When you’ve collected as many rejections as I have, you read A LOT of editor and first-reader feedback. I’m never one to put much stock in isolated feedback from a single source, but when you do this long enough, you start to see some patterns. Certain phrases repeated about your work. These, often as not, highlight your strengths as a writer and some of your weaknesses too.
Just for fun, let’s see what editors and first readers say about my work. I’ll only include feedback and comments from rejections because, well, when a story is accepted, I like to think I’ve focused on my strengths and held my weaknesses at bay. Not to mention, any feedback I get on an accepted story is universally good (I mean, they are buying the thing, right?) I should also note that most of the comments below come from shortlist or final-round rejections, which, in my experience, is when an editor is most likely to provide feedback.
So, what positives are mentioned about my work in a rejection? Well, different editors tend to like different things (shocking, right?) but a couple comments pop up with some regularlity.
I see these two mentioned a lot in regard to both my prose and my characters (sometimes the plot as well). Here are some examples:
My prose is not fancy or lyrical. It’s to the point, generally uncluttered, and easy to follow. These editor comments would seem to back that up. I’ve also seen comments like this in positive reviews. Now, it must be said, an editor looking for a story with beautiful language is likely not gonna dig my work, and that’s fine. I’ll actually look for some mention of “poetic” or “lyrical” prose in a publisher guidelines, and if I find them, then it’s a pretty safe assumption my work won’t be a great fit.
When my stories include action, it’s often called out as a positive, as you can see below.
Yeah, no surprise here. I can write an action scene. I cut my writer teeth on media tie-in set in a war-torn steampunk world filled with steam-powered robots, mechanikal weaponry, and people engaged in near constant combat. In addition, I’ve spent a fair amount of time doing things like the SCA and HEMA, so I know my way around a melee weapon and generally how the flow of a fight should look and feel.
Okay, now the not-so-fun stuff. When editors and readers choose to offer constructive criticism on my work, there are a couple of things I see on a fairly regular basis. Most editors are good about pairing the good with the needs work, and you’ll see some of the positives repeated below along with the things the editor or reader believed needed work.
When my stories have issues and those issues are called out, I see this one a fair bit. The reader might have trouble connecting emotionally with the protagonist. Here are what those comments looks like.
As you can see, I don’t always stick the landing with my protagonists. Some of this comes down to editorial taste, of course, but I think all four of these comments highlight real issue in each story. I listen to feedback that resonates with me, and I took the advice of the editors on the second and third comments, revised the stories accordingly, and sold both soon after.
Oh, wow, do I run into this one a lot. It’s not really an issue with my writing per se. It has more to do with my submission targeting and the kinds of stories I tend to write.
Yeah, so a lot of my work is what the second editor called a supernatural thriller, which feature elements of sci-fi, horror, and even fantasy. So they can be a tough sell to a market that specializes in one genre–not horror enough for the horror markets and not sci-fi enough for the sci-fi markets. I sold all three of these pieces to markets that publish broadly speculative stories. (I wish there were more of those.)
Of course, these are not the only things said about my work (good or bad), but they’re the most common. As I said earlier, some of this comes down to editorial taste, and I’ve sold stories that were rejected for unrelatable characters to an editor that thought the characters were very relatable. Still, when you see certain feedback pop up regularly, it’s time to reevaluate how you’re going about constructing your stories. I know I can write compelling characters that a reader can connect with, but I can also get caught up in other elements of the story, such as the action, the premise, and the plot and give my protagonists short shrift. It’s one of my writerly blind spots. I need to work on that, and I am. Conversely, I’m gonna keep writing my clear, straightforward prose and solid action scenes. 🙂
What feedback do you see on a regular basis about your own work? If you care to share, tell me about it in the comments.