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Tuesday, March 01, 2022

3 Tips when Asking for Feedback

Know what you want

Most writers reach a point when our work is as good as it is going to get. The only way it will get better is to turn it over to our critique partners or to hire an editor.

That sounds pretty straightforward, but recently I’ve seen numerous twitter threads from freelance editors.  These threads stood out because these are people I’ve worked with.  One editor made a simple suggestion about changing the relationship between two characters in my story. I had to sit back and consider the changes that would echo throughout the whole story. They were amazing.

Yet she and other editors sometimes get nasty-grams from clients.  Nasty-gram is my own term for a lengthy e-mail or text.  It goes on for multiple screens, is accusatory, and . . . obviously . . . nasty.  Think of the howler that Ron gets from his mother in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Sure, we’ve all felt like writing a howler.  After all, if you write and you receive feedback, you periodically get feedback that is way off the mark. Fortunately, you minimize the chances this will happen.

Be Specific

When you hand over your work, be specific about what you want.  When I give my critique group an early draft to see if the story premise works, I tell them that is what I need.  They shouldn’t line edit.  This isn’t the time to correct punctuation.  I just need big picture feedback.

If I want help proofing something, I need to be clear about that. Check my grammar and punctuation.  Help me turn in clean copy.  This is when I need to use the term “proof” and not the terms “edit” or “critique.”

Be Selective

Knowing what you want is step one.  Improve your chances of getting it by asking the right person.  One of my critique partners cannot critique fantasy.  Me?  I’m useless if you are writing a board book.  If you are going to pay an editor, check out the services the person offers.  Ask questions.

If what you want isn’t what they offer, they may very well tell you that.  Not every fit is perfect, and you want someone who can do what you need.

Be Accepting

If you ask someone to review your work, you have to expect constructive criticism.  After all, that’s what you asked for and that’s what most people are going to try to give you.  There’s nothing worse than asking for feedback and getting, “This is great.  I really like it.”

Receive the feedback in the spirit it was intended. Most people want to be helpful.  This means they aren’t sitting with your work thinking, “I really need to mess this up. How can I completely destroy her plot?” 

Read the feedback and then go chill out.  That means get away from your desk.  Play a video game.  Go for a walk.  Bake something.  In a day or two, look at it again.  You may be surprised at what is now obvious that you simply couldn’t see before.

If you still feel the need to howl, reach out to your friends.  Your fellow writers will understand, because sometimes the feedback really does miss the mark.


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on March 6, 2022).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins March 6, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins March 6, 2022). 


  1. Sue--These are great tips--sometimes I think people simply don't understand all the various ways you can edit. Years ago I had a friend who had written a YA manuscript, and a friend of a friend was a freelance editor. My friend wasn't specific about what type of editing she was looking for, and never did an overall developmental edit with the editor. This went on for at least two years--the editor would line edit a batch of pages, and my friend would tweak them and send them back. They never even got through the entire manuscript. Finally, a few of us sat down with our friend at a writing conference and told her she needed to cut bait with the editor, or she would be writing this one book and flushing money down the toilet forever. I guess part of it was that the editor wasn't clear on what type of editing she was doing, but it was a hard lesson for my friend to learn. It's taken me a long time to learn to be more specific when requesting critiques, but I'm getting there!

  2. Renee,
    Communication is definitely key. I can't imagine sending pages back for a second line edit w/o saying something about it. Was your friend happy with the edits?

  3. Sue--That was the first and only thing she had written at that point so I believe she thought that "was just how it was done." I feel like she may have gotten lost in the "busy-ness" of working on it. I think some of that falls on the moral compass of an editor--that person needs to be clear about what the author is expecting and work with a specific goal or timeline. In this example, the editor was working more as a writing coach than anything else, in my opinion!

  4. Renee,
    It just seems strange to consult an editor with a partial manuscript. But, as you said, it is a strange world when you are just starting out.

  5. Sue ~ These are excellent tips, and very timely! Recently, I had someone reach out about an edit they received and were upset because there were a few copyedits and the critique wasn't bubbling with praise. I looked at the edit and it was really good and on point, and the copyedits were to provide an idea of what to look for throughout the manuscript. The majority was developmental editing, and sure, it could've used a little more positivity, but it was a professional edit and every editor's style is different. Anyway, this writer was hurt, and I felt for her, because early in my writing I also bristled at tough edits, but over the years I began to appreciate and relish any comments at all, because it takes time and careful consideration to unearth what a manuscript needs. We can rarely edit our own work to publication. So I think the only possible way to remedy that type of situation is to manage expectations, like you mentioned in your first tip. Write a list of questions before handing off a piece to a critique partner or editor. Share your publication and market goals with the piece. Ask for what IS and isn't working. It's a joy and honor to be able to help someone shape their piece and my favorite part about being in the writing community.

  6. Angela,
    Love those specific suggestions!

    I love suggestions and edits that help the piece. I've had editor suggest that I try a different POV or making two characters twins vs. friends and then cringe. The changes would be sweeping.

    One of my editors sometimes rewrites something. "I think this is more straightforward" and it is always AMAZING. If I could do it myself, I'd be a genius, but we do generally need help to make our work shine.

  7. Excellent tips, Sue! I think it took a while for me to understand how important it is to BE SELECTIVE. Especially if you're paying for a pro critique. Like you said, find someone who has expertise in what you're writing.

  8. Sue--I've been lucky. My critique group members (almost always) have spot-on suggestions, and when they jot down another way to say something, it's (almost always) clearer and more clever than the way I wrote it. Also, Margo Dill is the best editor around, in so many ways. She's able to say the hard things (like "Your book sucks") in a positive, constructive manner. (She never got even close to saying that, but her suggestions led me to scrap a whole manuscript and begin again, and her advice made me realize that the book was on shaky ground, while at the same time she validated my writing and the message/plot of the book.)

  9. Cathy,
    Yes! Being selective is so essential.

    I love it when someone can give me a better way to say something. Love it! Margo is definitely top notch!


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