Hello! It’s time for a new installment in this blog series which I definitely didn’t forget I was writing.
Now, a lot of this will depend on what kind of feedback it is and what stage your book was in. If you just threw a first draft of a random chapter up in the critique thread in /r/writing, that’s quite a bit different from getting a developmental summary back from a paid editor or getting the final copy back from your proofreader. But a lot of the same things apply generally, and I’ll distinguish where necessary.
It’s Up to You
The first thing to know, before you even look at the feedback, is that you almost never have to do what the person says. This is obvious when it’s feedback from random people but can be more difficult to remember when you’re looking at critique from a professional editor hired by your publisher. In nearly every circumstance, you’re free to ignore the advice entirely if you’d like. That’s not the same as saying it’s a good idea, of course, but you don’t have to incorporate every change and you’re always able to at least suggest an alternative to the recommendations. (NB: if you’ve been picked up by a publisher, they may require certain changes as a condition of staying with them. However, those are almost certainly going to be critical to your book succeeding.)
Read the Feedback
So, knowing that, the first step in dealing with feedback is actually reading it. That may seem obvious, but I’ve had clients actually skip this step. When I send an email with the edited document, I generally include an overview of a few points that are particularly important or where there’s some wiggle room. Sometimes, instead of actually looking at the attached, edited document, they jump straight into fixing those problems in the original manuscript.
Even if you don’t go that far, you may be tempted to incorporate changes as you go. Perhaps you see a note that your MC’s eye color changes and the editor doesn’t know which you meant. So you decide that it should be blue and start changing every reference to the MC’s eyes to blue. Don’t do that. Read through all of the notes first, so you know what’s going on. It’s possible that, later on, it’s actually important that the MC’s eyes are either green or brown.
This especially applies to developmental editing. In nearly every case, 75% or more of the problems in a book are in the first half, even though they may only be evident in the final chapter. So if you start making changes before you’ve read through all of the notes, it’s possible that you will end up having to revert them later.
This doesn’t apply as much to copy editing or proofreading changes, where you may just be clicking accept changes or adjusting the spelling of a word, but you should still be careful when there is an actual decision involved. Make sure you know all of the relevant information before you make decisions and don’t let yourself get bogged down in minutiae when you may decide to make bigger changes down the line.
Wait to Argue
Almost inevitably, there’s going to be something that you disagree with. Maybe it’s as simple as changing the spelling of a minor character’s name or as big as cutting out your final three chapters. And it’s tempting to immediately assume that whoever you got the feedback from is a moron and you should just ignore them. But you need to make sure that you’re actually right before you do that.
Not only do you need to be sure you’ve read through all the feedback before you argue with it, but you should also take at least a day to think about it. The longer the piece and the more abstract the feedback, the longer you should wait. In fact, for developmental editing, I generally recommend that the author read through my notes and then not do anything at all with the book until after our call to discuss, which we schedule for at least three days after they’ve finished reading through. I’ve had quite a few clients say that they had thought a suggestion was stupid when they read it the first time, but by the time we got on the phone, they’d realized that they had just been too attached to the original.
This also provides you with time to think about alternatives. No one you receive feedback from is infallible, after all. Even I’ve made mistakes in diagnosing problems. You may realize why it looks like there’s a problem with one scene when the issue is actually somewhere else or decide that you’d rather rewrite an entire section than changing the character’s weapon to a sword.
The most important thing here is that you don’t respond immediately. Give the feedback some time to simmer.
The final step is to actually make the necessary changes. That’s the point of getting feedback, after all. If someone just says, “your book is absolutely perfect, I wouldn’t change a thing,” that may make you feel good, but it’s almost entirely useless (and probably a lie to boot). So you’ll need to go through and incorporate their feedback into your work.
As you’re going through, remember that you can make the changes as you see fit. If a comma splice is corrected to use a semicolon, you can make it two separate sentences instead. Or if there was a line at the end where you’d accidentally moved a scar to someone’s right side, you can decide that’s canon and change all the other references to the right, rather than just moving that one to the left.
And, when you’re done, you’re ready for either another round of feedback or to move on to the next step in the publishing process!
A note on beta readers: While it’s going to be tempting to read through the notes you get back right away, you ideally want to go through them all at once. I recommend waiting until it’s been two weeks since you got notes back or you have five sets, whichever is longer. You don’t want to make changes based on one reader’s feedback and then have the next reader point out that your changes should have gone the other way.