Copyeditors work hard to best present queries to authors in order to achieve our goals. In “How to Cushion Author Queries,” Adrienne Montgomerie recommends incorporating positive feedback. “Include some notes of praise alone,” she writes, “such as ‘This is a really evocative scene.’”
By praising our authors in comments and cover letters, we’re working to build trust with them. We demonstrate that we’re not summarily dismissing their hard work; we see the good in the manuscript, too, even if we’re paid to find the not-so-good. Praising can build an author’s confidence and point out what works so they can do more of it.
Praising can also soften the copyeditor’s attitude toward the manuscript and the author. Let’s face it: our job is to find fault. It’s easy to slip into a mindset that the negative is all there is. By focusing a little on the positive, we remind ourselves that a manuscript and its author are more than their faults.
I actually learned this method as a teenager when I worked at a local McDonald’s. Whenever I had to correct someone, I was taught to first point out something positive, such as: “Thanks for your work in cleaning the dining room. There’s still some dirt under a few tables, though. Could you go back out and sweep it up, please?” It made a difference when a skinny 20-year-old was bossing around people easily twice her age.
But the execution is not as easy as it sounds.
Every author is different. Some need more positive reinforcement, while others see it as coddling. This author wants brutal honesty. That author wants to keep everything professional and impersonal.
Overpraising has risks, too. You can bury the criticisms to the point where the author skips right past them. If there’s not a lot of feedback at all, such as in a cover letter, the praise can feel manipulative, sometimes referred to as a praise sandwich.
To use praise well in querying situations:
This article was originally posted on the Copyediting website on October 21, 2016.