Posts Tagged developmental editing
Getting your manuscript back from a developmental editor can be an ordeal. Indeed it’s a writing rite of passage. But – deep breath – we’ve all been there. So here is some friendly handholding.
1 Rest assured, you are not alone in feeling anxious or, indeed overwhelmed. Opening a document with reams of comments usually feels like being disembowelled.
2 So much commentary? Most of us aren’t prepared for the level of detail. But editors are sensitive to issues, ideas and nuances you never thought would matter. This is what you want. They are a supercharged, supersensitive version of your ideal reader. Also, they are primed to explore the nooks and crannies you haven’t explored yourself, probably because you were intent on other things.
3 Many of the editor’s comments will be questions and appreciation, not deletions and corrections. They are working with your material, not against it. They are your book’s advocate.
4 Your first reactions won’t be the most reliable or useful. But you need to see everything, and quickly, so do a fast read just to see what’s there. Streak through the manuscript, perhaps with wine or a hefty bar of chocolate, but don’t take the comments too much to heart at this stage. That’s not to say they will be negative, but your book is a sensitive nerve and your first read-through will not be in your calmest state of mind. So read it, maybe sulk and fume. Then put it away. That first essential task is done. Take a break.
5 After this, it’s not as bad as you think. Read the report several more times. Now you’ve seen the worst – which is what you were looking for in the first read – look for other kinds of comment. A developmental report should be constructive, not destructive. Its aim is to help you make a worthwhile book for readers. Appreciate the report’s full scope. It should tell you what works as well as what doesn’t work. It should ask questions that are helpful, and guide you to solutions, not dead ends. Almost certainly you will fail to notice the things that the editor has praised, or the things that are not as bad as you think.
6 Let it settle. After a few days you’ll start to get spontaneous answers from your subconscious. Also, the outlook will seem more positive, especially if the report recommended drastic changes. At first, these might seem disruptive or impossible, and you might not adopt every suggestion your editor makes. The best solutions will come from you anyway. But after a few days you’ll have a new perspective on the deeper questions and you’ll see new possibilities. You might even begin to like the changes that initially made you despair.
7 Your editor will be waiting for follow-up questions, but allow time for their commentary to bed in. You will solve a surprising amount on your own, and soon a new vision of the book will take shape in your mind. Once you have that, you’ll find the most useful questions to discuss with your editor.
8 Also remember: you’re doing this for your book, because you believe in it.
Is there anything you’d add?
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Rachel Anderson asks: How did you get into editing? Did you start writing first and then take on editing as a natural second, or was it out of necessity since there are more opportunities for editors than writers?
Oof, talk about cutting to the quick. It’s certainly tricky to make a living as a full-time writer. So most writers also use their wordsmithing in some other way – teaching or working in the publishing trade.
But does that mean all writers could be editors? Not necessarily. There’s a lot of difference between tidying your own work and shaping someone else’s to professional standards.
And you need different skills for the various strains of editing.
Copy editing and proof reading These are the nitpicky, forensic phases. Fact-checking and querying. Reading for consistency, clarity, correctness, house style, possible libel. The copy editor and proof reader are a human error trap – they have to catch anything that might be inaccurate, or would spoil the reader’s experience or undermine the author’s command. They have to spot anything that could possibly go wrong such as characters’ names changing half-way through, repeated passages from copy/paste mistakes, and snafus that no other human has yet encountered.
Rachel: I’ve been reading articles and stuff about developmental editing…
Aha – the creative stuff! For developmental editing, you need a mind for detail and a solid grounding in the mechanics of fiction (or non-fiction or memoir if that’s where you want to specialise – they need developmental editors too). Developmental editing is part diagnosis, part teaching. You need sharp radar for what isn’t working, and you need to explain this to the writer in a way that helps them solve it. Equally, it might be your job to solve it.
The best developmental editors understand how writers work and think – and this is where it helps to be a writer yourself, although it’s not an essential. You need to appreciate what havoc your suggestions might cause – for instance, if you recommend a writer rejigs a plot thread or combines two characters.
You also have to be a mind-reader – the best editors can figure out what the writer was aiming to do and advise them on how to achieve it. Or how to steer them to a wise course with their material. Developmental editors also need to be steeped in the genres they’re working with – the advice you’d give a paranormal writer would be very different from the way you’d direct a literary one.
Rachel: Do I need to get certification or training before trying to get people to trust me? Should I try to land a traditional job with a press or publishing house instead of (or before) striking out on the freelance path?
You can get training in copy editing and proof reading – in the UK a good place to start is the Society for Editors and Proof Readers . It’s trickier to learn developmental editing as it’s a matter of experience and I don’t know of any vocational courses. Even if there were, it’s the kind of thing you have to develop a sense for.
Here’s what I’d advise – read all you can about how fiction works. Join a good critique group where some of the members are working authors. Most freelance developmental editors, though, earned their spurs in a publishing house – so yes, I think this is the best path and it’s the surest way to prove to writers that you’re bona fide. And you’ll usually find yourself doing the copy editing and proof reading as well. Even if that doesn’t light your fire, it’s a useful string to your bow.
If you want to know more about the world of editing, you might like this recent roundtable from Indie Fringe 2016.
Are there any editors out there? What would you add? Aspiring editors, what would you like to ask? And has anyone had bad experiences with an inexperienced editor?
I’ve had two questions recently about small publishers. First, Stacy Green: ‘Do you think self-publishing is a better option for new authors than a small publisher whose focus isn’t solely on the next bestseller?’
Also Tahlia Newland: My agent is waiting for the last 3 big publishers she queried for my book to get back to her. If no one wants it, it’s just small publishers left. I’m thinking I’d rather ebook self-publish than go for a small publisher who hasn’t got a big distribution. I’d be doing most of the publicity anyway, so why not be in a position to keep control and maximise profits? What do you think?
There’s an excellent piece here by Michelle Davidson Argyle on what a publisher should be able to do for you.
What I’ll add to that is my own opinion, from my own experience and that of author friends.
The term ‘small publisher’ can cover anything from the small adventurous imprints started by publishing professionals who have decamped from the major companies – to decidedly less qualified outfits led by people who are chancing their arm at publishing. With varying motives.
Quite clearly, the publishers started by the publishing professionals will have the edge. They have the experience, the expertise and the contacts – and you can weigh up an offer simply by googling them and finding out about their reputation. But some small – and micro-small – publishers may not be as good for you as going it alone.
It all comes down to what they will give you in return for the chunk they take and whether that suits you. And in some cases, you have to be able to assess whether they are properly set up to do the best for your book. Leaving aside the crooks, some of the very tiny publishers do not have enough experience in key areas of the business – but they don’t know how important those are. You’ll see from my horror stories below.
But first, here’s a run-down of the major areas in which a publisher can help you and the self-publishing alternatives.
Editorial help certainly can cost. If you go it alone you can hire a professional to do this, but it’s a hassle to set up and takes time away from your writing.
Art, editing and formatting all come with the package when you sign a publishing deal. Even harder to put a price on is the input of an editor who is in tune with what you want to do. The right editor, who chose your book from their company’s slush pile, has fallen in love with your work – unlike an editor you hire. Any good editor can make you better than you believed possible, but one who had to woo you will probably go the extra mile (provided you agree with their vision). They can guide you to revise and revise, and can reassure you when you’ve done enough. An editor you hire can only carry on as long as your purse can hold out. Having a trusted team around you who are helping you hone your book is terrific and irreplacable.
However, if you’re tied to a publisher you’re tied to their professionals. You may love the words people, but not like their cover artwork at all. And you may not get much clout to refuse cover designs you don’t like.
Moreover, you might be right to distrust those designs. I looked at the list of one small publisher and thought at first they were producing municipal leaflets – all their fiction had ugly covers produced with the one template. Yet they’d managed to get authors to sign up with them.
Distribution is where your book is stocked. If you go it alone, you can buy packages for this from the POD companies but if you don’t know what you’re getting how do you know what’s worth paying for? And let’s face it, it’s the least creative part of making books, so who has the patience to become expert in it?
But the grass isn’t necessarily greener in a publishing deal. Especially in companies that were set up solely by editorial or production people. And have never had to handle distribution. And don’t know what they don’t know.
I know of one publisher who produced beautiful copies of an author’s work – superior even to the very good quality that POD can produce – but couldn’t organise how to get the books onto Amazon. Instead they sold them through ebay, where no one buys books, and through an obscure website for that genre. They sent the author to a major fair to showcase his work and couldn’t arrange for copies of the book to be available there so that they could be sold. They got reviews in major magazines and the book still isn’t on Amazon.
Another question you have to ask yourself is: what is the publisher’s market reach? Can they market to more readers than you can on your own?
Publishers with rigorous selection procedures will be able to get reviews in places that never touch self-published works – such as the national newspapers. That’s a gate you simply can’t open on your own, no matter what you do.
But a couple of reviews aren’t enough to sell your book. You need other gates opened too – to wider audiences. I know of several small publishers who are well enough connected to be able to get reviews in influential places. But some aren’t at all, regardless of how much they talk about how passionately they love good books. Now that we all build tribes, this aspect of a publishing deal is like royal marriages. Some publishers’ tribes aren’t as big as those of some bloggers!
What rights do they keep?
This is a thorny question indeed and is why it is good to have a reputable agent on your side. I’m not offering legal advice here in any capacity, and every single case is different. So if you are currently studying the fine print of an offer and are worried about it, please get proper help. If you don’t have an agent, a rights lawyer can do it for you – although it will cost you (which is one of the reasons why an agent deserves their percentage).
Traditionally, most books are ‘in print’ for a period and once the run is sold they go ‘out of print’ or are printed again. After a certain period you may get your rights back or your contract may come up for renegotiation. Sometimes you can take the book elsewhere if you want.
Many small publishers launch a book through e-editions and print on demand. Print on demand allows a publisher to print a book only when it is needed, saving on warehousing. If a publisher uses POD, they might have a clause that says they will keep your book in print in perpetuity – and that means you can never take advantage of a better offer from somewhere else with a more prestigious reputation. Of course, to look at it from their point of view, they don’t want you using them as a stepping stone to something better, after they’ve put so much effort in (which they may or may not have, of course). Although any legal agreement can be undone if it’s wrangled enough, that’s messy and expensive.
There might even be clauses governing what you may work on in future and who owns it.
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We mustn’t forget that being published is the most important milestone a writer can imagine. What most of us want to do is write great books and find someone to handle the less interesting jobs and treat us fairly. A publishing offer may indeed do this. More than that, it may give you moral, emotional, practical and technical support that is beyond measure, pulling you out of isolation and into the ‘proper’ world of writing. After all, it’s not just about money; writers have an innate urge to share, communicate and to know our work is cherished.
But any deal you do is also a business deal about your career. Not all businessmen are nice. Or some may be terribly nice and awfully incompetent.
If you get any offer from a small or micro-publisher, look very carefully at what they will give you for what they will take.
Thank you, Very Urgent Photography, for the picture
Do you have any experience with small and micro-publishers? Share in the comments!
Oh – shameless plug – My Memories of a Future Life launches on August 30!
At Victoria Mixon’s again, for the last in our current batch of editor chats. It’s been great fun doing the series, bouncing ideas back and forth with a like-minded writer and editor. Even better, commenters are saying our series is as good as a writing conference – so thank you for that!
Tonight our subject is ‘Vision and revision’, or the buckets of perspiration that follow a bolt of inspiration. We talk about brainstorming and developmental editing, the imaginative quarrying that makes a nebulous idea into a solid novel and how, in the midst of all that sweat we keep our vision fresh. Heady stuff – come and see.
(Thank you, Compujeramay on Flickr, for the photo) Plus Victoria was dared by a naughty tweep to give the post an outrageous and topical URL. No, I didn’t encourage her at all. Nothing to do with me.