If you’re a writer, at some point between you putting the words down and it going out to its intended audience, you’re probably going to solicit some feedback (and if you don’t, you probably should).
Be it from one or all of these:
- an alpha reader
- a flock of beta readers
- a writing group
- a critique partner
- a paid editor
- an agent
- an acquiring Editor for a publishing house
- or your mom
you’re likely going to receive some feedback other than, “I loved it! Don’t change a thing!”
But, when that feedback is more nebulous or overarching than typos and wording, it can be tricky to know where to start.
Here are the 6 steps I follow when receiving reader feedback
Step 1 – Read the feedback
You’d think it would go without saying, but it’s easy to get ticked off three comments in, decide that the person who sent the feedback totally doesn’t get your book, your genre, and might not read your language, and storm off.
Luckily, I can calm my knee-jerk reactions by subscribing to what I call:
Morgan’s Rule Of Thirds
- 1/3rd is line and copy edits – easy to fix or skip if it’s a stylistic thing or they don’t know what they’re talking about.
- 1/3rd is where the reader didn’t get your story and/or your writing style. You can probably ignore these. (But, don’t delete them just yet….)
- 1/3rd is the stuff that you thought you’d fixed, but really? You’d just painted over it and called it ‘good enough’.
- These issues are typically related to the tricky things like:
- emotional impact
Step 2 – Give yourself time to cool off
Sit on the feedback for a couple hours, or days, or weeks. However much time you need before you open it back up, and can face it without your ego screaming.
Step 3 – Analyse the feedback and fix the little things
Maybe this should be two steps, but as I go through, line-by-line, I usually fix the little things- even if they might get deleted later. The typos and line-edits, so that the feedback is reduced to something I can actually process, without the noise of all the little stuff.
Look not only at WHAT the feedback is saying but WHERE it’s saying it. The reader might have given you edits telling you how to fix it. They are only SUGGESTIONS, not fixes. But look at the scene, the paragraph. Maybe there is something confusing, maybe it wasn’t set up properly and that’s why the reader got confused, maybe you need to move the scene.
Is there some way that you can make it so the way you had it was inevitable — given the world, characters, and issues? Is there a better way to change it, so that the pieces come together more smoothly?
The reader might be wrong about how to fix it, but they often know WHERE something needs to be fixed.
Step 4 – Make the edits
This is where you make the complicated changes — cutting or moving scenes or characters, fixing pacing, adding tension, condensing backstory.
Whatever you’ve decided needs to be done — taking suggestions and doing with them as you will.
Step 5 – Reread and blend the new stuff with the old
Whether you’ve used the suggested wording from your reader or your own phrasing, edits don’t always fit in smoothly with the rest of the manuscript.
After you’ve agonized over the feedback, debated how to integrate it, and finessed it with all of your skills, it’s still gonna need a bit more polish.
You’re gonna need to re-read the lead up THROUGH the outro of the sections you’ve revised. Along the way, you’re looking for:
- continuity errors
- awkward phrasing
- scene pacing
- repetitious paragraphs or phrases (my favorite)
- The number of times I’ve added a paragraph to emphasize something, then found I’d already had it in there, nearly word for word a page later — where it fit better in the pacing… Well, let’s just say it’s more than a handful of times.
Step 6 – Send it out again
I like to send it to 2 types of people
- People who have read it before, to make sure I didn’t break anything
- A new reader, to make sure the confusion points were actually fixed
I write fantasy, so there’s a lot of world building involved, but even if you don’t, you may want to do this. An old reader can spot a lot, but they can’t tell if you’re introducing everything in the right order — soon enough as to minimize confusion, but slow enough as to not overwhelm the reader.
You can only have someone read your story for the first time, once. After that, your world starts to become familiar territory.
And that’s it. That’s my editing process. For each and every round.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this post – ’cause I’m ready for step 5 with my current revisions!
Do you have any editing tricks that I missed?
Anything you prefer to do differently?