Developmental Editing

  • Wasting your money on a copyedit or proofread?

    Wasting 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.

    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 needed a critique too. 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 are 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.


    Want to try a free sample developmental edit?

    I’m currently offering a free sample edit of 2000 words. This will include an editorial report and track commenting in the margins of your manuscript. If you’re interested, you can contact me at: karen@indiecateditorial.com

    The manuscript should be in Word. I will consider a pdf or Google doc, but please let me know first if you can’t provide a Word doc. It’s the standard file format for developmental editing.


    Other IndieCat posts you might find useful

    Social media blockers

    Don’t make this mistake on your author website

    Boost your writing with the Pomodoro Technique

    How to order the stories in a collection

    Why your book cover design matters

  • My gripe with some developmental editors

    My gripe with some developmental editors.
    Developmental editors need training.

    Here’s my gripe with some of my fellow developmental editors. Before I went anywhere near my first client, I made sure I had plenty of training.

    And that training was on the back of decades of giving feedback to fiction writers in writing groups. Plus reviewing for a popular Scottish website.

    So, when I encounter editors who offer this service without training, I get pretty pissed. Because this is not some glorified beta read.

    Just because you have opinions about fiction doesn’t mean you’re qualified to charge money for a critique. Copyediting fiction doesn’t make you automatically qualified to developmentally edit a novel. If you expect clients to pay you for these services, the least you can do is make sure you’ve actually studied and your work is vetted by an expert.

    Your client is not just paying for the editing you’re doing, they’re also paying for your expertise, which in part comes from your training. Training you should have invested in.

    But I get the distinct impression some people are downloading manuscript critique templates and reading a book or two. Then, off they go.

    You don’t know what you don’t know

    I cannot imagine having this level of entitlement. The problem with learning a new subject is you don’t know how much you don’t know. Initially you might feel you’re learning a lot. Then there comes the point where the horizons of your new subject shoot out into the distance and you suddenly realise how much more you have to learn.

    It’s a little lesson in humility. But if you’re too dumb to study in the first place, you might not get that lesson. At least, not until a more experienced client slaps you in the face with your own failings.

    Fledgling proofreaders are warned to make sure they’re properly trained (at least in the UK). Yet the same concern for standards is completely absent for developmental editing. Which is considerably more expensive than proofreading.

    Recommended training courses

    Here are some recommended developmental editing courses:

    The three beginner, intermediate and advanced courses in full developmental editing formerly available from the Editorial Freelancers Association and now available from the Club Ed site. The tutor is Jennifer Lawler. The great thing about Jennifer’s advanced course is you get to do a full edit of a novel with track commenting which she reviews. She also offers more courses through her site, Club Ed.

    The Introduction to Developmental Editing at the Author-Editor Clinic focuses more on manuscript critiques. The tutor, Barbara Sjoholm, takes you through the different elements of a critique letter. I really enjoyed this course. I think I was one of only about two students in that particular round of the course who opted to do the harder final assessment – a full manuscript critique of the novel I’d used for the course. There was an easier assignment, but I didn’t pay $399 or whatever not to have my work fully checked.

    Liminal Pages offers two courses in developmental editing – Theory and Practical. The tutor is Sophie Playle and this course, unlike the others, is in the UK.

    There’s also a course on book mapping from the Editorial Freelancers Association. This involves using Excel spreadsheets to analyse books scene by scene. It allows for detailed digging into a manuscript.

    There are other courses too, but these are the ones I’m most familiar with. They’re also the best for anyone thinking of getting into this field and authors should look for editors who’ve invested in courses like these.

    At some point in the near future I will review these courses for anyone who might be interesting in taking them. I enjoyed all of them and would recommend them to others.

  • 9 reasons why you don’t need an editor

    9 reasons why you don't need an editor
    9 reasons why you don’t need an editor

    So, you want to publish your novel yourself. Here’s 9 reasons why you don’t need an editor.

    Reason #1: Your novel is perfect as it is

    Yeah, umm… probably not. Next…

    #Reason #2: Your mother loved it. LOVED it

    Is your mother an editor? If she is, does she have the objectivity to be honest with you? Or might she worry that being honest will wreck your relationship?!

    Reason #3: Your best friend promised to give you feedback

    There’s nothing wrong with getting a friend to read your book. BUT, if they’re doing it as a favour, you have to wait until they’re ready. When they made that promise, they never factored in the length of the book, how long it would take them, or their own confidence in their critical skills.

    In fact, once it lands in their inbox, they might well procrastinate until the cows come home.

    Likewise, beta readers often vanish, don’t bother to respond, or fail to give sufficient feedback. If you have good beta readers, they are worth a lot, but they’re not editors and once you’ve ironed out their concerns, that takes you to the next level.

    The next level involves technical issues like structure, point of view, head hopping, show versus tell, and a whole bunch of other things.

    There are so many balls to juggle when you’re writing. Did you drop any?

    Did the beta readers or your pal notice that someone exited stage right on page 83, never to be seen again, even though they kind of seemed like an important secondary character?

    Reason #4: Editing is a waste of money

    Here’s the thing, if you’ve written a novel, you’ve already put a huuuugeee amount of time into it.

    And time, as they say, is money. You could have made other choices on how to spend your time. For example, you could have set up a side hustle. But you decided to write a book instead.

    So, you have invested a lot of time, energy, thought, ambition, and hope in your work.

    Why?

    Do you hope people will buy it? This means putting it into the marketplace where it has to compete with other books. Potential readers can download a Kindle sample and check it out. If there are problems with the opening chapters, they will bail out.

    If you don’t mean to send it off to an agent or publish yourself then it’s true you don’t need an editor. There is one exception – if you want to do better next time. Then it might be worth investing in professional feedback to take your skills to the next level.

    Then again, you could save money and join a good writing group.

    Reason #5: I’m shelling out for a book cover. What more do I want?

    Bad covers can kill reader interest. Good covers still need good content.

    Imagine a reader excited by the cover art, the genre, the blurb, only to give up before they get to the end of the first chapter.

    Maybe your story fails to start, the characters are boring, or your worldbuilding is taking over the book.

    Maybe your story is just plain boring, and they want to throw the book at the wall.

    As a developmental editor, I’ve had indie authors come to me after their book has been published, so I can fix their mistakes. So, they still needed an edit after all.

    Reason #6: I’m only doing this as a hobby

    And that’s fine. Some people genuinely don’t care if anyone reads their book.

    For some people, writing a book is on their bucket list, and once it’s done, it’s over. In which case, you might well choose to skip editing.

    But if you’re hoping that book gets some readers, it’s probably best to get some input.

    Reason #7: You don’t need to spend money to publish a book these days

    It’s true you can skip editing, design your own cover, do your own marketing, and so on. You might have a free blog you can use and you have Twitter and Facebook for promotion.

    But, here’s the thing, so do loads of other people. Thousands upon thousands of them.

    Have you ever hung around the #writerslift hashtag on Twitter? So many people promoting their books in the desperate hope that they’ll grab a few more readers.

    Often they’re promoting more to other writers, who don’t necessarily have the time to buy or read all those books.

    You need to appeal more to readers.

    Yes, readers can also be writers. But whoever you promote to, things like cover design, genre, plot, and sample opening pages will be the deciding factor for a lot of people.

    To beat the competition, your book needs to be polished, and that includes editing.

    Reason #8: Your novel is a staggering work of genius already. Who needs a fucking edit?

    Who indeed? Well, you, actually. No one writes a genius novel, perfectly polished, no flabby bits, plot holes, saggy middles, or weak endings. No head hopping.

    Oh wait, was the head hopping deliberate? Like a stylistic choice?

    Uh-huh.

    Reason #9: Some mate on Twitter says you don’t need an editor and they’ve never used one

    Did your mate do well with their own book? Might they have had an unfortunate encounter with an editor? Perhaps they’re still gnashing their teeth over negative feedback and now they have an axe to grind.

    Some people do display a strange amount of anger towards editors. It’s almost as if they think editors are out to get them, destroy their cherished dreams, murder their first-born child (their book).

    In reality, most editors get into this business because they love reading and they love books. They feel passionately about helping writers become better authors. They want to see their clients do well.

    Still, there’s no law that says you need an editor.

    The truth is, for indie authors, you can do what you want. You can choose where to focus your attention – marketing, cover art and design, the various levels of editing, etc.

    There’s no doubt that addressing everything comes with a price tag attached. A price you don’t have to pay when you have a traditional publisher to cover the costs for you. So, compromises may have to be made. Corners cut.

    It might come down to leaving out a round of editing or relying on beta readers to try and pick up your developmental issues.

    If you see indie publishing as a business, then you will definitely come to understand the costs of doing business.

    In business, it’s normal to hire contractors. In serious indie publishing, it’s no different. Budgeting for this is a topic for another day.

    So, there you have it, 9 reasons why you don’t need an editor.

    But if you are looking for a developmental editor, you can check out my post on the difference between a developmental edit and a manuscript critique.

    Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

  • Developmental edit or manuscript critique?

    Developmental edit or manuscript critique
    Developmental edit or manuscript critique?

    What is the difference between a manuscript critique and a full developmental edit? What can you expect from each service? And which might be best for your circumstances?

    The basics

    Developmental editing focuses on the so-called “big picture” elements of a book – the plot, characterisation, theme, structure, and so on.

    Just to confuse things further, it’s also known as content editing, or structural editing.

    Whatever you want to call it, it’s the first step in professional editing, often preceded by writing group feedback and beta readers.

    When a writer wants their manuscript critiqued, they’re still in the process of polishing their overall story.

    Copyediting focuses on language, grammar, punctuation, consistency (including the use of a style guide), and legal issues like copyright law, trademark law, and libel issues. And that’s just a few of the things a copyeditor will deal with. By the time you get to a proofreader, most of the errors should be gone.

    Of course, not everyone can afford one round of editing, let alone several.

    So, what are the benefits of a developmental edit or manuscript critique?

    An editor brings fresh eyes to the entire manuscript. They can see what’s there, not what the writer thinks is there.

    During rewrites, it’s all too easy for a writer to remove things by accident. Writers also have a different picture of what’s on the page. They can fill in the gaps.

    An editor’s job is to point out those gaps so they can be plugged before the book is published.

     

     

    What’s a developmental edit?

    You should expect the following in a full developmental edit:

    • An editorial letter
    • A copy of your manuscript with track comments or commentary/corrections/suggestions in the margins.

    I’m going to deal with the track comments first. What should you expect there?

    • Track commenting or other editorial input in the submitted manuscript
    • These comments deal with both macro and micro issues.
    • The macro (big picture) issues are likely to be further addressed in the accompanying editorial letter.
    • The micro issues are usually not important enough for the editorial letter unless they represent a repeating problem – in which case, they become a macro issue.
    • Some editors also offer some level of line editing in the manuscript, but there’s a limit to how much is useful since the writer is likely to rewrite their book.
    • Some level of line editing can be used as a sample of what to do, as a coaching service, teaching the writer how to handle a particular issue in their next draft.
    • At its best, a good DE can offer constructive critique beyond the manuscript in question – it should also offer advice that can be carried over into the writer’s next book.

    So, what about the accompanying editorial letter?

    Bearing in mind this is a full developmental edit and not a manuscript critique (which I address further down), the letter doesn’t have to carry the weight of the entire editorial commentary. But here’s what it should include:

    • The editorial letter should acknowledge early on that the author is under no obligation to follow all the suggestions made by the editor.
    • Editorial letters often contain the proviso that the editor may have misread certain things and to disregard any suggestions that may result.
    • If the writer has asked the editor to check out certain issues they’re concerned about, the editor will address those questions somewhere in the editorial letter (and possibly the manuscript itself).
    • In general, the letter should focus on the overarching issues and address the main points.
    • It should provide a clear roadmap for revision.
    • It should not consist of a long list of disconnected problems and no overall solutions.
    • The editor should be looking for the smallest number of solutions that fix the largest number of problems.
    • The letter (and the track commenting in the manuscript) should address things the writer does well – since writers often don’t understand their own strengths, let alone how such skills can be used in other parts of their manuscript).

    Some editors also include supplementary material like diagrams, book maps, or a style guide.

    A developmental edit should be a workable plan the writer can understand and implement. It should also be a plan that has anticipated the fallout that occurs when you start making changes.

    Making one significant change alone can set off a chain reaction throughout the manuscript. Imagine making several changes!

    That’s the kind of thing an editor should anticipate.

    An editor never knows what suggestions the writer will take on board, and what will be rejected, so this is not a science. However, I’ll offer up examples of what I call fallout or the domino effect.

    In a novel I wrote, I later figured out (through doing a critique of my own manuscript) that a viewpoint change would solve numerous problems.

    • It allowed me to get closer to the characters even though I’d moved from first to third.
    • My main modern character no longer had to know what happened in the past.
    • Switching to third allowed a more immediate experience of the past, including moments of tension – previously many events had been recorded in diaries or letters.
    • And of course, people in real life self-censor in diaries and letters, especially in the past, so written personal accounts are not the best means to represent the more intimate facts of a character’s life.
    • Moving to third allowed easier point of view shifts, including within chapters, which then allowed me to tightly weave the historic backstory with the modern story.
    • And that led to serious restructuring where material became more evenly distributed throughout the manuscript.
    • This also helped pace and other problems.

    The point is that one suggestion can have multiple effects on a manuscript. And not necessarily in a good way. This is why an editor needs to consider the possible knock-on effects of their suggestions.

    On the other hand, if an editor can come up with core solutions that solve multiple problems, it leads to a clearer plan of action.

    The downside for the writer, at least in some instances, is a more substantial rewrite than they’d hoped for. However, if your central plot is solid, and your characters are vibrant, you already have solid foundations for the next draft.

    So let’s look at the more abbreviated manuscript critique service.

     

    What can you expect in a manuscript critique?

    First of all, there’s no track commenting or editing of the manuscript. This means that the editorial letter has to carry the full weight of the feedback. Although manuscript critique services are cheaper, that doesn’t necessarily mean the editorial letter is shorter. Editors will vary in terms of the length of their manuscript critique report versus their developmental editing report.

    Prices have more to do with the amount of work involved and the time it takes to complete it.

    Authors on a budget might also request an abbreviated service. This option includes an edit of a portion of the manuscript or even a triage edit. The latter focuses on the main problems and lets the smaller issues slide.

    With a full manuscript critique you should expect the following:

    • It should come with the acknowledgement that you don’t have to take all the advice it contains.
    • If you’ve communicated concerns about your manuscript, the editor should address these concerns somewhere in the letter.
    • The editorial letter may follow a template structure, dealing with different topics such as plot, theme, character, etc, each under different headings. This is also true of a DE letter.
    • Not all critique letters follow a template structure – I had one where the editor spent the first half addressing my concerns, and then the second half addressing her own, which she listed in chronological order rather than under subject headings.
    • The letter should deal with the big issues and some of the medium-level issues at least. But it’s less likely to deal with very small problems in the manuscript unless they follow a pattern.
    • A good manuscript critique should be able to assess the current state of your manuscript and offer advice on how to improve it

    As for the length of the editorial letter, this will vary according to the needs of your manuscript, the working practices of the editor, and the size and extent of the critique you purchased.

    Also, listing issues and problems separately without an overarching plan can lead to a longer letter that isn’t necessarily as helpful as one that focuses on the central issues.

    So, the length of the letter is not a sign of how useful it will be or the quality of the service.

     

    How to deal with a critique or DE

    So, how should a writer handle editorial feedback?

    I’ve been on the end of an editorial letter myself. I can confirm that there’s a lot to take on board. Inevitably, a full DE has even more information to digest.

    As an aside, one of my tutors claimed she’d never met a writer who’d read all the way through the track commenting in their manuscript before they started revising. My first thought was that’s exactly what I would do as a writer. I’d want to see the bigger picture with the feedback before I started revising.

    But how useful it would be might relate to whether a novel is written in chronological order. If scenes appear out of sequence, the editor’s commentary at the end might matter more for rewriting the beginning. In a chronological narrative, it doesn’t necessarily matter so much.

    But whether you have an editorial letter or full DE, don’t be surprised if you need weeks to digest it. Some comments and information might hit you hard first – especially those you’re more resistant to.

    There might be gems buried in the letter that you initially miss.

    You need to read the letter more than once. Then you can put it away for a while before returning to it. This is especially true if you don’t like the feedback.

    Good editorial feedback should be what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. The latter is simply a waste of money.

    Some editors will include a time frame in which you can send them questions or request clarification. After that, you have to pay them for more consultation time. There are some who will not include much aftercare.

    I think for less experienced authors, aftercare is important. But it does eat into an editor’s schedule.

    A full developmental edit can take around four to six weeks depending on the length and complexity of the manuscript.

    The editor has to read the manuscript several times. They make notes, add track commenting, draw up and organise the editorial letter, etc, and check they haven’t missed anything.

     

    Which service is best for your needs?

    If you’re intending to send your manuscript to an agent, then you don’t need a full developmental edit.

    Of course, you might want one, but you don’t need it.

    Technically, you don’t need a manuscript critique either. Agents don’t expect to see perfect novels landing in their inboxes.

    However, many authors do choose to have some level of manuscript critique. You can opt for abbreviated versions that focus on the main issues while letting the small stuff slide.

    If you’re submitting to agents and getting knockbacks, then it’s worth having a manuscript critique. That way you can see what should be done to improve your book. Then you can revise and continue submitting.

    If you reach the end of the line with agents or the traditional publishing industry, you still have the option of the indie route.

    Indie authors most benefit from a full developmental edit. However, the service is sadly beyond the reach of most price-wise. However, it’s worth keeping an eye out for special deals and newer editors who probably won’t charge as much.

    I’ve listed good DE courses below so you know what to look for in an editor’s training.

    • Developmental Editing: Fiction Theory – Liminal Pages
    • Developmental Editing: In Practice – Liminal Pages
    • Introduction to Developmental Editing: Book-Length Fiction and Creative Nonfiction – Author-Editor Clinic
    • Developmental Editing of Fiction – Beginning, Editorial Freelancers Association*
    • Developmental Editing of Fiction – Intermediate, EFA*
    • Developmental Editing of Fiction – Advanced, EFA*

    *Courses marked with an asterisk have since been moved to Club Ed and are no longer available at the EFA. There are also other courses available from tutor, Jennifer Lawler, at the Club Ed site

    It’s worth pointing out that the Author-Editor Clinic course offers trainee editors the opportunity to write a manuscript critique letter in their final assignment and have it reviewed by the course tutor who is an experienced editor. However, it’s optional and not obligatory.

    The EFA/Club Ed Advanced DE course focuses on a full developmental edit with an editorial letter and track commenting in the manuscript. This is a very intensive course and the final edit and letter are reviewed by the course tutor who is also an experienced editor.

     

    Want to try a free developmental editing sample of 2,500 words?

    If you want to trial developmental editing and see if we’re a good fit, you can try a free sample edit. This will include a report and track commenting in the manuscript. Obviously, there will be limitations to what I can say with such a small sample of your work, but it will give you an idea of what’s involved. The maximum wordcount is 2,500 and this offer is open only for novellas and novels. It does not include short stories or non-fiction. However, if you are working on a memoir, you can also contact me about a sample edit.

    If you want to know more about a developmental edit versus a manuscript critique, you can check out my general developmental editing services page.

     

    Other IndieCat Editorial posts you might find useful

    Wasting your money on a copyedit or proofread?

    Researching your novel’s locations online

    Don’t make this mistake on your author website

    Boost your writing with the Pomodoro Technique

    How to order the stories in a collection

    Why your book cover design matters