This article is excerpted from On Your Mark: From First Word to First Draft in Six Weeks by Cathy Fyock and Kevin Williamson. While this article is about receiving feedback for your book, the same advice holds true for feedback on a work project, on your career, or in your life.
Ken Blanchard calls feedback “the breakfast of champions.” You’ll be stronger the more you eat it up. When feedback starts coming in, be mindful of the following.
• Tell them to be straight with you. Everyone loves to have their ego stroked, but that’s not what editors are for. They’re here to bulk up your book—and like with building muscle, you have to remember that the process is necessarily uncomfortable at times. Don’t think of editors as your friends or your publicists; they’re your coaches, and while they should care about you, they should also kick your butt a little bit. It’s the only way to get better.
• Don’t be defensive, even though the book is your “baby.” They’re not attacking you personally. They’re not really even attacking your work, in the abstract. They’re attacking the weak parts of your work, the way that white blood cells attack the bad things floating through your bloodstream. A word from one of Cathy’s editors: “I probably don’t need to tell you this, but I’ll say it just in case. Don’t take anything personally; I preferred having ruthless editors, so I pay it forward. I edit like a piranha: viciously, and with attention to every little morsel. Nothing is sacred until it’s published!”
• Listen, listen, listen. Be open about what your editors tell you. Suspend your judgment. It’s possible that you will disagree with something they say, but consider that what they’re telling you might make your book better. Short of plagiarism, don’t feel like it’s cheating to include their changes or suggestions in your book. No one truly authors a book alone.
• Ask questions. Clarify what they’re saying. Dig deeper and figure out what’s at the root of their criticism. By asking questions, you will understand why to change certain things, you will feel better about making those changes, and you might be able to learn something that helps the editorial process as a whole.
• Thank your editors. Mean it. They’ve done you a great service, and one that may not have been easy for them to provide. Not only is it work for them, and work they have to do carefully, but they know that it can be sensitive for you. A friend asking you to edit something is like a friend asking you to slap them across the face. You want to honor their wishes, especially if you know they’ll be better off, but you don’t want to hurt them. They’ve managed the tact of the matter, they’ve answered your questions, and they’ve made your book better in a way you couldn’t have managed without. Thank them and mean it.
Finally, remember, on your own, to frame the feedback in a way that’s fair to you. You should listen to your editors, and frankly, you probably should make most of the changes that they instruct. Between competing opinions, a tie goes to the editor—but ultimately, it’s you who decides whether it’s a tie. Someone might suggest nine great revisions, but even granting them those, they might be dead wrong with the tenth. It’s their outside perspective that can be greatly helpful, but that can also cause them to miss the point sometimes. As another one of Cathy’s editors has put it:
“My edits are not necessarily imperative. You know what you’re doing; more to the point, you know your topic, and you’ve been through this process before. I might have caught a few errors, sure; but just as often, my edits will reflect my writing prejudices. Therefore, it’s your right to change something back if you disagree with me.”
Cathy provides coaching for those working on completing their books and can be reached at 502-445-6539 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kevin provides creative editing and ghostwriting services and can be reached at 502-639-7789 or at Kevin@WilliamsonMediaGroup.com.