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  • When is the best time for a developmental edit?

    When is the best time for a developmental edit?
    When is the best time for a developmental edit?

    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.

  • Wasting your money on a copyedit or proofread?

    Are you wasting your money on a copyedit or proofread?
    Wasting your money on a copyedit or proofread

    There’s a problem I’ve encountered with a number of my developmental editing clients. You know what it is? Maybe you can tell from the title of this post. Yep, you guessed it, they paid for a copyedit or proofread of their novel or memoir and only then sent their manuscript to me.

    Why?

    I think there are a number of reasons:

    • Writers don’t always know the correct order of editing (which I deal with below).
    • They got a copyedit/proofread but it was later suggested they need a critique. Ouch! Money wasted.
    • They published the book (without a critique) and then needed to pull it to improve it.
    • The copyeditor/proofreader wasn’t honest about the type of editing that was needed.
    • The copyeditor/proofreader was honest but the client ignored it for any number of reasons.

    I’ve also noticed that some clients are sending me formatted books that are still early on in their development. This can sometimes make the editing a little more difficult. It’s best to send manuscripts with double-spaced text, but some people are sending single-spaced documents that already look like ebooks. Not so much space to leave margin comments.

    Are you wasting your money on a copyedit or proofread?

    Developmental editing requires rewriting parts of the book. You might have to restructure the book, change parts of the plot, delete scenes or chapters. If you have the book copyedited first, you’ve totally wasted your money because you’re going to have to have the book edited again, once the developmental editing is complete.

    Here is the editorial timeline:

    • Critique partners/writing groups/beta readers.
    • Professional beta readers if you choose to use this service.
    • Developmental editor – either a critique or a full developmental edit.
    • Line editor/copyeditor.
    • Proofreading is the final stage to check everything is correct and spelling and formatting is consistent, etc.

    You don’t have to go through every layer of editing here. You could choose the following:

    • Writing group/critique partners
    • Manuscript critique
    • Proof-edit

    This would be cheaper though it wouldn’t be as detailed. Still, if you’re on a budget, it’s worth bearing in mind.

    There is absolutely no point in paying for copyediting and proofreading when you’re still working on the plot and bigger picture issues.

    Seriously folks, don’t do this. Some of my writers have completely wasted time and money on copyeditors and/or proofreaders. Indie publishing already has costs. Don’t make it more expensive than is necessary. You want the best book you can deliver to readers, but you also don’t want to get ripped off in the process.

  • Don’t make this mistake on your author website

    Don't make this mistake on your author website. Social media icons at the top of the page? Kill them with fire!
    Social media icons: don’t make this mistake on your author website.

    A while back, I watched a great webinar on website design by Gill Andrews. I ended up buying her book, which has bite-sized chapters which get straight to the point. One thing she made me do was to remove the social media icons at the top of my website. And I’m here to tell you: don’t make this same mistake with your author website.

    I was reminded of this yesterday in the middle of a business mentorship thingy from Ash Ambirge. I was one of the lucky beta folks who signed up, so I’m currently wallowing in all sorts of useful information.

    Anyways, she also recommended removing these icons from the top of your business website page. But, ha, thanks to Gill, I’d already ticked that one off my list. The icons were gone.

    Gone, gone, gone.

    Which is just as well because two of the three accounts were neglected and the other one is my nemesis. (My nemesis, if you’re interested, is Twitter.)

    So, what’s the problem with your site visitors seeing your Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram icons? Well, apart from the fact you might be neglecting some of the accounts, so do you really want potential readers going over there? Guess what? That’s not actually the worst of it, though it’s not great. No, here’s the bigger reason.

    Social media icons are outbound links

    If your social media icons are the first things they encounter when they land, they might just be tempted to click one of those icons.

    And, folks, that would be terrible.

    Terrible.

    Those icons are outbound links. They are teleporters. Your visitor has now been teleported to another site.

    Slap yourself with a wet kipper.

    Cause you and I both know those social media sites are designed to be addictive. How many website visitors are already longing to go back and check their Twitter or Facebook account anyway, to see what’s happening?

    Far. Too. Many.

    Don’t give them any more excuses than they have already.

    Teleporting new visitors to Twitter is bad!

    If you’re an author with a website, you don’t want your new website visitor to be offered a range of teleportation destinations that takes them AWAY. It’s like installing a revolving door with the word ‘exit’ in Twitter and Facebook icons. Because that’s what you’ve installed – a revolving door. Or, an exit right next to the entrance.

    Or, just a plain old teleporter (and believe me, they’re old to those of us who watched the original Star Trek, or who’ve spent time in Second Life).

    Don’t do it!

    Think you can compete with Twitter? Ha!

    I know having people follow you on social media would seem to make sense, but that’s not what’s likely to happen. Seriously, it won’t.

    Because… you can’t compete with cat videos and the latest news.

    Your website visitor will forget about you right after they go ‘check out’ your account. Those top trends will catch their attention, or maybe you’re tweeting a hashtag that interests them.

    Then, click, they’re gone!

    Yes, your website may still be open in one of their browser tabs, but so are a million other things. A million other things they will never return to.

    Here’s the solution – remove the teleporters!

    So, what do you do on your website? First up, you remove those teleporters at the top of your home page. The ones that present an invisible doorman who says, “Hey, nice to see you, now here’s the way out!”

    Remove them.

    Now.

    Don’t wait until whenever.

    Get rid of them.

    And here’s the bigger reason why. It’s not just that most website visitors will spend mere seconds on a site before they leave (and you don’t want to push them out the door any faster). No, there’s another very good reason.

    New visitors need time to get to know you

    If they’re new to your site, they don’t know you yet. So, why would they follow you? There’s so many people to follow. So many shiny accounts.

    You need to ensure that you hook their interest in you first. That means your website has to hold them for longer than a few seconds. You want to entice them to pull up a chair and browse your site. You want them to get to know you and your work.

    And you want to remove anything that will push them out the exit fast. This also means you need to watch where you place outbound links. You want your website visitor to have time to look around before they get tempted with anything clickable.

    So, where do you put social media icons. I have personally removed them completely for the time being, but you can put them at the very bottom of your page. That way, your visitors have the chance to read your content first.

    And if you’re finding social media addiction is interfering with your writing time, here’s an old post I wrote on social media blockers. I use Cold Turkey – the free version. There’s a paid version too which I haven’t used.

  • Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith – Andrew Wilson (2004)

    In this Whitbread-shortlisted biography by Andrew Wilson, Patricia Highsmith is shown to be a woman who never found true happiness. Condemned by her own psychology to seek out inappropriate and often unavailable women, she never had a relationship that lasted longer than a few years. An almost life-long alcoholic, Highsmith’s happiest moments came from writing. She was misanthropic, lonely, shy, often hiding behind her curtain of black hair. But she was a brilliant writer, unappreciated in her own country, the United States, where publishers were obsessed with the categorisation of fiction. Highsmith’s fiction, like the woman herself, defied categorisation.

    As Andrew Wilson elegantly illustrates in Beautiful Shadow, the writer’s problems began early in life, in her family circumstances. Her biological father was almost unknown to her, and she was raised by her mother and stepfather (who gave her the Highsmith name.) The Oedipal complex is given a twist here since the young girl had an intense love for her mother, and a desire to kill her stepfather. Highsmith’s difficult love-hate relationship with her mother, Mary, lay at the root of her problems with women, as Highsmith herself recognised:

    “I am married to my mother I shall never wed another.”

    Her mother, meanwhile, could see the teenage Highsmith was not “normal” and at one point advised her to “straighten up and fly right.”

    Although her sexuality was not clear-cut, Highsmith on the whole preferred women, but she constantly engaged in fantasy relationships with unavailable heterosexual women, or became involved with difficult or controlling partners.

    Patricia Highsmith’s feelings about herself as a woman were complicated by the fact that she saw herself at times as having a male identity. Although very beautiful, she had a tendency to dress slightly butch, softening it with a necklace or lipstick. Her fellow students at the all-female Barnard College thought she seemed “dashing.” She was certainly promiscuous, successfully luring both straight and non-heterosexual women into her bed.

    For a time, during a relationship with a man she hoped to marry, she underwent analysis, in the hopes of turning herself heterosexual. Her biographer records this well, setting it within the context of psychoanalytic attitudes of the period. As Wilson points out, the therapist’s interpretation of Highsmith’s case was “laughably simplistic and over-dependent on Freudian theory.” Not only that, such practitioners failed to recognise that Freud did not believe in “curing” homosexuals, but instead in counselling them into accepting their sexuality. Pat’s therapist recommended group therapy alongside married women with latent homosexual tendencies. Writing in her diary, Highsmith mused:

    “Perhaps I shall amuse myself by seducing a couple of them.”

    Needless to say, the therapy proved useless.

    Highsmith was a passionate diarist. She left countless “cahiers,” her notebook/diaries which Wilson had access to. These cahiers go back to her youth. Consequently, the biography is very detailed, and the reader gets the impression that Wilson’s book could have been double or triple the size. One of the frustrating things is the inability to go into greater detail about individual episodes. This is not Wilson’s fault though, because he’s dealing with a huge volume of information. But it would be fascinating to read more of Highsmith’s words directly and perhaps it might be possible in some other book in the future. On the other hand, because of the density of information, it would be possible to read this biography a second time and get even more out of it, particularly if read in conjunction with her work, which Wilson analyses.

    Highsmith’s cahiers are a vital insight into her personal life, her psychology, and her mindset as a writer. From them, Wilson has been able to construct how Strangers on a Train came into being and where her most famous character, Ripley, came from. Something else that becomes obvious is the way she used her infatuations with women in her work. Her lesbian novel, The Price of Salt (now Carol) was inspired by a woman, Kathleen Senn, who walked into the toy department of Bloomingdale’s where the twenty-seven-year-old Highsmith was working temporarily. Highsmith was immediately smitten with Senn but never met her again. However, she later tracked the woman down to her address and saw her in a car as it backed out the driveway and headed towards her. Writing about it later in her diary, Highsmith said:

    “For the curious thing yesterday, I felt quite close to murder too, as I went to see the woman who almost made me love her when I saw her a moment in December, 1948. Murder is a kind of making love, a kind of possessing. (Is it not, too, a way of gaining complete and passionate attention, for a moment, from the object of one’s attentions?) To arrest her suddenly, my hands upon her throat (which I should really like to kiss) as if I took a photograph, to make her in an instant cool and rigid as a statue.”

    Kathleen Senn became the unsuspecting muse who inspired The Price of Salt, a book remarkable for its happy ending, something not previously seen in lesbian literature in the 1950s. In spite of the fact that Highsmith never had any contact with Senn, Wilson managed to track down the woman’s surviving relatives, and he brings out the other more poignant side of this brief encounter. What Highsmith never knew is that the glamorous, sophisticated older woman she encountered in Bloomingdale’s had a history of mental health problems. Sometime before the publication of The Price of Salt, Senn walked into her garage, closed the door, and switched on the engine of her car, never knowing the part she’d played in literary history.

    Throughout her life, Highsmith would use the women around her, lovers or women admired from afar, as her muses. In spite of this, Highsmith was considered by some to be a misogynist. Andrew Wilson, though, shows the difficulties in such an easy reading of Highsmith’s character. The women in Pat’s life lived in the shadow of her mother. Highsmith was a shy, lonely character, and her behaviour at times could be misinterpreted. There’s no question she was a difficult human being to be around. But she had her admirers as well as her detractors. Some people had a better understanding of her nature. She was a brutally honest person, which didn’t always serve her well, though some admired her for it. Her political opinions were hard to define. Some could be termed left-wing liberal, whereas others veered to the right, and included anti-Semitic tendencies as well as a virulent hatred of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.

    Highsmith spent a great deal of her adulthood in Europe. In exile, she watched in horror as the U.S. went into various conflicts, and her visits back to America often served to confirm her opinion that the country had lost its way. She saw it as a modern-day Roman Empire, and her criticisms wove their way into her fiction.

    Highsmith wasn’t a popular writer in America during her lifetime. The irony is the way she’s been embraced there since her death. Wilson believes Highsmith was a writer ahead of her time. Her books, which some have seen as evil and immoral, don’t tread an easy path. She was more interested in psychopaths than do-gooders, and these psychopaths were often the viewpoint characters, drawing the reader into their amoral worlds.

    In spite of this, she was a gentle person in real life and a pacifist. Generally, she preferred animals to people and had a life-long love of cats and snails. Wilson documents how Highsmith smuggled her pet snails into France under her breasts. Snails and cats are somehow fitting companions for this misanthropic woman. Her love of animals would take a comic dark turn in some of her short stories, where animals got their revenge on humans, particularly in The Animal-Lover’s Book of Beastly Murder.

    For those wishing to track down her publications, especially the short story collections, there’s a list of her books at the beginning of the biography. Wilson does not ignore the significance of her short stories, summarising their plots and analysing them along with the novels.

    He’s also managed to get some quite revealing information from some of Highsmith’s lovers, as well as those who worked with her. It’s to his credit that he doesn’t set Highsmith within a heterosexist reading of human sexuality or gender. He clearly has enormous sympathy and respect for “Pat” even as he depicts her, warts and all.

    Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith is an exceptionally well-written and researched book. Wilson has done a fine job in pulling together the strands of this remarkable woman’s life.

    This review was originally written in 2004.