developmental editing

  • Why choose an opening chapters edit?

    Why choose an opening chapters developmental edit?
    Why choose an opening chapters developmental edit?

    As a developmental editor I offer a number of editing options to potential clients. The most obvious two are a manuscript critique and a developmental edit.

    Manuscript critique

    In the case of the first, you get a lengthy report focusing on not just the main issues in your manuscript, you also get some lower level feedback. And I’ll also tell you what you’re getting right! This option comes with a reading list that’s specially targeted for your needs. I recently offered a lower priced version of this option which requires only three reads. My preference is four.

    Two reads for me is what I would call a Beta Critique. It’s beyond a beta read, but not as extensive as a manuscript critique.

    Manuscript critiques don’t include margin comments, unless you opt to purchase an add-on service. For example:

    • You want margin comments for the first 5000 words of your manuscript on top of the report.

    Other word count options are available.

    Developmental edit

    With developmental editing you get a report and margin comments throughout the manuscript. This is a much more detailed type of editing and takes longer. It also gives you more feedback.

    Opening chapters developmental edit

    On top of these services, I offer an opening chapters developmental edit. The usual length here is the first 10,000 words or 15,000 words (it can vary). This is a great opportunity to test out developmental editing without having to commit to full developmental editing costs.

    You can also learn a lot from an opening chapters edit:

    • Does your story open in the best place?
    • Do you have a good opening hook?
    • Are you dropping in too much backstory?
    • Is your main character well established in the opening chapters?
    • Do your opening chapters and style of writing conform to the genre you’re aiming for?
    • Are you adopting the right tone?
    • Are you using too much internal dialogue?
    • Is your dialogue properly formatted?
    • Is your opening well paced?
    • Are you using the best POV for your story?
    • Do you have head hopping issues in your story?

    In addition to these and other issues, if you include the synopsis, I can check to see if the opening of your novel is fulfilled by the ending. With the synopsis I can also address character arc, theme, etc.

    With the opening chapters developmental edit, you get a report consisting of a few thousand words, plus margin comments and a reading list.

    NEW: Opening chapters manuscript critique

    However, I’m now offering an alternative to the opening chapters edit – one that mimics a manuscript critique, where you only get the report, no margin comments. Because this takes less time, the price will be lower.

    It could be that you’re at a point where you need lighter feedback on your beginning. Or maybe you’re on a lower budget.

    If you do choose an opening chapters edit, you are entitled to a discount on a full edit later.

    Feel free to contact me about opening chapters edits and reports. We can discuss your project and what you’re looking for. I will do my best to meet your needs. My email is karen@indiecateditorial.com.

  • Recent edits and current availability

    Recent developmental edits and current availability.
    Recent developmental edits and current availability

    I’ve recently been too busy with editing to get the next blog posts written. So I thought I’d write something shorter instead on the genres I’ve recently edited.

    Right now I’m working on a developmental analysis of a memoir.

    While I usually work on fiction, I have worked on memoir (often called creative non-fiction) before. These manuscripts can vary in terms of topic and style, but one of the most memorable I ever worked on transported me back to the 1960s counter culture and underground of Seattle and San Francisco/Berkeley.

    For the weeks I worked on the memoir, I felt like I walked the streets with the author and her young friends. Because the writer also included musical references, I will never hear Dionne Warwick’s Say A Little Prayer without thinking of those long ago summer days.

    Memoirs can be some of the most memorable manuscripts precisely because they are based in reality and personal experience.

    Some memoirs deal with darker topics, where the writer is working out their past and bringing attention to serious issues.

    As for fiction, so far this year I’ve worked on:

    • Three science fiction novels
    • Historical novels – in three different centuries
    • A WWII espionage novel
    • A stand-alone romantic novel from a writer I’ve worked with before (on a trilogy)
    • A literary novel set a few decades ago
    • A thriller

    Most of these projects have been either full developmental edits or manuscript critiques. One was an opening chapters developmental edit, and another was an analysis of an extensive novel outline.

    Novels I’ve worked on in the months prior to these included:

    • A cosy mystery
    • Another historical novel
    • And a thriller

    Sometimes I’ve worked on two rounds of developmental editing for the same manuscript. Some clients like three rounds. These are always indie authors who want to ensure their manuscript issues have been ironed out. Sometimes with the developmental editing clients, the final round is a report only. Basically a final check.

    Because I often work on multiple rounds – if that’s what the client wants – I try and keep my prices within an affordable range. Payments can be spread over two rounds.

    My next booking (as of 15th September 2023) is for November. I also have a client who has indicated they will likely contact me at some point about a second book they’re working on.

    This means that currently I am free from October to the end of the first week in November.

    This timescale allows for

    • a full developmental edit, or
    • up to two manuscript critiques

    Opening chapters developmental edits cover the first 15,000 words (or 10K, etc) and don’t take as long. Those projects can be slotted in sooner.

    So if you want detailed developmental feedback on a manuscript (memoir or fiction), feel free to contact me at karen@indiecateditorial.com. We can discuss your project and your intentions (self-publishing or submitting to an agent). If we seem like a good fit I can offer you a range of editing and pricing options.

    Please note that I specialise in developmental editing and do not offer copyediting or proofreading services. I do give some line editing advice, but only as part of a developmental edit.

    Feel free to check out my services page below.

    Editing services page

    Otherwise, you can check out some of my recent blog posts:

    Narrative devices in Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life

    How editorial feedback changed Interview with the Vampire

    How editorial feedback improved The Great Gatsby

    When publishers drop the ball

    Developmental self-editing checklist

  • How editorial feedback improved The Great Gatsby

    How developmental editing feedback improved The Great Gatsby.
    How editorial feedback improved The Great Gatsby

    When Scott Fitzgerald heard his first novel This Side of Paradise was accepted, he immediately quit his job (repairing the roofs of railroad cars), and ran down the streets, stopping automobiles and friends to tell them the news.

    His novel had been accepted by the traditionally conservative New York publishing house Charles Scribner’s Sons. And although Scott had sent previous drafts of the novel to Maxwell Perkins there, acceptance of This Side of Paradise marked the beginning of a professional relationship that would last for two decades.

    Soon F. Scott Fitzgerald would become the voice of a generation – forever associated with the Jazz Age and flappers.

    And Maxwell Perkins would go on to work with Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway, making him possibly the most famous and influential fiction editor in history.

    Scott’s last letter to his editor, Max Perkins, was dated December 13th 1940. Scott died later that month from a heart attack. His final novel, The Last Tycoon, was left unfinished.

    The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous novel. It was preceded by This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned and followed by Tender is the Night. Additionally, his Jazz Age short stories solidified his reputation.

    Maxwell Perkins

    Perkins was exceedingly gifted at inspiring an author to produce their best work. While he could help with structure, think up plots and titles where needed, Perkins had a credo: “The book belongs to the author.”

    He also long avoided the spotlight believing that editors should be invisible, both for the benefit of the author and the public. To be visible could erode trust in the work or the writer involved.

    If you have a Mark Twain, he said, don’t try to make him into a Shakespeare.

    But in Fitzgerald Max Perkins was dealing with a perfectionist. Consequently, there was less advice needed compared to some others. Nevertheless, as well as dishing out support, cheques against future earnings, and exchanges on other up and coming authors, Perkins would also give editorial feedback.

    In this blog post, I’ll specifically deal with his editorial commentary on the original draft he saw of Gatsby. Perkins would later say of the novel, his favourite Fitzgerald novel, that it was “as perfect a thing as I ever had any share in publishing.’

    What to call the third novel?

    Correspondence between Perkins and Fitzgerald shows Scott trying out different titles for the book. Some of these titles seem distinctly odd now: Trimalchio in West Egg is perhaps one of the least strange. Other suggestions included:

    Trimalchio

    Among the Ash-Heaps and Millionaires

    On the Road to West Egg

    Gold-hatted Gatsby

    Gatsby

    The High-bouncing Lover

    Under the Red, White and Blue

    While Scott worried over the title and was still fond of Trimalchio, this choice did not go down well with most of those at Scribner’s. And although The Great Gatsby ultimately won out, Scott felt the title wanting in some way.

    The editorial feedback

    There is a Cambridge edition of the early Gatsby manuscript, titled Trimalchio: An Early Version of The Great Gatsby. It also contains notes and two letters from Perkins. The value of this draft of Gatsby is in seeing what differs from the final version.

    For anyone particularly familiar with Gatsby, there will be obvious changes. However, the novel that most people know is still very much there.

    Previously, the novel Fitzgerald was writing was far longer, but he removed a lot of material. There is a long story called Absolution that was cut from the Gatsby narrative. By the time the first draft arrived on Perkins’ desk, the manuscript (Trimalchio) was very similar to the end product.

    Maxwell wrote back to Fitzgerald full of enthusiasm. Dear Scott, he wrote, I think the novel is a wonder. He goes on to say it has vitality and glamour.

    He brought up the issue of the title, which no one at the publisher liked but him. This letter was brief since he intended to take the novel home and read it again, before writing his impressions in full.

    His second letter was a bit longer, but it did not amount to what might be a modern manuscript critique. This is partly because Fitzgerald had already cut a lot out of his novel and shaped it before sending Perkins the first draft he saw. This was Scott’s third novel, so he knew what he was doing and was already a perfectionist.

    Perkins opens the second letter with, “I think you have every kind of right to be proud of this book.” He goes on to praise the use of a spectator narrator in Nick Carraway, which gives the readers more perspective on what is happening than the characters at the heart of the book. The eyes of Dr Eckleberg also look down on events.

    When it comes to actual criticisms, Perkins makes only a few points. He was not a very hands-on editor with Fitzgerald. He never wanted to impose his own vision and he was dealing with an exceptionally talented writer.

    The criticisms make perfect sense and while tiny in number, they do make an important difference.

    First of all Scott had worried that there was a slight sagging in chapters six and seven. Perkins agreed with him but didn’t offer a suggestion other than to say he knew Scott would come up with something to fix the pacing.

    Describing Gatsby

    One major difference between the first draft Perkins saw and the published version relates to the scene where Nick first finds himself looking at Gatsby.

    He was only a little older than me – somehow I had expected a florid and corpulent person in his middle years – yet he was somehow not a young man at all. There was a stiff dignity about him, and a formality of speech that just missed being absurd, that always trembled on the verge of absurdity until you wondered why you didn’t laugh. I got the distinct impression that he was picking his words with care.

    After that, Gatsby is distracted by his butler and leaves.

    Readers familiar with Gatsby will remember a more memorable description that more clearly outlines his youth. Perkins pointed out that Tom Buchanan was so well described that he’d know him if he met him on the street. By contrast, “Gatsby is somewhat vague. The reader’s eyes can never quite focus upon him, his outlines are dim.

    While much about Gatsby is a mystery, Perkins felt that he should be described in as much detail as the others.

    Perkins adds that two people at the publishing house thought Gatsby was older than he was, even with the statement that the man was only a little older than Nick.

    In a later response to Perkins, Scott admitted that he himself didn’t know what Gatsby looked like or was engaged in (the nature of his business). He’d originally thought this was okay, but it was of course one of the problems Perkins picked up on.

    Here is the final version that Scott came up with:

    He smiled understandingly – much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced–or seemed to face–the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished – and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care.

    Gatsby’s business

    Another point Perkins made related to the mysterious nature of Gatsby’s business. He clearly had a business relationship with Wolfsheim but the reader would still be puzzled by all his wealth.

    It wasn’t that Perkins wanted Fitzgerald to go into detail about the source of his money. But he thought the reader would wonder about it and that it would make sense to drop in hints here and there “that would suggest he was in some active way mysteriously engaged.

    Perkins went on to say that the total lack of an explanation “through so large a part of the story does seem to me a defect.” Even the suggestion of an explanation would do. The details of what Gatsby is engaged in didn’t need to be outlined, including whether he was an innocent tool of someone else or not. But there did need to be more evidence of his activities.

    In his response letter (which can be read in Dear Scott/Dear Max), Scott said, “Gatsby’s business affairs I can fix. I get your point about them.

    And indeed in the next draft he does drop in more evidence of mysterious business activities that do not in any way undermine the mystery of Gatsby himself. The reader can fill in some of the remaining gaps themself.

    In a later letter Perkins (in Dear Scott/Dear Max) brought the subject up again, referring to the fact Gatsby was supposed to be a bootlegger – a little bit here and there about the bootlegging might be what’s needed.

    Gatsby’s biography

    In the earlier draft, the story of Gatsby’s background appears in chapter eight. Perkins felt that the way it was given to the narrator departs from the narrative technique in the rest of the book. Elsewhere, “everything is told, and beautifully told, in the regular flow of it, – in the succession of events or in accompaniment with them.” Dumping the backstory where it appears in the earlier draft interrupts the flow of the novel. Perkins thought it better to sprinkle the information bit by bit through the course of the narrative.

    In a later letter to Max, Scott listed his changes – that he’d brought Gatsby to life, accounted for his money, fixed up the two weak chapters (six and seven), improved his first party, and broken up the long narrative relating to Gatsby’s history.

    The outcome

    Although Scott still dithered over the title of the book – mentioning Gold-hatted Gatsby in a March 1925 letter – he also felt that Trimalchio might have been best after all. But it was The Great Gatsby that appeared in bookstores on April 10th 1925.

    Scott’s letters to Perkins show his nervousness, fear, and foreboding. He worried women wouldn’t like the book because it had no important woman in it. And he thought the critics wouldn’t like it because it dealt with the rich and “had no peasants borrowed out of Tess and sent to work in Idaho.

    He also worried that he wouldn’t sell enough to cover his debt to Scribner’s since they had often loaned him money in advance.

    Even on the day of the release, Scott was picking over the faults he could still see in the novel. Nevertheless, he considered the first five chapters and parts of the seventh and eighth to be the best things he’d ever done.

    Unfortunately, sales did not take off as hoped. The fact the book was around 50,000 words and therefore shorter than what the trade preferred did not help. At least two big distributors reduced their orders considerably at the last minute.

    Scott reflected that the title was only fair, “rather bad than good“. And he still considered the lack of an important woman character to be an issue since “women control the fiction market at present.”

    In the end, the book would establish itself as one of the greats of modern American literature and cement Fitzgerald’s reputation. But it didn’t happen overnight.

    Reference material

    Trimalchio: An Early Version of The Great Gatsby – The Cambridge Edition of the Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald edited by James W. L. West III

    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Dear Scott/Dear Max: The Fitzgerald- Perkins Correspondence – edited by John Kuehl and Jackson Bryer (out of print so check eBay)

    Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg

    Looking for editorial feedback yourself?

    Whether you’re a beginner writer like Fitzgerald once was, or you have more experience, editorial feedback offers a fresh insight into your characters, plot, story structure and more.

    There are different levels of feedback. I offer an Opening Chapters Developmental edit, a Manuscript Critique, a Beta Critique (a bit shorter and cheaper than a Manuscript Critique), or a full Developmental Edit.

    If you have any custom requests, feel free to contact me at karen@indiecateditorial.com or you can check my services page link below:

    My editing services page.

  • When publishers drop the ball

    When publishers drop the ball.
    When publishers drop the ball

    I recently read a domestic noir thriller in which a woman found herself with a new neighbour. The neighbour from hell. A woman out for revenge who wreaks havoc on the main character and her group of friends. I’m not going to name the book or the author because this blog is not meant to target them. Instead, I wanted to examine some of the issues in the novel that should have been picked up by a developmental editor. Because this is one example of what happens when publishers drop the ball and don’t do their job.

    Since this novel had a mainstream publishing house, I’m assuming she had some level of editorial feedback regarding the story. But I also know, from reading a recent summary of a writing event, that editors and agents are finding themselves stretched. Inevitably, this will impact what happens to the books they promote.

    The book in question has a good premise. It was also obvious to me that it might be the kind of book that would appeal to the likes of reading groups. This would definitely be in the author’s favour.

    The problems were located in a number of areas:

    • rotating points of view that were not always clearly marked, leaving me a bit confused as to who I was following, and on consulting Goodreads I found out I wasn’t the only one
    • a main character who clearly felt she was drugged at some point, but never attempted to get herself tested
    • a main character who felt someone was breaking into her house regularly, yet she never got the locks changed
    • likewise, the MC did not attempt to leave any kind of surveillance device to catch the intruder on camera
    • when she finally gets a pair of bolts for her door, she finds she doesn’t have the right drill bit, so the bolts are not put on. Her house is still open to the intruder (who makes use of this) because there is no other attempt to keep the neighbour out
    • the MC’s best friend visits and is spooked by the antagonist, feels she’s seen the woman before, and promises to investigate when she returns to London. Then she never contacts the MC again. The MC texts her over and over, but doesn’t bother to call her work place to see if she’s okay, or even travel to London to find out. The woman is dead, but it’s a while before it’s revealed
    • the MC worked out the antagonist’s game (though not the motives), yet doesn’t turn the tables on her. Had she done so, it could have led to a pivot against the antagonist, where the MC briefly gains the upper hand and the antagonist is forced to up their game. This in turn would push up the stakes
    • once the MC realises the antagonist has killed her friend, and tried to kill someone else, she still takes pity on the antagonist at a key moment, thinking she’s just lonely, at which point the antagonist knocks her over the head and almost burns her to death. I had pretty much lost all sympathy for the protagonist at this point and thought she deserved whatever fate was coming to her
    • the MC’s character arc was extremely unsatisfying
    • the ending is also extremely unsatisfying
    • the MC’s friends are also (for reasons that are not entirely clear) targets for revenge, but since they don’t consult with each other, the shaky plot wagon rolls on

    In fact, there were more problems than those listed above. The main character was extremely passive and even ended up thinking she somehow deserved the neighbour’s revenge. This was clearly not true. Meanwhile the neighbour’s motives were a complete let down.

    Many reviewers on Goodreads were in agreement. They also pointed out that the book was longer than it needed to be, there were boring bits, and none of the characters were likeable.

    I did indeed feel that there was no one to like, other than the dog.

    Yet the publisher had majorly hyped the book on the cover, making claims it could not live up to. Something that some of the reviewers also pointed out.

    A decent developmental editor could have flagged these issues, encouraging the writer to develop a better motive for revenge on the part of the antagonist, cut out the unnecessary scenes and chapters, better flag up who the viewpoint character is at any one time, and address the passivity and general cluelessness of the MC.

    None of this would have meant completely changing the book either. It would have led to a tighter plot, with faster pacing, and a more credible protagonist and antagonist.

    No one in their right mind would notice their house was regularly being entered without changing the locks. Especially if they know the neighbour once had their keys.

    The novel’s plot rested on a lack of psychological credibility and character cluelessness. The antagonist is not an especially clever person, so it was hard to see how she managed to know so much about what everyone was getting up to – which she could later reveal out of revenge.

    The plot rested on weak decisions, massive holes, and a rotating viewpoint that possibly helped divert attention from the problems at times. There were genuinely gripping points in the book, which is why it was ultimately a let down. None of it was necessary. This was a debut novel and the writer would have benefited from a developmental editor who could have walked them through the weaknesses so they could have eliminated them one by one.

    Having said that, some readers have given the novel four or five stars. But it was the one to three star reviewers who really summed up my own observations.

    As to the exact nature of the edit that would have improved things – even a manuscript critique would have listed the issues and pointed out what to do about them. A developmental edit would have included margin comments next to the relevant parts of the novel.

    The writer’s book was certainly good enough to get a publisher. But the publisher didn’t do the necessary work. And that wasn’t fair to the author, the book or its readers. But if editors are stretched, it’s not surprising that this can happen.


    Are you an author looking for feedback on your novel? Are you concerned about plot holes, lack of character credibility, confusing viewpoints, or a weak ending? You can check out my services page below. I offer opening chapters edits for those who want a chunk of their novel edited for an affordable price. Otherwise, you can opt for a manuscript critique or a full developmental edit.

    Developmental Fiction Editing Services – IndieCat Editorial