This is a guest post by Megan Hannum, a developmental editor and writing coach at Whynott Edit
Is it just me, or does it seem like everyone and their mother is writing a book these days? There are hundreds of Facebook groups full of thousands of people trying to learn about, asking for help with, and generally seeking support during their time of wordsmithing. It can make the pursuit feel kind of crowded at times.
Not every writer out there is planning to publish. But even if less than half of them are, the competition is pretty steep. You and your story deserve every advantage you can give yourselves to find success in the publishing game, whether you’re planning to go indie or traditional. The best way to do that is to ensure you’re sending the best version of your story out into the world.
What is Developmental Editing?
Developmental editing is concerned with two things: the big picture and the nitty gritty. During a developmental edit, the editor examines your story from a bird’s eye level, looking at elements like plot, characters, themes, etc. Also called structural or substantive editing, a developmental edit might involve cutting or moving entire paragraphs, sections, chapters, characters, or sub-plots to ensure the structure of the book is sound and accessible to the reader.
Developmental editing also focuses on addressing issues of tone consistency and audience clarity. If you’re writing for a YA audience, this is where you determine if the language you’re using is appropriate as far as emotional and mental maturity.
In addition to assessing a manuscript’s structure, developmental editing helps you form a vision for your manuscript concerning voice and style. This means making changes in the prose at the chapter, scene/section, paragraph, and sentence level (also known as line editing).
Basically, developmental editing is the process that puts pressure on your little piece of coal until it’s a beautiful diamond.
Editing is the process that puts pressure on your coal until it’s a beautiful diamond.
Developmental Editing and Self-Publishing
Self-publishing tends to get a bad rap, mostly because of a perceived lack of quality control. While it’s true there are fewer/no gatekeepers in the indie publishing scene, it doesn’t mean there’s no one out there ensuring the quality. In fact, that quality control becomes the responsibility of the authors.
Developmental editing is the first step in ensuring you’re putting out a high-quality product, one that can compete with any traditionally published title in your genre. Because a developmental editor focuses on big-picture items—plot, characters, theme—the work impacts all the aspects that are going to make readers purchase and keep reading your book! If you’ve gotten feedback and done serious work on these elements, you’re likely to see a return on your investment in the form of sales and good word of mouth.
Developmental Editing and Traditional Publishing
Step one in the traditional publishing process (after writing the book or proposal, of course) is hooking a literary agent. These agents are looking for compelling stories, characters they can care about, and well-built worlds. Basically, books that are ready to be seen by in-house editors.
Many writers might wonder about the necessity of working with an editor before pursuing traditional publishing, since editing is part and parcel. It’s true that publishing houses will have their own copyeditors and proofreaders that’ll comb through your book for the mechanical errors. Also, agents aren’t likely to pass on a manuscript simply because of a few typos. So hiring an independent copy editor before these steps can be unnecessary.
It’s also true that an agent might take your story through another round or two of substantive editing before sending it to publishers. However, most agents aren’t going to be chomping at the bit to take on a project that needs a complete overhaul. The more polished your story is, the higher your chances are of landing a prestigious (i.e., busy) agent.
Putting your story through a developmental edit is the best, really the only, way to ensure you’re putting your best work forward. Working with a developmental editor can be the difference between a “heck yes” and a “maybe next time” from agents, publishers, and readers.
Megan Hannum is a developmental editor and writing coach at Whynott Edit, helping writers refine their words, strengthen their skills, and tell the best possible version of their stories. It’s been said she has “a supernatural ability to see what’s missing,” which she uses to get writers from completed draft to publishable manuscript.
Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at WhynottEdit.