is never easy, but was such a help in laying a solid foundation in converting me from work-writer to fanciful-story-creator for kids. Sometimes your love for the dream has to rise above your need to be perfect, so you can be open to a comment or viewpoint that can truly steer your perspective in the right direction. Thanks for the great reminder here!
If you can’t accept constructive criticism then you shouldn’t be looking to sell books. If you want to write a book just to say you did, then no problem. But if you want to be successful (make money) you need to trust others along the journey.