What Are They Saying: Analyzing My Editorial Feedback

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.

The Good Stuff

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.

Clear & Concise

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:

  1. Writing was clear and concise, and the author has a distinct voice . . .
  2. I appreciated the clear character motivations . . .
  3. While we loved the clear prose . . .

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.

Good Action

When my stories include action, it’s often called out as a positive, as you can see below.

  1. . . . the author seems to have a fondness for battle segments, as these were where the author’s talents clearly shined.
  2. I appreciated the clear character motivations and the dinosaur hunting action.
  3. Readers generally liked the action and the ideas here.
  4. The paper ninja was cool and the action was exciting . . .

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.

Stuff That Needs Work

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.

Trouble Connecting to Characters

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.

  1. However, I found a lack of personal connection to the characters . . .
  2. While clearly a physically tough guy, the protag doesn’t present as a well-rounded character with a possibility of change. For example, he doesn’t seem to have any regrets about the atrocious acts he’s committed or even the sense that he’s open to another kind of life.
  3. It’s a solid piece, with some good characters and good tension. Unfortunately, by the end, I’m afraid it just didn’t “grab” me the way it might have. I’ve been sitting here thinking why not, and it occurs to me that I never really connected with Wyatt. Maybe if it had been first-person instead of third-person.
  4. While we loved the clear prose and the interesting scenario that you presented, I would have liked to see this story delve a lot deeper into McGrath’s personal faith, as well as the personal faith of the pilgrims (rather than simply their outward expressions of it) so that we can fully understand and appreciate the conclusion McGrath comes to in the final lines.

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.

Wrong(ish) Genre

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.

  1. This is a bit more dark urban fantasy than horror. The tension is solidly developed, but we’re missing the concurrent dread.
  2. We really enjoyed this one, Aeryn, but ultimately we decided that it reads more like a supernatural thriller than dark sci-fi, and therefore doesn’t quite fit what we’re looking for at this time.
  3. I like the story, but I think it seems like a better fit for our sister publication, which specializes in fantasy.

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.

4 Comments on “What Are They Saying: Analyzing My Editorial Feedback

  1. I love how open you are to feedback, Aeryn – and how in touch you are with your strengths and challenges! And oh, man, that perseverance! Inspiring!

    • I think you have to be open to feedback, but it should be said, I do tend to ignore a lot of editorial comments, as I think many of them are simply due to the editor’s taste (and some editors will say as much). These comments, though, are common enough that I’d be foolish to ignore them. I am sometimes foolish, however. 🙂

  2. A comment I’ve received a couple times is that my endings are ambiguous. I find that amusing because I often purposely write ambiguous endings to allow the reader to fill in their own blanks. I’ve always enjoyed reading that type of ending, so that’s probably why I write that way.

    • Yeah, and some of that you might have to chalk up to editorial preference. Some folks really don’t like ambiguous endings. That’s akin to my not horror enough for horror markets. IMO, the ambiguous ending comments are not an issue so much with your writing. It’s more of an issue of your work fitting with a particular market/editor.

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