An Author’s Guide to Dealing with Manuscript Critique
Getting feedback on a manuscript is never easy because an editor will usually find issues that writers are too close to detect. Authors can’t see that a particular plot point is confusing because they understand the larger context. They may also be so attached to certain characters or plot developments that they can’t bring themselves to cut or modify those without external encouragement.
The suggestions offered by editors can imply making major changes in a manuscript. Authors can prepare by reminding themselves that any notes they may initially perceive as negative aren’t personal (because they’re not) and that constructive criticism will only make their work better (because it will). There are ways to soften the blow when it comes to getting notes a writer disagrees with or wasn’t expecting. Gracefully handling manuscript critique is crucial to maintaining a positive relationship with editors and developing a story to its full potential.
If you’re a writer ready to have a professional editor give you feedback on plot and character development, dialogue, structural cohesiveness, and more, check out our manuscript critique services for authors. If you’re already nervously waiting for feedback, here are a couple of ways to handle manuscript critique.
Give yourself time to absorb the critique
Our first tip is to read the notes from your editor once and then forget about them for a few days. Give yourself some time to absorb what they’re saying rather than immediately reacting to the critique and letting your anger and resentment push you into regrettable actions. Cool off, relax, do something you enjoy—it’ll help put the criticisms into perspective. No one likes being told what they’ve done wrong, especially when it comes to something as personal as writing, but keep in mind that your editor wants to make your work better, and their critique is not a reflection of you as a person, even if it feels like it at first. It’s important to remove your emotions from the equation and accept the criticism with a level head.
Once you’ve had a few days to absorb the editor’s suggestions and admit it’s not the end of the world, read their critique again and start thinking about any changes you want to implement and how. You’ll find that it is easier to digest the notes the second time around, when you’ve realized your editor is right (about most things). Of course, there may be criticisms you still disagree with after genuinely considering them, and there’s nothing wrong with that—just be honest with yourself.
Consider suggestions before implementing them
You probably won’t agree with all of your editor’s remarks, even after giving yourself some time to cool off and stop crying into your coffee, and that’s okay. However, do consider why you’re rejecting a suggestion. Are you too emotionally attached to kill your darlings? Does it feel too daunting because changing that one thing will mean making a ton of other changes? Do you genuinely disagree with the note and believe your original idea to be better? If you feel like it would simply be too much work or you’re too attached to a particular scene, well, writing is hard. You won’t achieve success by taking the easy way out.
If you definitely disagree with a note, reflect on the underlying issue that might have prompted the editor to make the suggestion in the first place. It could be something you hadn’t considered, and even if you dislike the editor’s fix, you might find a better way to address the issue. It can be frustrating to realize you have to make a big change, but it’s those changes that can take your work to the next level, so don’t dismiss outright your editor’s critiques before really thinking them through. If possible, get in contact with your editor and ask why they made a particular suggestion. If you explain why you don’t want to implement their idea, they may be able to help you come up with a better one.
You should scrutinize the suggestions you accept with the same critical eye. Are you adopting them simply because they came from a professional, or do they really make sense and work for your book? Keep in mind that even though this is their job and they’re probably great at it (that’s why you hired them in the first place, right?), you are the creator of the story and ultimately have the power to decide how it unfolds. You also know your plot and characters more intimately than anyone else, so if a given suggestion really doesn’t work for your story, you understand that better than your editor.
Be aware of the cascade effect
The cascade effect describes the situation where changing one detail in your story, such as a plot point, creates a different outcome from the one you had planned, forcing you to alter multiple other scenes to maintain coherency. What might feel like a minor change at first glance can reverberate throughout your story, demanding that you change much more than you bargained for. Since you’ve already dedicated yourself enough to write the manuscript, it’s worth some more investment to make it the best it can be.
It can be overwhelming—if not terrifying—to deal with an editing cascade, but remember that it’s going to make your work shine brighter, so find a way to optimize your editing and go for it. We recommend marking every instance affected by a single change in your manuscript and working on one change at a time, whether you have one or multiple cascades to get through (color-coding can be helpful in this case). Start with the bigger things and move down to the smaller ones, staying focused on consistency.
Listen to your editor, give yourself enough time to internalize their suggestions, and try to be objective when the time comes to start reworking your draft. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it, and once you’ve finished your new draft, you’ll see why working with a professional is so important. Even if you’re hesitant about some changes at first, you’ll likely find afterward that they do make your story better. If you’re ready to get expert feedback on your manuscript, check out our manuscript critique services today.