Monday, October 6, 2008

Stand Still While I Load My Editorial Feedback into This Shotgun

Any advice on receiving revision feedback from an editor over the phone? I had an editor call with her thoughts (and no written follow-up) and was taken a little off-guard. I just tried to listen, grab a pen and take notes and not be argumentative or defensive (on the spot, I didn't exactly agree with what she was saying).
In this case, is it fine to send an email afterward to follow-up on the conversation, just to be sure I'm going in the right direction?
It's fine to say to the editor that you attempted to take notes but are not sure you got all of her comments, and you'd like to be sure you have them all before you sit down to think them over, and would she mind sending you a written copy of her notes. Be sure to imply (or even state) that you aren't going to get started on the revision until you have her notes in front of you.

Personally, I don't know why editors do this. I always send my revision notes in a letter, for these very reasons. Convey to her (pleasantly, professionally) that she isn't getting her thoughts across reliably in this format. It's among an editor's most important skills to communicate.


Crystal-Rain Love said...

Wow. I've never heard of an editor NOT giving written feedback in some form, especially if we're talking about revisions.

Anonymous said...


BIG-SHOT EDITOR (on phone): "I love you! I love it! I'll make an offer to your agent! Here are a barrage of notes for revision, I want the new version stat! I SAID STAT! LOVE IT! GO!"

AUTHOR (on phone): "well, OK! um, sounds great! errm..."

EDITOR: *click*

AUTHOR (via email): "I'd love to get started, but I'm afraid I might not have caught everything - can you send me an email to follow up on our phone call?"

EDITOR (via email): "I don't write notes. I'm actually sick of this conversation and your book. Go die in a fire."


OK well, maybe that last part was a bit of an exaggeration. But it really did happen! Though I think that speaks more to the dickishness of that particular editor than as commentary on the species in general.

Vodka Mom said...

Frankly, I just loved your post title. HAHA.

Lindsey said...

What a great blog...I'll definitely be back!

Unknown said...

FEEDBACK...ahead...revisions MUST be made immediately...this is good, real good, just change...this, that, this, that, ohhh and omit this, delete that!

Unknown said...

i love your posts simply because i love english and i just love how you write in terms of editors :) x

Anonymous said...


Does phone feedback indicate ambivalence?

As in: "I'm questioning whether this manuscript will pass acquisitions in the end and therefore not going to put a lot of time into writing and editing a letter?"

Probably some variance among editors, but it does strike me as a bit of a timesaver on their end and I'm wondering if ambivalence plays into anything.


Anonymous said...

One editor, a lovely woman I've worked with previously, has insists on giving me feedback on the pbs I send her over the phone. She uses this time to tell me what's wrong with each one. This is always hard for me to hear, even though I often, but not always, agree with much of what she says.

I much prefer to get this kind of feedback my mail, so that I don't have to worry about inappropriate emotions. It's really hard to take in the feedback while worrying that she may hear the disappointment and/or distress in my voice.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:40,

I totally agree! It is so hard to strike the right tone -- too disappointed or, conversely, too blase -- and you risk coming off badly. It may be different for writers who have long-standing relationships with their editors but for the rest of us, it feels like a minefield. And, for me anyway, that affects my ability to listen and take in what the editor is saying.

Also, editors need to know that when they call saying that they'd like to discuss a story, I, for one, get my hopes up that they're calling to say they want to buy it. (I can be optimistic, can't I?!) It is incredibly hard to then make the shift for an over-the-phone rejection or criticisms.

I've gotten much more out of even the shortest of emails from an editor than any phone calls.

Melania Szinger of WEALTH-INSPIRED BOOKS blog said...

big-shot editors just probably do not have time to pen down what's in their thoughts, so they just shoot, and the poor writer wld be caught off-guard.

there ought to be a better communicationn channel for this, something win-win..

Anonymous said...

I've worked with an editor who does phone feedback. And I hate it. Impossible to get it all down, process, and not respond defensively (what? it's not perfect? what's wrong with you?).

When I expressed concern about getting it all down (asked her to speak more slowly three times at least), she said she was sending me the ms. with her notes.

The notes -- "as discussed" scribbled all over the manuscript.

What it taught me was that she's a really bad editor.

Anonymous said...

The "win-win" is a thoughtful letter. From all that's been said here, a phone call may cut a corner or two in the moment but it likely ultimately wastes everyone's time.

And think about it: what a phone call is good for is a discussion, a conversation where give-and-take is appropriate. When an editor gives feedback in that moment, I don't ever get the sense that I'm supposed to be "discussing" anything. I get the sense that I'm supposed to shut up, take notes, and agree (for now).

I'd love to hear from somebody (editor or writer) who thinks that the editorial feedback phone call works. Otherwise, based on the comments here, I hope editors rethink its value.

Anonymous said...

Editors should also know this: for about 20 minutes (OK, maybe more) after you tell us what's not working or why you're rejecting our beloved manuscript, we hate you.

Sure, we may later see the light and recognize that everything you said is absolutely, brilliantly right.

Send us a letter or email and there is the appropriate distance for us to have this short-lived and understandable reaction. However, if you call us up with such news, please know that our voices may be saying, "Oh, yes," "I see," "Absolutely!" but on the other end of the line, we're rolling our terrible eyes, gnashing our terrible teeth, and giving you the finger.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:04--

Oh, that hits close to home!

But only twenty minutes? I usually have to go for a really long drive, during which I scream and curse the top of my lungs while blasting music.

Here's what I find so striking, though... when an editor tells you you've got to redo this, that and everything else, you're supposed to take it all in politely, distance yourself from the work (you've created, that YOUR name is going on), give them the benefit of the doubt, don't be emotional about it...


Upon doing most of the suggestions, you find that last big one simply isn't going to work. At all. Not only is the suggestion simply bizarre and out of character for the MC, but plot wise, it might very well derail the last fifty pages of the book. When you calmly let the editor know this, the editor acts defensive. Gets emotional. Talks to you like it's your fault he/she didn't think his/her own suggestion through.

Double standard, much? :)

Anonymous said...

One last thought from Anon 9:04 ... it takes me way (months) longer to revise from comments made over the phone than in a letter or email. My best revision letter ever -- and hence, what I think is my best revision ever -- was the result of a mere two paragraph email.

It was short but spot-on and I suspect did not take the editor hours and hours to write. I referred to it repeatedly over the month it took to rewrite.

My notes from another editor's phone call feedback? An absolute unreadable mess that was little help at all. I ended up just trying to go by my memory of the call.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the phone preference isn't sometimes simple avoidance of the written word: are these editors self-conscious about the fact that their own prose might not stand up to the standard they're holding the author to? It's not their job to be a writer, of course - their skill set is centered elsewhere - but I wonder if insecure individuals might be unwilling to expose what they see as a vulnerable flank.

I've worked with editors whose entire critical vocabulary consisted of the phrase 'this doesn't work for me'. Those conversations were pretty thin in person and would have been thinner still on paper.

Anonymous said...

My experience and that of others I know is that the calls often come from senior editors, not an assistant afraid to put her words on paper. These are likely editors who know their way around a helpful editorial letter.

Perhaps they feel the call is a "warmer" approach -- in this age of email, why, they're picking up the phone and reaching out! They're not just a "cold" letter in your mailbox. The call is likely very well-intentioned (although I also agree that efficiency plays a role).

It's just not, in the long run, more helpful. I'd much prefer a letter/email with an offer to talk it out, or be given a choice or asked about what my preference is.

I don't think this is a writer being high maintenance. It is, as EA puts it, about basic communication and giving the writer what she needs to truly produce the best work possible -- which is to everyone's benefit.

Anonymous said...

Working illustrator-

Re: "...I've worked with editors whose entire critical vocabulary consisted of the phrase 'this doesn't work for me'. Those conversations were pretty thin in person and would have been thinner still on paper..."

Yes, yes, yes! What IS that? And why do they think it's helpful? Why do they go through a manuscript, saying, "This isn't working for me." or, "Would this character say this?" But never give you a clue what they think the character would say, do there?

It'd be a heck of a lot easier on a writer, if editors gave them a clue what direction they're coming from. We're not mind readers.

Chris Eldin said...

I never knew this happened, but I would personally really love talking on the phone. It would give me a chance to ask questions along the way. I'd think about it as a first conversation and not a sole conversation (is that wrong? I don't know) But I think a lot of brainstorming can happen when it's a two-way conversation and not a one-way note-taking session.

But both have their advantages...

Anonymous said...

Try Google docs for editing changes. Once uploaded, revisions can be suggested and/or made at your convenience or in real time together. It's user friendly and in that being backed up in an internet account (at gmail) you won't lose your ms (on a memory key)or see it crash/corrupted on a pc. And you can track changes.

Ebby said...

*For speedier service, use track changes and submit via email.

*I love the title of this post!

*Oh, I just saw someone's idea of using Google Docs--brilliant!

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes! What IS that? And why do they think it's helpful? Why do they go through a manuscript, saying, "This isn't working for me." or, "Would this character say this?" But never give you a clue what they think the character would say, do there?"

I would far rather my editor say "this isn't working for me" and leave it at that than smother me with her suggestions of precisely how it "should" be. She's the editor, bless her, and it's her job to tell me when something isn't working. As the writer, it's my job to figure out why and fix it. Believe me, I've had writer friends with editors who basically re-write their stories for them, and they're not happy.

Miriam Forster said...

So, I just found your blog, and read some of your "how to tell you're never going to get published" posts." Just wanted to let you know that the fact that you mention both strong bad and MST3K in your posts made my day. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I would write back saying; thanks for the feedback on the phone, I wanted to make sure that we were both on the same page before making my revision and that these were your points:



That way you put the ball firmly back into the editors court - if they have an issue with what you've said they will get back to you.

Kristi Holl said...

The all-time best editor I've had always wrote fairly lengthy critique letters, gave me a few days to digest it and make note of questions, then followed it up with a phone call to discuss it. I know it sounds time consuming, but in the end, it wasn't. We were both on the same page from the get-go, and it never involved the back-and-forth constant changing I hear about now with some writers and editors.
Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog

Miss. Cellaneous said...

This is the internet generation - why would an editor not utilize it?? Wow! That would truly make me crazy! Loving the title!

Every DaY is a Good Day said...


My new favorite word!


Anonymous said...

On-the-phone feedback.. I've never heard before. For the real revision, written feedback should be sent.

Ella said...

Interesting post, but I don't agree with it all. Love it or hate it, the saying I was taught in school it's the editors way or the highway. A good editor will push you and should.

In the information age with the e-mails they are good way make sure you get all the details in a story they want, but they're so busy they can't give feedback to everyone.
Worry when it comes back to be rewritten is my motto.

Each one has their own style. But even then there are no guarantees note taking, e-mails or not. They're all prone to change of mind & often I've found without explanation or logic at times. Bottom line-- editors have the last say.

I personally hate editing with a passion. Writers are often too close to what they write. Even with your set of eyes, copy editors and your editors going over your writing things still go wrong. Unfortunately, the writer is often the receiver of the "gift wrapped" verbal fire off if it's not what they want no matter what you write. But that's life. I've cried a few times, but its never stopped me. It goes with the territory.

Being sure of your editors comments is important, but why not put in on speaker phone and tape record it if your not good with notes? I've had the best parts of my stories ripped out at times. Sure I was upset, but it wasn't my call. I still got paid.

Depending on what you write and for whom I guess has a bearing on it somewhat, but a good editor is always willing to work with you so your creative ideas come through first. My best editor was one who I disliked the most, but taught me the most too.

Happy writing everyone.

Anonymous said...

To ella --

Re: "... It's the editors way or the highway... the editor gets the last say...???"

Sorry, but WTF?

Um, no. The editor's name is not going on the book, the writer's name is. If the editor wants every single thing done her way or no way, then she should write her own damn book.

If fact, many writers often feel that the worst editors are the ones with their own literary aspirations. Those are the editors who's edits make the book not BETTER, but different. Because they are constantly urging you to rewrite books according to what they would've written, instead of what the book needs.

Steven Cruise said...

Hey, congrat on being featured on blogs of note! keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

is this a website to ask for book help?

Rusty J said...

love this entry. i'm based in LA and have a couple writer friends. its interesting to read some of you perspective. how long have you been blogging?

i would appreciate any blogging advice you could give me. =)

could you spare a few minutes for some tips and a critique of my blog?

rusty j

The villager: said...

I think one of the biggest dangers for a writer is being 'over-edited' by someone who doesn't fully understand the true nature of their work, which might also destroy its real worth, in favour of a more commercial product.

Another great danger for the writer is thinking they don't need any editing !

Anonymous said...

Um, for some of the last weird posts,Editorial Anonymous is not going to come over to your blog and give you blogging advice, nor is this a "Dear Abby" type of forum to make personal pleas for book help.

We ALL need book help. That's why we are here. Go through the site's posts. Read them. Learn things. EA is not going to hold your hand and talk you through your daily writing, for pete's sake. She's mean. We're afraid of her. We like her this way. Sit down, shut up, and listen. Take her thoughts, apply them to your own writing. Rinse. Repeat as neccessary.


Anonymous said...

Amen. I, for one, get excited when I see there are more comments to a post. To open a thread up and find that the comments are from people with absolutely zero commitment to children's books is hugely disappointing. We are here to learn and frankly put, you're kind of ruining things around here.

Imagine if I came onto your music blog or whatever it is you write and started asking people to buy or critique my children's books? You'd say what the hell is this person talking about ?!?!!? That's pretty close to what my thoughts are right now ...

Anonymous said...

You go Anonfriend 11:46!!!

Holly Armstrong said...

My editor had no sense of humor so I'm not worried about her finding my post here...
She (too) insisted on editing 900 word pieces over the phone with me.
It seemed she was in a hurry and didn't want my feedback when I corrected her corrections.
So I made a point to overly correct her.
The next revision she attempted was an e-mail version...

Sara said...

This blog is AWESOME. I'm glad I discovered it. I don't even write children's books, but I enjoy a good YA novel, and I do enjoy writing... other sorts of media, though.

I enjoy reading what EA has to write, and I've enjoyed reading most of the insights the commenters here have to share.

Thanks for being here.