In the past four years, I’ve received feedback on my manuscript from so many people that I’m losing count. I can think of at least 20 people who have recently read and commented on parts or the whole of my manuscript. Some of that feedback was offered by professionals. From the moment I started generating material, I worked with a writing mentor. Every month, I submitted two 12-page submissions to my mentor, Dr Barbara Turner-Vesselago, who sent me written feedback on each individual piece. When I had the first draft of my manuscript ready, I hired a developmental editor to comment on the structure of my book, and this summer I was incredibly lucky to have guidance from the The Literary Consultancy through one of their manuscript assessment readers. In addition, as a past-participant of the Writing West Midlands Room 204 writer development programme, I’m part of a vibrant writing community with access to many amazing writers who have read my work and made suggestions on how to improve it. All these experiences taught me many things about receiving professional feedback. Perhaps the most important lesson is this:
Yes, even when we actively seek it out and even pay for it.
In the early days of writing, feedback could either galvanise or paralyse my writing. With every round of receiving comments, it gets easier, but I still keep in mind a few points. I hope you find them useful, too.
- Be realistic and manage your expectations.
It’s worth keeping in mind where you are on your writing journey. Is this your first draft? Have you written and published books before? What do you really hope to receive from a reader? If you think you can get a pat on your back from a professional reader, forget about it. That’s what your family and friends are for. After all, the whole point of getting professional input is to have an objective assessment of how ready your manuscript is to see the world. You don’t want to get this type of feedback from your future readers.
Managing expectations is a key in getting satisfaction from your feedback. For example, when I sent my manuscript to a developmental editor, I was disappointed to receive a 3-page report only. It was my first experience of getting professional feedback and somehow I imagined that she would annotate my manuscript with specific comments. It was only later I realised it was an industry norm to offer 3-4 page reports for this kind of editing, and that line-editing is something entirely different. Making sure that you are clear on what type of feedback you are likely to receive may spare you of any unnecessary disappointment.
- Waiting for Feedback
I don’t know about you, but a part of me feels like once a reader sets eye on my manuscript she won’t be able to stop reading, and therefore I’ll receive my feedback way before they promised it. In real life, professional readers have many other projects and responsibilities, and so reading time of four to six weeks is a realistic timeframe. Don’t get tempted to fiddle with your manuscript while someone is reading it. OK, if you have an a-ha moment and know how to solve a plot problem that’s been bothering you for so long, go ahead and do it, but otherwise, leave your manuscript well alone. If you can think of a way to occupy yourself with something else for up to 8-10 weeks, that’d be ideal. Why 8-10 weeks if the reading time is 4-6 weeks, you may ask? Well, this question takes me neatly to the next point.
- Receiving Feedback
However eager I am to receive feedback, once I read it, I often experience a range of emotions which throw me off the track for a short while. There’s often some overwhelm at reading so many suggestions and things I may need to take on board. I start resisting the feedback and panicking a bit. What if I can’t action these suggestions? There’s a bit of frustration that after all the work I’ve put into the manuscript, it is still not good enough. At times, I feel defensive. Although I know my manuscript is not me, I can feel attacked, no matter how kindly and considerately the reader has worded the feedback.
My latest experience of receiving feedback was from TLC. As I’d been led to expect by people who benefited from the service in the past, the feedback was not sugar-coated. It was thorough and thoughtful, and the reader earned every penny I paid: I was promised a 3-4 page report; she delivered a 7-page paper. There’s a lot of gold to mine on those pages: guidance and encouragement, as well as ways to improve on my writing, but it was too much to digest in one go.
Nonetheless, I had a coping strategy. I read the feedback once, and then left it completely for a couple of weeks. I knew it may take me a bit of time to revisit the comments, so I had a different project to work on while waiting for the dust to settle. Meanwhile, cakes, chocolates and chats with friends took the edge off the disappointment, and I now have a plan on how to go about acting on the suggestions. Breaking down feedback into manageable chunks helps me stay on track and avoid overwhelm.
- Why You Should Seek Professional Feedback
By this point you may think: ‘Well, why should I put myself through this process and resort to professional feedback at all, especially if my writing friends give me all the support I need.’ It’s a fair question, and my answer is it doesn’t have to be ‘either … or’.
I read a couple of chapters for a fellow writer recently, and it really helped that she asked me specific questions like these:
- Does the plot work?
- Are key characters fully developed?
- Are their redundant scenes/characters?
- Have you spotted any inconsistencies?
- Do you want to keep reading, and if so why?
- Is there anything missing or that doesn’t make sense?
Of course, a professional reader will pick up on most of these points anyway; an organisation like TLC would pick up on these things and also things that you may not even have considered, and this is what will help to give your finished work its edge.
- Life After Feedback
Professional readers go over your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb; therefore, you are likely to receive more feedback than you can action in one go. Even if your manuscript is at the stage where you can show it to professionals, it doesn’t mean that the work is over. There’s often a good few months (years?) in ‘tidying up’ the manuscript. This is often hard, because the feedback comes just as you think you’re done. But don’t give up! Just hang in there and take on board the suggestions. It’ll be worth it when you see your work in print.
Give yourself a couple of weeks, if necessary, and once you’ve recovered, set realistic actionable goals to revise your manuscript. In a long piece of work, it’s hard to keep focus on all the details at once. So, think how you can break the feedback down into manageable chunks.
If you think that professional feedback is more trouble than it’s worth, think again. Keep in mind that you pay for this service to produce the best book you can.
You’ll be glad you did it.