So, you’ve been working on your novel or memoir and now you’re wondering when is the best time for a developmental edit. Maybe you’re even wondering if you need a developmental edit. In fact, that is the best starting point for this topic.
Let’s check your writing background and circumstances.
Let’s take a look at your background and current circumstances. Have a look at these questions:
- Are you a beginner writer working on your first piece of writing?
- Do you have any experience of writing groups, workshops, or courses?
- Have you already had feedback on your writing from anyone likely to give you an honest assessment?
- Are you in a hurry to boost your writing skills as opposed to taking your time to learn your craft?
- Are you intending to publish your work yourself?
- Do you hope to make a career or at least a side gig out of writing?
I could have listed other questions, but I think this is a good starting point. Beginner writers don’t necessarily need to get a developmental edit on a rougher draft unless they are determined to shorten their learning time, they have the money, are aiming to publish themselves, and don’t have access to writing groups and other feedback. However, I’m not someone who believes people should be wasting their money on unnecessary services or services they are not yet ready for. So, let’s dig deeper.
Let’s assume you are working on your first book – either a novel or memoir. Perhaps you don’t have access to a local writing group and you’re not comfortable engaging with online writing communities. Maybe you’ve tried to join some but you’ve just never found the right one. Or maybe you’re just shy and hate participating and you prefer to share your work in a more controlled situation.
Developmental editing and manuscript critiques are still not your first option. There are times when they could be, but a beta read or working with a trustworthy critique partner might be a better cost-effective start. However, if you’ve not had much luck with beta readers, you might be reluctant to go down that path again. Nevertheless, it could still be worth your while looking for like-minded people online who are interested in your genre, are knowledgeable about it, and reliable enough to give you constructive feedback.
But, for whatever reason, maybe this has not worked out for you or you just don’t want to go down that route. I get it – writers can be introverts. And like creative people in general, they can be wary of sharing their work.
When you need feedback
However, sooner or later, you need feedback. For one thing, bad habits can become engrained and it can become difficult to shake them off. But you also want to know:
- Is my work good enough?
- Would anyone want to read it?
- Might an agent be interested?
- What can I do better? Where can I improve?
I have worked with quite a few beginner writers. In those instances, a developmental edit was useful for them because my prices at the time were lower. Some of them said I was cheaper than a writing course. But I did look on it to some degree as coaching mixed with developmental editing. The aim was to boost their skillset (and their manuscripts) to a whole new level.
Opening chapters edit – affordable, fast, detailed
But you don’t have to go for a full developmental edit to do this. You don’t even need to opt for a manuscript critique, which is cheaper but usually deals with an entire book. There are some editors, like myself, who offer opening chapters packages. I offer 15,000 words currently for £150 (or 10,000 for £115*). It’s a flat rate, so you always know what you’re paying. There are no extra costs. From a price perspective it’s more affordable, but it also means a newer writer doesn’t feel as overwhelmed by information and track comments right through the entire manuscript. It allows you to learn with less material.
Some of the things an opening chapters edit will deal with
- Your opening hook – do you grab the reader (and why it’s important to do so).
- Do your writing style and tone fit the book’s genre (you’d be surprised what can impact this).
- Your main character – are they well fleshed out and someone the reader will want to champion for an entire book?
- What are your main character’s goals, aspirations at the beginning of the story? What do they want?
- Narrative viewpoint(s) – does your point of view choice work in your narrative’s best interests?
- Do you have an antagonist or antagonistic force? Who/what is blocking your main character’s goals?
- If you have an antagonist, are they a fleshed-out credible character or a two-dimensional baddie with no redeeming features?
- How soon does your plot begin? (Hint: it should start pretty soon.)
- If you’re writing science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction, do you have a lot of worldbuilding at the outset? (Watch out – this is a pace killer and could leave your reader bailing out before the story is underway.)
- Character hierarchy – how many characters do you have, and how many are main characters, secondary, minor, etc? (Remember, the more time you give to minor and secondary characters, the less time you have for the main characters.)
- The emotional and psychological dominoes – if something good or bad happens to your character, they should not forget about it by the next chapter. This is a generalisation, but if someone has had a bad experience in real life, it reverberates for days, weeks, even years. (This will be the subject of another post.)
- Location: does your novel have a strong sense of place? (Location is more important to some stories than others.)
- Do you have either too much or too little dialogue? Do you use dialogue to tell the reader things in a way that’s maybe too obvious and clunky? Is your dialogue the right tone for the scenes?
- Do all your characters sound alike? (Do any of them have their own particular speech patterns?)
- Is your dialogue correctly formattted? (I’ve seen some odd stuff in my time!)
- Pacing – how well does your story move? Too fast? Too slow? The same speed all the way through?
- How does your paragraph formatting affect your pacing? (This is a topic I’ll address in a future blog post.)
- Are you using unnecessary transition scenes when you could just opt for a jump cut instead?
- Your plot structure – even though I only assess the first 15,000 words, I can also give you an idea of what you should be aiming for later on. Especially if you include a synopsis that helps outline the middle and end of your book.
- Themes and subjects the opening chapters address – for example, it might be a coming of age story about a young LGBT teen and the challenges they face.
These are only a few of the things that might get looked at in an opening chapters edit. It partly depends on the individual manuscript and the author’s strengths and weaknesses.
Don’t worry, all writers have their weaknesses!
What you get with an opening chapters edit
So, how does all this look in terms of what you get for your £150?
- An editorial letter that usually runs to at least a few thousand words.
- Track comments in the margins of your manuscript.
- A reading list that addresses editorial suggestions and helps you develop your skillset further.
- Where relevant, I might include a book map or visual material but not all manuscripts need this.
- Email support – I respond to your queries about the edit and will review a small number of short sample rewrites at no extra cost.
- A discount on a later manuscript critique or full developmental edit.
The beauty of an opening chapters edit is that it’s not overwhelming, either from the point of view of time, amount of information to consume, or price.
This is also a fast service – you can get your feedback a few days after your booking time.
You also don’t pay the full amount up front. If I’m booked up, you can pay £50 to book a time, £50 when you send me the manuscript (just before I start), and then £50 within 15 days of completion. If I’m not booked up, you can pay half in advance and half on completion.
When is the best time for a developmental edit? Whenever you’re ready! But don’t forget you have writing group and beta reader options first.