Interpreting Editors’ Comments

At the end of Bewilderments of the Eyes, I included an Author’s Note. The decision to include my Author’s Note was a tricky one, and here’s why:

During my fourth or fifth round of editing, my editor made a comment about halfway through my story that threw me for a loop. Her comment was that Quinn’s depression felt irrelevant at that point in the story. My Author’s Note explains my thoughts behind that comment and the realization I ended up coming to.

But this post is less about my Author’s Note, and more about the event that lead to it: my interpretation of an editor’s note.

For those of us who have been through the grueling editing process and worked with editors who provide critiques and reviews of our writing, we know how sticky it can get. You’re always going to get comments that you don’t want to hear, criticism that you feel is too harsh, and notes that you disagree with. And that’s all good! The whole point of hiring editors is to hear the brutal truth, to have your work picked apart and operated on at such an intense level that reconstruction takes more work than writing the initial draft took. Having your work critiqued and edited by a fresh pair of eyes—someone removed from the story, someone with a different point of view—helps us to understand how readers are perceiving our story and whether or not those perceptions align with our intentions.

But the fact remains: your story is yours. At the end of the day, only you know what is best for your characters and your plot. An outsider can offer clarity and guidance but, for better or worse, editors are not the final say. You get the last word. So, as writers, we must learn to interpret notes from editors and apply them to our story’s best interest.

With things like grammar, spelling, and punctuation, notes are pretty straightforward. Content critiques are a bit more ambiguous. Sometimes a note on content can alert you to a timeline or consistency error. Sometimes a note on content is merely the opinion of an individual, independent reader. It is our (sometimes terrifying) job to not get discouraged by comments made by editors, but to evaluate and use them to our advantage.

Here are some tips for confronting a particularly tricky edit:

  1. Release your indignant snort and long-winded rant about how wrong the edit is to yourself—loudly if you are alone, in your head if you are in public.
  2. Take a quick break; remove yourself from the initial emotional response so that you can return to editing with a more objective frame of mind.
  3. Ask yourself whether or not the comment is based on lack of clarity or miscommunication on your part.
    1. Reread and evaluate your writing
    2. Ask yourself, “What do I intend for my audience to take from my story?” and then check that your intentions are portrayed well.
  4. If the comment appears to be purely opinion:
    1. Get a second opinion—ask someone else to read your work and, after they have, ask if they concur with your editor’s comment
    2. Communicate with your editor—politely ask them to elaborate on the comment, open a dialogue about the issue

The editing process is not always fun and, more often than not, it takes more time and effort than it did to write your story the first time around. But, with the right mindset, editing is always rewarding. You will learn what works and what flops, and how others interpret your writing style. If you are willing to take advice and criticism, it will strengthen your storytelling. No, you will not always agree with your editors. Agreeing is not the point. Seeing your writing from various angles and perspectives is the point. Polishing your work, thinking of every little thing, and creating something you are proud of is the point of editing.

Just remember: be thoughtful, be smart, and be gracious about your edits. Read through them once, step back to digest them, and then get down to business.


The End,


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