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Posts Tagged developmental edit
I was asked this recently by Lyda McLallan who was working on a blog for HuffPost. I don’t know if the piece was published, but these are questions I get a lot, so I thought I’d answer them here.
It all began when Lyda asked…
What should you do before you hire an editor…
Me: Talk to them!
1 Establish the kind of editing that will be suitable for your manuscript. Authors are often surprised that there are many things an editor can do.
They usually know about the mistake-spotting edits – proof reading or copy editing – but they don’t know there’s a more fundamental stage to do first, especially for an author who’s new to publishing or is working outside their normal area of experience – I work with a lot of authors who are converting to fiction after a successful career in non-fiction or drama. What they most need is a developmental edit.
What’s a developmental edit?
Essentially, it’s an MOT of the content. If the book is a novel:
- does the story work
- is it right for the audience/genre
- are there credibility problems
- do the story craft and characterisation hold up?
- does the book keep its promise to the reader
- is the approach effective and suitable?
- If it’s a how-to, is it complete, clear and authoritative? If it’s a creative type of non-fiction, has it fulfilled its potential?
You can probably see that a developmental report will give the author a lot of new work – more sections to write, sections to reorder. Perhaps there will be sections to remove! Therefore… you’re wasting your money if you have it proof-read before these fundamentals are checked because the text might change a lot.
But if you’ve had a thorough MOT for the content, you should be ready for copy-editing and proof-reading (here’s a post where I explain the production steps).
You might also have heard of the line edit, where the editor rewrites to sharpen your style. Most book authors don’t need a special stage for this – any problems can be flagged in the developmental and copy edit and the author can usually sort them out for themselves.
So ‘editing’ means a lot of things and step 1 is to establish which you need.
2 The second discussion is about the book’s audience.
Editors all have different strengths and expertises. They might specialise in particular fiction genres, or be good with poetic approaches. For non-fiction, they might be great at making technical material accessible without dumbing down. Or they might have wide experience navigating the tricky pitfalls of memoir. Check their fortes meet your needs.
3 What else do you hope your editor can help you with?
Do you want an editor who’s very market savvy, up to date with the features of the latest bestsellers? Or do you want an editor with a more nuanced, individual style who will help you discover your voice and identity? Or a bit of both? Raise all these points and see if you’re comfortable with the answers.
And other thoughts…
Lyda didn’t ask these questions, but I’m sure before long she would want to.
Why does editing take so long?
It depends on the kind of editing.
A copy edit and proof-read are a straightforward check for accuracy and consistency. They can usually be turned around quite fast, within a week or two, though much depends on how complex the work is and how careful the author has been with details. Yes, this is like asking how long a piece of string is! But it’s a relatively controllable piece of string, because the editor’s job is simple compared with….
A developmental edit. This usually takes much longer, obviously depending on the author’s proficiency with that kind of book. The issues may not be straightforward and – unlike copy editing and proof reading – the editor aims to help you solve them. They might suggest solutions, or they might discuss the issues to help you understand how a problem arose and what you might change to solve it.
This kind of feedback takes a lot of thought – rather like solving the problems in your own book, it doesn’t come instantly. When I edited for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, our standard quoted turnaround for a developmental edit was six weeks. That allowed for the required mulling time so the editor could give a wise and thorough answer.
How soon can I publish after editing?
Each edit might give you a lot to do!
The developmental edit might require a complete rebuild or just a light coat of paint. If the book is your first, or your first book of that type, don’t make any firm schedules until you’ve had the developmental report.
Once that’s done you’re on a more predictable path, so you can line up your other experts and make a schedule. Be prepared for the copy edit to present a few logistical headaches. In novels the most common problems are with fact-checking and the story timeline (you’ll find expert tips on avoiding this pain in the Nail Your Novel Workbook) .
Should I ask for an editing sample?
It depends! Generally, no. A sample won’t tell you much.
Is that surprising? Let me explain.
If I give you developmental comments on a test page, they’ll be meaningless. I won’t have enough of the manuscript to make a useful judgement, except on the style, which is just one element. What you really need to know is whether I’m in tune with your aims and expectations for the whole book. And whether you’ll understand my explanations. That’s why the preliminary chats are important.
Samples have more value in a line edit, where the editor’s individual style can drastically change the actual text. But how big a sample? Editors don’t mind a small test of a few paragraphs to show how their style mixes with yours, but you might need a bigger sample, for instance to check how the editor would shape a sensitive anecdote or a chapter. That’s a major undertaking for the editor. It can’t be dashed off quickly and you should expect to pay the editor’s hourly rate.
The short answer: I refer you to my first response. The real question you’re asking with a sample is ‘will we suit each other’? So get talking! Either with ears (Skype) or text (email, Messenger, whatever), check you’re on the same page.
And finally, Lyda asked
What’s your editing tip that will make a book better?
I can’t say this often enough: Read widely – both in your chosen genre and beyond. Notice what you enjoy and how the writer achieved it. I’ve written lots about reading like a writer – find it all here. I suppose I should also mention my own editing services, though that wasn’t why I wrote this post. So here’s the page, presented with a discreet cough.
Any more questions? Ask in the comments! I’m all ears.
Meanwhile, here’s what’s been going on at the Morris desk while I write, edit – and, of course, read.
book production, copy editing, developmental edit, do you need an editor, finding an editor, how authors work with editors, how to find an editor, how to publish well, proof reading, what do editors do, when to hire an editor
There will be changes
Always. Even if you’ve had beta readers. Even if you’re a seasoned pro. Of the 14 or 15 full manuscripts I’ve submitted, there was only one where the editors didn’t want to change anything, beyond tiny niggles. Only one.
There are two kinds of feedback. In traditional publishing, agents – and editors in the initial stages – will tend to give brief, sweeping notes about character arcs, pacing, credibility and relatability. Even though these won’t be as detailed as the work an editor will do, they might keep you busy for a couple of months.
Moreover, an editor who does a detailed critique may have a different vision from those who have looked at it before. (Should you edit to fit another person’s tastes? A million-dollar question, which I’ll come back to.)
Anyway, most of us swallow hard when the detailed report arrives. This is what I do.
Critique report survival tips
Expect a large document that tackles your book in close detail. Sometimes very large – I’ve written 50 pages for a novice author (but there I’m also taking a tutoring role, so my commentary includes discussion of craft).
1 – Read the report without doing anything. Satisfy your curiosity. Don’t make to-do lists or open the manuscript. Just read.
2 – Set it aside. Yell, scream etc. Wait as long as your deadlines allow. This also lets you digest. When you’re even-tempered about it, start work.
3 – Some suggestions will be easy to fix. Some will be harder. Some will be praise and encouragement, though you might not have recognised them. Read through and mark the easy stuff – either highlight on a printout, or colour in the Word document. Tackle these immediately if it makes sense, and feel satisfied that you’re getting this under control.
4 – Now you’re limbered up – and are familiar with your manuscript again – you’re ready for the trickier suggestions. Separate out the ones you don’t agree with.
Often editors make suggestions that skew the book in a way you don’t want. But they may have identified a significant problem. Disregard their solution and delve deeper for the source.
For instance, an editor who saw an early draft of Life Form Three told me it needed another viewpoint character and that one of my story devices was confusing. I didn’t want another viewpoint character, so I made the original one more relatable. The confusing story device was also important to me, so I reworked it. Result? He was happy because the problems were fixed.
Of course, if you have a traditional publisher, an editor might ask for changes to fit their list and readership. Use your judgement, but remember this: if you are named as the author (ie it’s not work for hire) a publisher can’t change anything without your agreement. Dig your heels in if there is something you really disagree with. In a worst-case scenario they might decline to publish, but this rarely happens. (They also can’t make you agree to a cover or title you don’t like, BTW.)
If you’re indie, you of course have complete freedom to decide what to change. But consider whether an unsuitable suggestion is pointing to a problem you should tackle in a different way.
What, another stage of feedback? I’m afraid so. Copy edits are done after main developmental feedback. But they can still throw up enough problems to make you gnaw the desk.
Copy editors notice the tiny details that slipped by when everyone had bigger problems in mind. They also catch the errors that crept in as you went over the manuscript again and again. The murder victim’s hair might have changed colour. The timeline is impossible.
It’s better to be pre-emptive about this. Keep tight control of these details as you edit – especially the timeline. Although you can probably correct physical details such as characters’ ages and hair colour with a few inventive text searches, you can’t fix the timeline so easily and the whole plot might unravel if it’s wrong. (I map out the timeline when I make my beat sheet.)
The beat sheet is one of the tools described in my book Nail Your Novel … more about it here
Thanks for the pic Brainedge
Do you have any tips for tackling critique reports? Did you ever disagree with an editor’s suggestions and what was the outcome? Let’s share in the comments!
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