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Every writer who submits work for publication has received at least one: a form rejection letter from a busy literary agent or editor. But once in a while, you may see a publishing industry unicorn—a rejection letter with personalized feedback about your writing! Getting well-informed critiques from editors or agents can help you feel better about the rejection and guide you in pinpointing the elements of your writing that need to be improved. While the experts at Writer’s Relief don’t recommend you accept every comment and change suggested without due consideration, the advice of these industry insiders can be invaluable. Here are our best tips on how to use the feedback from editors and agents to improve your writing.
Feedback From Editors And Agents: How And When To Incorporate Changes
Read—and reread—what the editor or agent has to say. When you first receive feedback from a literary agent or editor, you may be too excited or nervous to fully grasp what’s being said. If the agent or editor has offered multiple suggestions, it’s a good idea to read through the e-mail a few times to make sure you’ve understood everything. After that, step back and consider the feedback before diving into revisions.
Don’t take criticism personally. Receiving rejection letters can be discouraging, but keep in mind that a rejection that includes a critique isn’t a personal attack. The fact that a busy industry professional took the time to give you some insights and criticism is actually a compliment! And feedback from agents and editors can make you a better writer, since they’ll notice things you might not have seen on your own. If you’re feeling a little hurt, put the e-mail aside for a few days until you can read it more objectively.
Decide what you agree with—and what you don’t. Though it’s considerate of agents and editors to take the time to provide feedback, you’re not obligated to use all—or any—of that advice. If you receive a list of suggestions from an editor or agent, go through the points one by one to decide if any work with your vision. Keep in mind that this may just be one person’s opinion! However, if you notice you’re getting the same feedback from several agents or editors, you might want to revisit your writing and give the suggested changes more consideration.
But at the end of the day, it’s your writing and you should be happy with the final manuscript. Don’t make any changes you don’t feel comfortable with.
Make a plan for revision. Once you’ve decided which advice you want to integrate into your writing, plan your revisions before you start tearing your work apart. A careful roadmap of revisions will help you stay focused. And don’t forget, before you resubmit your piece, your new version will need a final proofreading once-over too!
Understanding Key Terms And Phrases Used By Editors And Agents
Sometimes the feedback from editors and agents can be tricky to decipher, especially if they use publishing industry jargon that writers haven’t heard before. Here are a few common phrases to familiarize yourself with:
Show, don’t tell. Rather than summarizing or describing a character’s emotions or activities, let the reader experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings. Don’t tell readers a character is nervous—show them biting their lip, stuttering, fidgeting, or pacing. You might even give your character a unique quirk, something they only do when they’re nervous.
Tighten the story. This is a polite way of saying that your pacing is too slow. Perhaps your story takes too long to get to the action, the middle scenes sag, or the climax is too drawn out to be truly satisfying. This phrase might also imply that you need to trim your word count overall.
Narrative thrust. When editors or agents say your piece lacks narrative thrust, they mean it’s not building excitement. A well-executed piece needs a strong sense of momentum. In the best writing, the readers’ sense of tension will build subtly throughout the story until it gets to the climax. If you’re receiving feedback that your story lacks narrative thrust, the reader did not feel compelled to keep turning the pages.
“Talking head” scenes. This term was originally used by film critics and addresses a similar problem as “show, don’t tell.” A talking head scene has characters discussing what’s happening—but readers only see the discussion, not the action unfolding. While sometimes talking head scenes are necessary, if an agent or editor points out that you’re using too many, it means your story is missing some key moments of action and excitement.
Motivation. If editors or agents say they don’t understand a character’s motivation, it means they can’t connect with that character on a deeper level. In order to understand why a character—whether it’s your protagonist or a mere background character—is taking a certain action or making a particular statement, readers need to know what drives the character. Is the child stealing bread because he’s a starving orphan, or because an older classmate dared him? Did she purchase three dozen roses because she really wants to impress her date, or because she’s decorating for the office party? Clarifying a character’s motivation will make it easier for readers to understand and identify with the resulting actions.
Agents And Editors Want You To Succeed
Agents and editors have your best interests at heart. They love discovering new writers and sharing unique voices with their readers! Though it’s frustrating to receive rejections, it’s a great sign when an experienced industry insider puts in the extra time and effort to offer personalized feedback on your work. Take it as the encouragement it was meant to be—and get to work on your revisions!
Question: What was the most helpful feedback you ever received on your writing?