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A Crash Course In Constructive Criticism

Working in acquisitions or as an editor can be exciting. You get to work with authors directly and help them shape their manuscripts into the best possible story it can be. But if you’re not used to giving constructive criticism, where do you begin? Here are a few foundational ideas to keep in mind as you draft your author feedback.

The most tried and true tip for giving criticism is known as the “compliment sandwich.” This means that you break down your feedback into three parts: a strength that you noticed, followed by the criticism (in other words, the area of opportunity), and a final strength. The last part of the compliment sandwich can reiterate the first part; however, it should take into account the criticism and how implementing potential feedback could result in an even stronger manuscript.

One of the reasons that the compliment sandwich is so effective is because it helps to show the author that you’re their biggest advocate. While you want to be open and honest about your feedback, you should also remind your author of the things that drew you to their work in the first place. Rather than tearing down everything you don’t like about a manuscript, you’re taking care to remind the author that you’re here to make their story into its best possible version.

Another tip to keep in mind is specificity. The more specific your feedback is, the easier it will be for your author to implement your changes. For example, if you simply tell the author, “I don’t like it,” or “I wasn’t a fan of the main character,” it doesn’t give them much to go off of. But if you start off by telling them that you find the main character’s motivations to be vague or unbelievable, that’s the beginning of a productive conversation. Then you can ask the author further probing questions to get their creative juices flowing. You can even include specific scenes or quotes that you’re thinking of, for both positive and critical comments.

Finally, when giving your critiques, make sure to include concrete suggestions. Once again, the more specific, the better. You should also provide multiple ideas as well, but they aren’t meant to be prescriptive. After all, the author knows their work best, and you as an editor are not here to take control of the story.

Some more questions to ask yourself as you’re writing your feedback include: What works about the story? Is it the pacing? The writing style? What are areas that could be improved? Are there global structural issues that could use some tweaking? And finally, once you identify the main issues: What are the next steps for the author? What are some ways they could implement your suggestions?

Ultimately, your feedback should include both positive and critical, with specific examples included for each major point. The more you make the areas of opportunity as specific as possible, the more confident your author will be about implementing those changes.

If you yourself are a writer—or know someone who is—our submissions are open, and we love to see new work! Take a look at our guidelines here.

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