On Revisions and Feedback: It’s Critical to Writers

Editing_I tend to scribble. Image courtesy of Unhindered by Talent under a Creative Commons LicenseWhether it makes you want to hang by your fingernails or you love digging in to a pile of notes and edits, revisions are part of any writer’s life. Fortunately for me, I fall into the camp that enjoys the process—at least I do on most days.

Occasionally, my ego squeaks out a faint complaint, wishing that a draft were marked “perfect” upon its return. Obviously, that’s a little unrealistic! That wish sneaks up more with my copywriting projects than with my personal writing. Yet, the funny thing is that I want clients to provide feedback. It makes a big difference in the quality of the final product.

Why is client feedback so important to copywriting?

  • It creates trust. I find this especially true with new clients. When they see how you are able to improve the copy based on their feedback, they become more comfortable with you. It can lead to more work and fewer revisions down the road.
  • It drives specificity. Even companies that claim to be laid back about their brand voice care very deeply. They want things said in certain ways, even if they don’t share that upfront. When a client provides feedback and edits (especially using “track changes”), you can start identifying those preferences. It’s the difference in being able to edit with a scalpel or a hatchet.
  • It can inspire. I’m lucky enough to have several clients that are big on collaboration. In one case, what was a good headline became a sharp tagline used across several campaigns. It wasn’t that my work wasn’t good enough the first time around, it was that the client liked it and wanted to push it further.

There’s also no doubt that feedback can drive a writer crazy. For me, it’s when the so-called “feedback” is “I don’t like it” and no reason is given. It’s okay if a client doesn’t like something—I just need to know why so I can fix it. This hasn’t happened to me in a very, very long time and I’m grateful. Of course, I’ve also learned that if someone won’t go beyond “I don’t like it,” there are usually bigger problems at hand.

It can also be difficult when feedback comes in again and again—and now you’re on version six for a 250-word landing page. This tends to happen when the client team wasn’t aligned before starting the project, although it can be a sign that something’s not in sync between the copywriter and client. It’s (fortunately) a rare occurrence, but it can happen, especially on projects billed by the hour. I like project-based fees because you and the client can agree upfront what the revision process will look like.

What about you? How do you deal with revisions? Do you base your projects based on a set number of feedback rounds? Do you dread getting feedback from a client? What are your tips for dealing with the revision process?

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13 thoughts on “On Revisions and Feedback: It’s Critical to Writers

  1. I loved the editors I’ve worked with because they make absolute magic of my prose. I’m reminded of one travel article I wrote on Romania that absolutely sung in the hands of my editor/copyeditor. My editor at the newspaper asked, when he learned I was writing fiction on the side, who is my editor? When I explained, blah blah writing spec, blah blah attend conferences, critique groups he looked me in the eye and said “everyone needs an editor.”

  2. I’m in the “hate revising” camp, but I do it graciously. Occasionally I get edits back that make no sense or are WRONG, but what can you do when they’re holding the purse strings?

  3. I’m with Jennifer: Working with a good editor makes your copy better. But they’re few and far between and should be cherished when you find one. I worked with a brilliant editor at the LAT Magazine years ago now and she’s still the gold standard for a good editor in my book.

    I think the sign of a good editor is they leave your voice alone –rather than injecting their own–respect your research and reporting and trust your instincts. Plus, you need to be able to have a
    good laugh together when you’re going over some wording for the umpteenth time at the 11th hour.

  4. When I was doing a lot of heavy copywriting, I went into each job understanding that my role was to best capture the client’s voice. Given that conceit, I expected revisions but I also really tried to listen to what was being said by the client, and also read deeper into their words so revisions and input felt, for lack of a better term, organic to the process. The same goes for editing for clients, because the goal is to produce a product for the client, not for me.

  5. Thank you all for sharing your experiences. Jennifer’s and Ruth’s comments about it being a wonderful (and rare) thing to work with a good editor made me nostalgic for some of my past editors. You’re both so very right!

    @Sheryl ~ I’m with you about the bruised ego. If I think something’s generally my fault, it can be harder to get perspective, or keep my confidence up. With specifics, I’m good.

    @Peggy ~ Thanks so much for your comment! It sounds like we’ve shared a similar journey when it comes to revisions and collaboration. Every once in a while, my inner voice squeaks, “ouch, don’t you know I’m a writer and I’m sensitive?” Fortunately, those moments are very rare.

    @Susan ~ I have one client that I always bill by the hour and, with them, I know revisions take take many iterations. Since I have a good relationship with them, and I know it’s editing by committee, it doesn’t bother me.

    @Melanie ~ I appreciate your comment! Wow, 5 a.m. is early.

    @marthaandme ~ Well said! There’s nothing worse than a client or editor demanding changes that weaken what you’ve written.

  6. I really love it when I work with a good editor and the revisions improve the article I’m writing. But it can be frustrating, sometimes, to have too many people edit a piece. Sometimes if it’s en masse editing the revisions don’t really enhance what I’ve written. Too little editing is a bad thing too. Sometimes I cringe over my stuff that I’ve written, wishing it had been more edited…

  7. I don’t mind revisions as long as the editor is clear on what needs revising. When they are too vague I tend to blame myself. But when it’s something specific, I can work much more easily and without a bruised ego. It’s all about communication, I think.

  8. This is a great post! Before I was a professional, I use to get very sensitive about revisions. I didn’t understand that the first draft in almost never the final. Now I totally get and appreciate the need to revise and I crave it!! I no longer see revisions as a criticism of me since I know I’m not handing in sloppy work. Instead it’s the start down a road of collaboration to make a piece the best it can be.

  9. I generally bill by the hour and when I do, I don’t stress over revisions. I want the client to have a product they’re happy with and often it’s tough to do that in one or two revisions when they’re editing by committee or they’re unsure of what they want (hence the “this isn’t quite right” feedback). However, billing by the hour gives some clients an incentive to minimize rounds of edits and give me a complete spec sheet from the beginning so they can keep costs down. I don’t mind it either way as long as I get paid for my time.

  10. I don’t do a lot of this type of writing, but when I was doing it I didn’t mind revisions, except when they were incorrect! If you’re paying me to produce good copy, you’ve got to trust that I have expertise in producing it.

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