Whether you are a staff writer, a freelance writer writing for periodicals or corporate clients, or someone who writes fiction or non-fiction books, you will get feedback. Every writer, unless they are writing in a vacuum, gets feedback before his or her work goes out. I’d go so far as to say that every writer needs an editor. And some, like me, need proofreaders too. So feedback can help you improve your work.
The fact is, if you are dealing with a client or supervisor, that person is most likely responsible for the final document and has the right to comment on it (and has to feel comfortable with it). If you are dealing with an editor, then you are dealing with the gatekeeper — the person who stands between you and the readers and is responsible for the content, tone and style of articles.
The question is, how do you (should you) deal with feedback?
The short answer is, develop thick skin and deal with it constructively. But if you want the longer answer, read on …
When it comes to feedback, I expect it. If I don’t get it, it means I was aced the assignment (which happens on occasion) or, and more likely, the client hasn’t read the copy (which also happens on occasion).
Generally, feedback can come from superiors or clients. (That doesn’t mean feedback from peers — other writers — is not important; I will often seek feedback from other writers I respect before sending copy out.) Feedback can come in a variety of shapes. Depending on the “shape” I may deal with it differently, but I always check my ego at the door, put on my thick skin, and deal with it constructively (even positively, because there are times when feedback leads to positive results).
Here are some of the ways I deal with feedback:
- If it is a technical correction (product related or related to grammar – I am human; I make mistakes), I accept it, correct it and move on.
- If it is a subjective suggestion that improves the copy (a fresh set of eyes can sometimes see little things that should be revised to make a document more focused and stronger), I accept it and move on
- If it is a subjective suggestion that I feel is a neutral change, I will probably accept it; sometimes I might look at the suggested revision and then revise the copy in ways that make it stronger writing
- Note: if I feel the suggested revision is not written as well as it should be, I will revise the copy with the suggestions in mind and send it bacl to the person who reviewed the copy
I suspect most writers could live with the above, and might even embrace the above. However, what do you do when the revisions don’t improve your work or don’t make sense? Here are a few ideas:
If it is a subjective suggestion makes the copy less effective, I will ask the person that I need some help with the suggested revision. I will ask what the person was trying to accomplish with the revision and how they feel the revised copy accomplishes it.
If I feel it necessary, I will (politely and professionally) remind the person of the target audience, the purpose of the piece and/or the impression we are trying to make. I will say I want to make sure I understand what they were trying to say in relation to those elements.
When I hear what the person has to say, I will ask if I can rework the revision with those thoughts in mind. Most often the person who made the revisions is happy to have me review and revise it. I will then send it back to my client for review. If I’ve had a constructive conversation with the client, my revision is usually accepted or accepted with minor changes.
There is another element to this, though: What do you do if someone adds copy to your work?
If it improves the work, I have no problem accepting it. If it makes sense but needs some revision, I will revise it and send it back to the client for review. And if it doesn’t make sense, I’ll have a chat with the client and revise it based on the discussion.
However, sometimes a person makes positive, constructive or negative additions when there is no space for new copy. When that occurs, I remind the client that we can’t go over word count, and ask what he feels we should remove before adding any copy. If I feel the change is not for the better, I will also do my “purpose” reminder thing above, and ask what we should cut if we use the new copy (which I will revise based on the discussion).
In short, if a client really wants something added and there is no room to add anything, then I need the client to review the document and let me know what should be cut based on the client’s priority. (Note: If it’s a matter of adding a couple of words and there are a couple of words I can cut, though, I won’t go put the client through this.)
In short, writing is subjective and I expect suggested revisions and changes. However, that doesn’t mean I accept them as is when I don’t think they work. I try to bring the client back to the reasons behind the document to make sure any revisions are in sync with the ad’s purpose and target audience.
Finally, if the client is bigger, stronger or paying the bills and insists on his words, as spelled out, I will make the requested change. I am always polite and professional, no matter what I think, when dealing with my clients. In the end, it’s their document and the client has to live with the consequences. I won’t get angry or try to get even. What’s the point? Does’t mean I roll over and make every suggestion I receive as I receive them. It means I listen, work in a positive and constructive manner with the client and try my best to make the document as clear, focused, powerful and effective as possible.
And if you have any suggestions to make on my “how to deal with feedback” suggestions presented here, feel free to leave a comment.