Editing your novel. My experience of getting professional feedback

To date, I’ve submitted the first 3 chapters of my first novel, Art and Soul, to 23 literary agents to no avail.

So, before continuing with submissions, I decided it was time to ask a professional editor to look at those first three chapters and give me critical feedback.

I researched my options, selected my editor, sent off my first 3 chapters and synopsis, and waited for their report with a mixture of excitement and dread.

Editor writing cartoon

The good

I paid for critical and I got it. However, for the sake of my own self-esteem I must keep repeating an opening comment: “on the whole” I write well. That’s a relief. I shouldn’t chuck it all in just yet then. 🙂

The improveable

There were bits and bobs I won’t bore you with, because the headline, Dear Reader, was tremendous: cut chapters 1 and 2 and start with chapter 3.

Apparently this piece of advice is often given to new writers. Debut authors often start their book with a few thousand words of prologue before getting to the main event. And, in some cases, that’s fine; particularly if you’re an established author with a loyal readership who will stick with you. But, if you’re an unknown author competing for the limited time of busy readers with many options, you can’t afford not to start with the event which sets the plot in motion.

Editor writing cartoon 2

Now I’ve had a week to mull it over, I think this is a great idea and a very helpful suggestion. Did I feel like this when I first read the editor’s report? Well, no. In fact, I felt slightly ill and not a little stressed. I believe the words I used at the time were, “I’m fine, I’m fine… I just… oh, my head is going to explode.” Not because of the criticism (which was constructive and mostly spot on), but because of the amount of work that would be involved in revising my manuscript yet again. It’s not as if I can simply highlight chapters 1 and 2, hit delete and the job’s done. Things happened in 1 and 2 which resonated throughout the whole book. I need to save some of this information and drip it into the narrative elsewhere. And, once I’ve made changes to the beginning of the story, I’ll have to comb through the whole book again, checking for inconsistencies caused by these amendments.


OK, it’s more work. But overall this is positive development. Hopefully the long term outcome will a better book with a story which immediately grabs the reader.

So if you’re wondering why you’re not getting anywhere with your submissions/queries, perhaps it’s time to ask a professional editor to take a look at the start of your novel. I know it’s not something everyone can afford but, if you can, I recommend you do.

Writers: have you had feedback which made you fear your head would explode? 😉 Editors: do you often have to tell writers to start their story later? Let me know!

Claire Huston / Art and Soul


32 thoughts on “Editing your novel. My experience of getting professional feedback

  1. Good for you, Claire, to be wise and brave enough to get help and then see it constructively. That’s not always easy when you’re so close to a project 😀 I know it’s hard when you have to adjust everything else to accommodate one big change . . . bit it sounds like it will be worth the work in the long run. Good luck with your revisions!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!
      After I absorbed the initial impact (i.e. got over the feeling my head was going to explode!), this had been an overwhelmingly positive experience. I had braced myself for the very worst and was rather cheered that he seemed to feel that it was all very “fixable”. Just a lot of work for me now!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had an agent who read the first 3 chapters, loved it, asked for the rest … and hated the rest. Her feedback was the 1st person style was killing the book, she was right. I picked myself up, rewrote the whole 100,000 words (twice) and it worked, a publisher picked it up and now I have a book. Sometimes you just have to start again – I lost a year but the gain was enormous. Lots of luck!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you 🙂
      Wow. Your story makes the editing work and rewrites I have to do seem like nothing!
      What an amazing success story. Congratulations and I’m delighted your hard work and dedication paid off. It’s comments like this that encourage me to keep at it – thank you!


  3. Its good that you sought out an editor and can view it constructively. Its true, too. The first couple chapters mostly set the tone of what I”m going to think of the rest of the book. If I have to slog through chapters one and two, by the time I get to three, I’ve already marked you down a star in my head, because you haven’t hooked me immediately, therefore unless things get drastically better, its going to be ‘one of those books’ that I have to push myself to finish.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s a problem of distance. I knew something wasn’t right with my first 3 chapters but couldn’t see what it was. I’d spent so long on them I got stuck. After I’d processed his feedback, I realized he was spot on. And while my beta readers have been critical, they’re also my friends and aren’t going to abandon the book at chapter 1. But that’s exactly what someone reading through Amazon Prime might do!
      Overall it’s been a positive experience. Just a lot of work to do now! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is one of my fears with my books, and personally, one of the reasons I was so gun-hoe about self-publishing. I definitely appreciate the tough love aspect of an editor, and I agree half the time with some of their criticism, but I do know…from personal experience, that sometimes it’s also just as opinion-based as if you were to ask a reader to tell you want they like. Same could be said of editors. Not that I think you shouldn’t listen to what they say–quite the opposite. But I do believe that we need to remind ourselves that they aren’t the final law. We are. We determine what and how we take the feedback. If you agreed, and it made sense to you to take that feedback, then all the better that you got it. It’s okay to agree to disagree with your editors/betas/so forth as well, however.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Absolutely. There’s a balance between accepting what a good editor tells you, and knowing yourself what’s best for your book. To do my editor credit, he did say this in his report and acknowledged that he’d only seen the first three chapters and I know my book and characters best so have to make the final decisions. As you say, that’s one of the best things about self-publishing – you don’t get bullied into making changes you don’t think are best for your story.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly. I feel like most (and I say that word carefully) genuinely understand that you aren’t going to take everything they say. I was told that I thankfully have a very good grasp of grammar and word use, but there are times where I need a pair of eyes to catch what my fingers do in betrayal. I’m glad that you posted this, though. There are people that don’t realize how helpful it can be to have someone give you honest feedback.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This was me three years ago:

    I think my beginnings probably always go under the biggest number of changes. I have a scene from later in my novel that was written before I’d written most of the preceding material, but it has stayed the same throughout three major drafts plus editing and smaller revisions.

    Good for you getting the feedback. It can be really hard to take sometimes. I am lucky that I have a partner with an editing qualification, so he does most of mine for me (though I also send my material out to beta readers as well after a couple of drafts), and he doesn’t mind (much) if I argue with him about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, thanks for sharing, Claire!!!

    To me the very worst feedback is no feedback. You know the feeling, asking a friend to read it, never hearing anything again…

    I read K.M.Weiland’s main book on structure, and I’ve actually deleted my first chapter as well… So I know the feeling very well – letting go of those “great words with so much heart put into them”, smiling, just to realise that it really does make the story better… Every draft makes the story better!

    That you write well “on the whole” is a huge compliment! You can do this!!! Your story will just get better and better each round! I believe in you. 🙂

    Best wishes, Agnete

    Ps! We only need like 10 drafts of the first books – we’ll need less and less the better we get at the trade of writing books. That’s a relief, right? 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!
      I really hope it’s true that these are hard lessons learned the first few times round and as we write more books we save ourselves editing time by getting more right first time round! 🙂
      And just as bad as no feedback is when someone reads your book and tells you it’s “fine”. What does that mean?! I’d rather they said they hated it so at least I can ask why!
      Thank you for your good wishes… I need the boost to get me through this next round of chunky edits. Hopefully after this it’ll only be small tweaks…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes – “fine” is a really nasty feedback! Especially since it may either hide a bunch of withheld criticism – “I don’t even know where to start, a ‘fine’ will get me off the hook!” or may literally mean that the writing made no impression on them whatsoever! Horrible! (Or that we sent the story to someone who was not fit for being a critic, who just likes everything, I’ve done that a lot…)
    Hopefully you find back to the fun of editing soon – the fun in seeing that the story literally develops into a better story. 😀 Keep editing – it will soon be fun again!

    Liked by 1 person

      • The characters we spend the most time with are the ones that readers in the end love the most! Those characters have depth, the author’s love for them always shows. It is actually extremely likely that your characters are very likable by now. 🙂
        Yes – I have the same feeling while translating A Heart of Fire – relieved that I still love to spend time with my characters. 😀 That’s a good sign!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Congrats on having the guts to send off your first three chapters to a professional editor. I feel as though it is something I should do as well, but I keep holding off because I’m somewhat anxious of what response I’ll get. I’ll take your story as a lesson. It might be hard, but it’ll also be worth it 🙂 I wish you the best of luck moving forward with your story. The editing process might be long, but if it rewards you in the end with publication, I suppose it will all be worth it!
    Never stop chasing those dreams 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!
      I think that’s the hardest part: getting over the hump when you thought you were nearly “there”, only to discover you’ve still a long way to go.
      As you say, if I end up with a better book, a published better book that people enjoy reading, it’ll all have been worth it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, I’m super impressed. I hope when I’m done with the self-editing phase I’ll be ready and willing to send to a professional editor (provided I have the cash saved up for it). Thanks so much for posting this – I think it’s something all of us aspiring writers should see and think about, even if we end up not taking this route.
    Best of luck with the next step of your editing process.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!
      It was a little daunting, but I honestly had no idea what else to do. My beta readers have been wonderful, but none of them gave me the ruthless critique I needed.
      Now I need to go back to the edits and then, maybe, the next time I’m edited it might be for publication! (fingers crossed).

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Good for you for taking that step! It’s so important to get as much feedback as possible, but remember that you know your characters and story better than anyone! And as for feedback – if you’re ever looking for more beta readers, let me know. I have a few critique partners and helping others with their work is something I really enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Exciting writing times and why I may be absent for a while… | Art and Soul

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