I thought I’d share my experiences with editorial feedback, constructive criticism, the art of revision and following one’s creative instincts. Newer writers tend to get defensive when it comes to feedback. Learning how to respond to feedback is an essential skill for writers. Eventually, some kind editor will provide some good advice and the writer’s job is to listen, decide if the advice is solid, and if it is, then revise accordingly.
Trying to change the editor’s view on why your work doesn’t need to be changed or that you know best will not only alienate the editor, it will most likely prevent you from getting traditionally published.
Should you decide to not revise your work and send it elsewhere, just as is, I recommend not getting surly with the editor. Simply thank him or her for their time and consideration. Ditto should you receive a rejection. Getting snippy at the publisher for not recognizing your artistic vision will get you nowhere fast and slamming her/him with a “obviously your publication is too mainstream for my cutting edge style” just proves that you are as far from a professional writer as street-meat is from a fillet mignon. You may think you’re Kafka, but opinions are allowed to vary, so keep all correspondence courteous and leave snip-snaps out of your tone.
I am somewhat fixated on the work of Edward Hopper, and this sketch…
…Inspired this poem:
This poem was part of a submission to The Dalhousie Review, submitted January 2017. It can take close to a year to receive a reply from a literary journal. They receive thousands of submissions, and their acceptance rate is usually somewhere between 1 -12%. I was overjoyed when the editor let me know that one of my poems had received a ‘conditional acceptance.’ They requested that I revisit two lines. One word they felt needed to be changed, and another word was suggested to be removed.
I spent a full day sweating out that one word (Poets will understand this. Most novelists will chuckle, I think) The poem was eventually accepted with my minor revisions.
This is the revised version:
Now, I have yet to find online any poet sharing a request for revisions (edit notes) or their correspondence with a journal –perhaps in fear of a breach in confidentiality or maybe it’s an ego issue? I have removed the name of the editor, who is a kind soul and so encouraging. I am sharing this as a teaching tool so that those who are still seeking publication understand the process.
I’ve taken two screen shots of my poem—the original version and the revised and published version.
Also, I love reading through a journal and finding a stand-out piece. It’s wonderful to let other writers know how their work affected you, how you were moved. Social media is not only about touting your own work. Make sure to share what you’ve enjoyed as A READER. I did so with this journal
About The Dalhousie Review:
The Dalhousie Review was founded in 1921 and has been in continuous operation ever since. During the early years it published scholarly essays by notable political thinkers, historians, literary scholars, poets and novelists, such as Archibald MacMechan, Sir Robert Borden, Eliza Ritchie, E.J. Pratt, Douglas Bush, Charles G.D. Roberts, Frederick Philip Grove, Hugh MacLennan, Hilda Neatby, Eugene Forsey, Thomas Raddall and Earle Birney. In the second half of the twentieth century TDR also began to publish short fiction and poetry, including the work of Norman Ward, George Woodcock, Mavor Moore, Owen Barfield, Miriam Waddington, Alden Nowlan, Malcolm Lowry, Chinua Achebe, Nadine Gordimer, Margaret Atwood and Guy Vanderhaeghe. TDR is thus one of the oldest and most prestigious literary journals in Atlantic Canada, and it has developed an international reputation for publishing consistently high-quality work by established and emerging writers in Canada and around the world.
From initial feedback to a published poem: a look at the process
Editor comments I received:
MacMillan, “Violation” (After Evening Wind by Edward Hopper) Acceptance with minor suggested changes:
In the liminal, sketched, ordinary-bent-sideways moves of this layered piece, two moves jumped out as not fitting the rest, both in the final stanza: might these 2 moves be pulled back a little – so the ending doesn’t land so heavy (at odds with the rest). Specifically:
line 11: “beast” – are there other possibilities here, that aren’t as blunt and overt and weighty? (hoping the “coiled as daybreak” is somehow kept, that fits)
line 12: “…, yet again” – does the poem need this? Consider cutting; or, if kept, pull back a little — the comma plus “again” feels plenty, can makes the same gesture with a slightly lighter hand (to fit the piece that’s led us here).
My Email response to the editor:
I’ve made the recommended changes to “Violation.”
I agree with the editors that the word “beast” was too weighty; it has both biblical and mythical connotations which don’t serve a purpose in this particular poem. I had used the word because it appears as though Hopper intentionally rendered a sleeping dragon in the twisted sheets ( a kind of Rorschach test for the overly imaginative, I suppose) and I wanted to pay tribute to his artistic vision.
In order to surgically remove the word and to provide a proper setting for the new one, I also changed the first word “becomes.” I wanted to capture the original connotation of beast, lighten the line, but keep it wide. So, here is the new line.
“hounds a restlessness as coiled as daybreak.”
‘Hounds’ gives that predatory feel I wanted to invoke. Restlessness has an ambiguous quality that works well, I think. The word also is sibilant. The hiss plays off of “coil” while “hounds” has an almost onomatopoetic quality… a howl.
This being said, I am eager to work with the editors should they feel the change is too much (or misses the mark!)
Though I think the poem now works better, I am still open to any suggestions. I welcome further feedback … all the while hoping I’ve fine-tuned the poem to The Dalhousie Review’s recognized high standards.
Attached, please find my revised poem and the signed and dated author’s agreement.
I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you, again, for this amazing opportunity to be published in your journal. I’m beyond thrilled.
PS- xxxx, I’ve also attach Hopper’s etching (and a close up of the balled sheet) with you and the editors to show why it “hounded” me so… snout, eye sockets, flattened ears… just thought I’d share the inspiration. The sketch is a poem in itself, I think… breathtaking….
Thank you again for sending us your work as well as your revisions. The editors would like to proceed with the publication of “Violation.”
If you are still interested in publishing your work with The Dalhousie Review, please can you email me your assurances that the poem has been neither published nor accepted for publication elsewhere?
I look forward to hearing from you.
My happy reply!
I am so glad the editors enjoyed the changes I made to “Violation”; the poem has not been published elsewhere nor has it been accepted by any other journal. I’m happy it has found a home with The Dalhousie Review!
Can you please let the editors know that I appreciate their consideration? I recognize there are thousands of poems they read and each has the potential to be published.
Thank you for making my day with this good news. I’d been out walking in the blowing snow, and I was rather numb from the cold. Your email warmed me right to my toes!
Will “Violation” be printed in the spring issue?
Thanks for your quick response! I’ll certainly pass along your thanks to our editors.
I believe your poem will be included in our next issue, 97.3 (Winter). I’ll know more in the next few days, and will be sending along page proofs for your approval as soon as possible. (We expect that issue to be out before the end of January).
Further correspondence from the editor:
Please find attached page proofs for your work. Please let me know as soon as possible if you require any revisions.
… and my reply…
Looks great, xxxx!
No revisions required.
I’m looking forward to reading the journal in its entirety.
Cheers from Cyndi