If you’re writing a book, it’s important to create a system for receiving feedback. That system might include feedback from close friends, colleagues in your discipline, mentors, and experts in your subject area. It can also include working with a developmental editor. For that feedback to be effective it’s important to know what type you need, and when. To figure that out, consider the following questions.
Will you have a book workshop?
Book workshops are an increasingly popular form of support for junior faculty. Usually sponsored by your department, a book workshop is a convening of expert faculty to discuss your entire book manuscript. In the workshop, these experts offer their opinions on what will likely be the penultimate draft that you then revise to submit to your publisher for peer review.
I often encounter writers who want to work with a developmental editor before their workshop, to improve the manuscript they share with these expert readers. Keep in mind that if you work with a developmental editor at this stage, you have to manage your time wisely. That’s because you have to structure your timeline in such a way that you can give a draft to a developmental editor, wait for their feedback, and then revise all before the workshop. This can be a multi-month process.
You should also be certain that a developmental editor’s feedback will be meaningful to you. What I mean is this: if the developmental editor’s feedback is identical to that given in the workshop, will you feel as if you wasted your money? If the feedback is contradictory, will you disregard the editor’s feedback? If the answer to one or both of these questions is yes, then it might not be the right time to work with a developmental editor.
Do you often get stuck in the middle of projects?
One frustrating aspect of writing is that it’s hard to get good feedback when you’re mid-project. Most feedback comes at the beginning when you’re presenting at workshops or conferences, or at the very end after you’ve submitted for peer review. Many authors struggle in the middle when they have a messy first draft or they’re midway through a later draft but can’t figure out how to proceed.
This is a great time to seek informal feedback from a writing group or friend. You’ll likely feel too bashful at this stage to share your work with an expert reader or a mentor. Even so, you know your work would benefit from an informed opinion that’s not your own. That outsider response from someone who isn’t stuck in the messy middle of your project can be invaluable.
Do you like brainstorming your ideas or having a sounding board?
Here’s the secret of good feedback: it doesn’t always need to be extensive, and it doesn’t always have to be written. In my coaching programs, I provide a lot of feedback in conversation with writers rather than giving in-text comments or preparing editorial memos. Why? Because it’s not always necessary. Sometimes you need to talk through an idea, or just say something out loud to realize how to proceed. A trusted voice assuring you that “this makes sense,” can silence your sense of doubt and empower you to move forward.
Do you have effective plans and strategies for writing, but find yourself getting caught up on a single idea?
You’re a motivated writer who writes consistently. You have a clear writing plan that keeps you on track. If you’re usually organized and consistent, it can feel so frustrating to get stuck on one argument, piece of data, or a single idea. You don’t necessarily need someone to read your entire manuscript. Instead, you need precise troubleshooting, ASAP. Or, you might just need some tough love to tell you to keep going because the epiphanies usually occur while you’re working.
The right feedback at the right time.
In my coaching program Elevate, you get a combination of formal and informal feedback on a weekly basis. This feedback is delivered via editorial hot seats, where I give a live critique of your work; written feedback on assignments structured so that you identify the key arguments in your book; and additional written feedback in our private community. You’ll have my eyes on your work at different stages in your writing process. You’ll also see me critique other writers’ work, which will provide you with insights on your work that you hadn’t even considered!
My opinion, based on years of working as a developmental editor and coach, is that most people wait too long to seek feedback. This is through no fault of their own. It’s hard to identify the type of feedback you need, and when to ask for it. Also, you might feel like a real pain in the butt asking your friends and colleagues to read your unfinished drafts. After all, they’re busy writing too! Yet, earlier, shorter editorial interventions are effective for all writers, which is why they’re incorporated into this program.
If you’re interested in learning more about the program, click here to attend a virtual workshop where I’ll teach you why you need a better book writing system and how to create one. The workshop is Thursday, May 14th at 1pm EST.