Memoir

  • 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 at 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. 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 upfront. If I’m booked up, you can pay in three installments, though the payment period is very short owing to the express delivery time. 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.

    You can also try my FREE sample edit if you want to see what a developmental edit looks like.

  • What will you get when you hire me to edit your book?

    What will you get when you hire me to edit your book?
    What will you get when you hire me to edit your book? Hint: not coffee

    What will you get when you hire me to edit your book? This is a reasonable question since I could be a complete scam artist about to run off with your money.

    I know you don’t particularly care about my training, other than to hope I’ve had some. Yes, indeedy, there are people out there who think reading a book on developmental editing and downloading a template off the internet is all it takes to start a business.

    Before I go any further, I need to point out two things:

    • Yes, I meant to write ‘indeedy’ because this is a somewhat informal post
    • I once had a client tell me she got more feedback from me for her 20,000-word novella than she did for a full length developmental edit where she paid over £1000. Not to me, obviously. To another editor who may not have specialised in developmental work.

    The skillset for developmental editing is very different from a proofreader’s skillset, or what you need to be a good copyeditor. Indeed, you can be a good technical copyeditor, but not a great line editor when it comes to fiction – especially fiction where you literally have no idea what the author is trying to do because you. don’t. get. literary. writing.

    It’s like getting an actor to read a poem. Sometimes they do a good job – think Vincent Price reciting Annabel Lee. Totally blows my socks off every time. But there are some lords and dames of the theatre who absolutely murder poetry by reading it like a speech. They completely ignore metre and I never want to hear that poem read that way ever again. It’s like a tone-deaf person murdering a song.

    But, I digress… I’m supposed to be telling you what you will get if you hire me.

    I’ve been rather remiss when it comes to posting client feedback on this website. This is because my clients were all coming from another platform and I didn’t bother to promote my site the way I should. But it’s the end of 2020. I need to sort myself out, give myself a good slap, and remember that I will living on the streets if I don’t start charging what I’m worth.

    A crash course in writing

    Today was a great reminder. Though it started yesterday, or several days before that. A client whose manuscript has been through two rounds of full developmental editing sent me her new chapters one and two. I think she’s hoping for a third round soon, and my prices are such that it’s well affordable. Her new chapters one and two were a big jump from the previous two drafts. I was seriously impressed. She took my reading recommendations, ploughed through the list, read the novel I recommended because I thought it was perfect for her to learn certain techniques, and she has improved her writing in a very short period of time.

    She’s a newish writer, so she doesn’t have years of writing behind her to learn all this stuff. Is she there yet? No, but her learning curve has been amazing. And that’s one of the most satisfying things about developmental editing and returning clients. If someone comes for a single round of editing, there’s not the same opportunity to see how they get on with it. You might even start to worry if they did get on with it. I personally prefer to see a second round of the manuscript at the very least.

    But that leads me to what you’ll get with me beyond a potentially steep learning curve, if you’re a beginner. However, that learning curve is one of my USPs. Know what a USP is? It’s your unique selling point. If you ever mean to go into business, and that includes becoming an author-entrepreneur, you should give a great deal of thought to your USP. Because it’s what marks you out from the competition. It doesn’t necessarily make you better than the competition, because they have their USPs too, and their client base could be very different.

    The basic built-in services

    So, beyond the learning curve, what do you get? In some respects, it comes down to what is right for you, the individual author. And what is most appropriate for your manuscript. But there are the non-negotiables. For a full developmental edit, you get an editorial letter that is several pages long, plus a copy of your manuscript with track commenting. You also get a reading list.

    I can do more than this. I can draw up a book map, which is time-consuming and therefore more of an extra. Although my prices are going up, they will still be lower than industry-standard for quite some time to come. This means I don’t put in extras that add a lot of time (because time is also money). You can get the extras on top. That includes a second round of editing. You can also get feedback between edits – for when you’re stuck and you need me to check something. A small amount of this is built into the price already. But a lot more and I’d have to charge. But, again, I wouldn’t be charging industry standard rates. Not for a while. I’m keen to give lower-income writers an opportunity to get a foot on the rung.

    All of this, so far, has been about developmental editing. I can do this type of editing on different levels – starting with the most basic issues in the first round of editing, and moving on to more pernickety stuff later. This can be easier for a writer to deal with because it paces the rewrites better. Reworking a draft is no longer such a monumental task. And they’re getting guidance along the way. Of course, some writers want something much more detailed to start with because they don’t intend to come back for a second round.

    Manuscript critiques

    So, what about manuscript critiques? These are cheaper than developmental edits, so I ought to have done far more of them, right? Wrong. I’ve done far more developmental edits because my prices were low and many of those edits were my opening chapters edit. The wordcounts were around the 10,000 word mark, unless a client asked me to look at something longer. Many of those clients would then come back to me for a full developmental edit. They liked the track commenting in the margins and found it helpful.

    However, as my prices go up, a full developmental edit will be more expensive. So, where does that leave the manuscript critiques? Well, cheaper, obviously. The full weight of the feedback is in the editorial letter since there’s no track commenting. These editorial letters can therefore be longer because they have to deal with everything. They are structured by subject, starting with the bigger issues and moving down the hierarchy of things-that-need-to-be-dealt-with. There’s also a reading list. You get this regardless of whether it’s a developmental edit or a manuscript critique.

    Specially tailored manuscript critique

    You can also ask for a manuscript critique with a sample developmental edit of the opening chapters. This means those chapters will have track commenting. You could ask me to look at the beginning and the end this way. But it’s important to remember that one of the reasons a developmental edit is more expensive is the sheer amount of time it takes to go through a manuscript and leave comments. It’s at least two passes of comments or even three or four in one edit. I never read a manuscript once, I read it several times.

    My opening chapters edit is a developmental edit, but you could ask for the manuscript critique version instead, which means no margin comments. It takes me less time, and that means you save money. You miss out on the comments though.

    The main thing to stress is that what I can do for you really depends on a number of things. These include the amount of knowledge you already have, the number of drafts you’ve already written, and whether you intend to send your novel to an agent or publish it yourself. In the case of the former, if you can get a cheaper developmental edit (from someone who knows what they’re doing), then that’s all well and good. But you don’t need a full DE if you’re submitting. If a publisher accepts your book, that kind of editing will be provided without you being out of pocket. Some writers do still choose a developmental edit even if they’re submitting to an agent. There are reasons… like, they think it’s the best way to rise above the other manuscripts in the pile. It’s true that the competition is huge.

    Another editorial service I offer is a beta read with some additional developmental comments. However, this is nowhere near the input of a manuscript critique. It can work as the last read, checking that everything on the developmental level is now fixed or close to being fixed.

    So, that is an outline of what I deliver. However, every client and manuscript is different. Custom orders are always welcome. If you want to know more, feel free to drop me a message through my contact form. We can discuss your needs and also assess whether you’re really ready for a manuscript critique or a developmental edit. Perhaps you need a beta read first, in which case I’d advise you to hire or find beta readers and getting feedback from them first. But it really comes down to the individual client. I will turn down work if I think I’m not right for the client or that the client is wasting their money.

    In the meantime, you can check out my services page. Here’s a detailed post about the differences between a manuscript critique and a developmental edit.