Ode to Developmental Edits (Writing Tools)

I just finished making corrections from the developmental edit of Whose Hearts are Mountains, so I’ve been thinking of all the reasons I’m glad someone told me to find a developmental editor:

Because “good enough” is not good enough
If you think about it, a developmental edit is a brutal thing to put your book and your psyche to. You pay good money (averaging about $800-1200 from my research) to have someone tear apart the novel you’ve spent months or years bringing into existence. You have to read over all those comments and it’s frustrating.

Still, I do it and I swear by it. Why? Because my “good enough” isn’t good enough for publishing. Few people’s are, even after second or third draft. Writers need a pair of fresh eyes; furthermore, we need someone with literary skills to examine our word choice, to make sure our meaning comes out in our words.

Why can’t I just proofread extra good?
First of all, if you didn’t notice the grammatical error in the previous sentence, you probably need skilled help. More importantly, proofreading is not the same as developmental editing. Proofreading picks up grammatical and punctuation errors,and the person who does this is a proofreader or line editor. Developmental editing gets into the conveyance of your ideas itself — whether a sentence or paragraph is clear, whether your passage’s moods make sense, whether your characters are portrayed realistically and readably.

Why can’t I just use beta readers?
Beta readers are very good at letting you know what the average reader will think or do. Some beta readers — the ones with some creative writing skills — might pick up on some unclear sentences or sentences that don’t sparkle.  But they’re reading for enjoyment, not for discernment, and usually not in a higher literary sense.

How to find a developmental editor

  • Ask around. If you have writing friends, they have likely dealt with developmental editors, and have had good and bad experiences. If your sample of writing friends is small, ask on Twitter, a writing forum, or NaNoWriMo. Ask for their feedback in direct message, because they’re more likely to be honest that way. Don’t be surprised if a couple developmental editors find you that way.
  • Comparison shop. Ask the developmental editors questions. Rates, of course, are important. Turnaround time is important.
  • Understand their style — you can have them read and respond to a short excerpt of your writing. A developmental editor should push you but be constructive in their criticism.
  • A very important point — make sure you sign a contract before proceeding. Read it well before signing so you understand what your rights are. 
A developmental editor is someone you should consider having on your team. If you can’t afford one, at least find a beta reader who has a lot of literary skills. The idea is to create the most compelling version of your hard work.

If any readers use developmental editors, share your stories with me via email: lleachie@gmail.com