Yet writers hear that all the time about their babies (their manuscripts). Not only that, writers pay people to criticize their children! That’s right – when you hire an editor, you’re essentially paying her to point out all of your mistakes and tell you everything that’s wrong with you book (hopefully she’ll also point out your strengths, but that’s for another time).
Once a writer has finished (and self-edited) her manuscript, it’s time to hire an editor. If you’re anything like me, you imagine receiving a nearly-clean document with only a few a comments, including “Wow! Love your writing!” But then you open the document and red practically drips from your monitor. The editor has brutalized your baby!
There are usually two knee-jerk responses:
- Quit! What’s the point – you’re obviously a terrible writer, and the editor just proved it.
- What the ..?? Who does she think she is? She obvious doesn’t understand me or my story or my unique voice. I’m going to demand my money back!
Those are very normal responses, but I encourage you to wait before you make a decision you’ll regret. Harsh critiques are part of the publishing business, so before you do anything rash, consider these tips about handling a tough edit.
- Step away. Not for good, but for a day, week, or month (if you need it). It can be shocking to see all of the cuts and suggestions, so don’t respond out of that shock. Wait until you can control your emotions and read the comments with a clear head and heart.
- Read the comments. This may seem like a no brainer, but when I was in college I never read the comments from my professors. I just looked at the grade and wrote my next paper (I cringe now to think of how much I could have improved if I’d take their advice). Make sure you take the time to read what your editor said.
- It may take a day (or week or month), but take time to let the comments sink in. Don’t automatically discard them because you don’t agree, and don’t let them depress you to the point of quitting. Just think about the comments and see if you can recognize those issues in your work.
- Step away. Take some more time to make sure you’re responding professionally, not emotionally
- Ask questions. If you don’t understand the suggestions or changes your editor made, ask! I don’t know of an editor who wouldn’t take the time to explain herself/himself. Remember, it’s her job to help you! If you don’t understand, she’s not helping, but she won’t understand what you don’t understand if you don’t ask.
- Decide what to change and get to work! Just because an editor suggests a change doesn’t mean you have to make it. If it’s a technical issue, make sure you correct it, but suggested revisions are just that – suggestions. You should trust your editor, but if you don’t like how she suggested you clean up a confusing section, you’re free to clarify it in your own way.
- Trust your editor. This is key: Your editor has nothing to gain by pointing out things she doesn’t like or doesn’t agree with; after all, she’s not the one buying your manuscript. Your editor is trying to help you sign an agent or publishing editor – if she made a note, it’s because she sees areas in your writing that will make it difficult to sell your manuscript. You hired your editor for a reason – trust her that she knows what sells and what doesn’t, and trust that she’s trying to help you.
Tough edits happen, but they’re nothing to get discouraged about. This is a critical business, so you’ll need to learn to take the good with the bad. If you’re prepared for that criticism, however, it can make it much easier.
Have you ever received a harsh critique? How did you handle it?