Tag: developmental edit

The Three Stages of Editing – And why you shouldn’t try them all at once

When it rains, it pours. Manuscripts in need of editing, that is. Each in a different stage of editing: developmental, line and copy edits, oh my. It’s a three-layer parfait.

Of doom.

The work in progress novel must be ready for submission by the beginning of May. And it’s rough. It’s missing crucial elements. It needs developmental edits galore.

About the time I’m reaching the three-quarter point on that project, I get a manuscript I haven’t looked at since December back from an editor. I haven’t given it a thought since then. Back when I made the developmental changes to it.

Now, the second editor is making a few line edit suggestions that require actual rewriting. Mostly additions, to flesh out a few things added in during the developmental stage.

You know, things that will deepen the story, make the characters more believable and ultimately engage the reader.

And every author wants to ensnare the reader and make them forget they’re even reading. Lasso them into the story realm and hold them hostage until they reach the last page.

“I’ll finish the novel edits first,” I decide. “Then I’ll delve into this other story.”

Meanwhile, the short story I wrote in December and polished in January was sold in February. It’s slated for a June release.

So, of course, I got the first round of edits from the editor. Because I had nothing else on my plate.

Why did I think it was a good idea to have so many projects going at one time?

Oh right, because writers write. And when writers sell their writing, it means they must revisit that story world over and over.

Which is something I enjoy because my story gets better and more enchanting with each round of edits.

The publisher who purchased said short story has never made developmental editing suggestions. I’d like to think it’s because my stories are well-written, but I have a feeling it has more to do with budget and short publishing timelines.

The edits for the story were line edits. A few commas, questionable word choice, repetitions pointed out. All of it a quick fix.

So that should be a simple turnaround, right?

Uh, have you met me?

I will read through the entire story again and tighten every sentence I can. In fact, I deleted two sentences in the second scene, deciding they made my male protagonist look too eager.

So, I have a 14,000-word manuscript to line and copy edit. The second-round edits are mostly line edits, too, but involve some additions. That’s a 20,000-word manuscript.

And the ugly developmental edits on the revised first draft of the novel are getting into the heart and heat of the story. When everything blows up. When my characters enter the crucible and come out the other side as different people.

How do I prioritize this?

My gut says to finish the novel because it needs to get input from alpha readers and my editor. Then it may very well require extensive rewrites before it’s ready to enter the polishing phase.

After all, it’s not even on its way to a publisher yet. It needs to be honed to a shining jewel before I submit it, in hopes the publisher will love it. Will make an offer on it.

And then it will come back again. For developmental edits and then line edits and finally for minor copy tweaks.

Lucky me, though, I can enjoy all three stages of editing today. Right this very moment. With three separate projects.

Why Every (Newbie) Author Needs an Editor

I’m a newbie novice when it comes to writing novels. Not an ounce of shame taints this admission. If I send sub-par work into the world of readers because I don’t see the need for an editor, that’s when I’ll be ashamed.

In the past fifteen months, I have completed five first drafts. This amounts to about 350,000 words. I should be getting the hang of this writing thing after all that, shouldn’t I?

If I compare the first novel with the last, the improvement is easily identifiable. To me, anyway. A professional editor might see things differently. This is the reason you should hire one before you publish your “masterpiece.”

Lucky me, I won a 25,000 word critique from the amazing Jami Gold. As full-time writer who has not sold a single story, I appreciated this windfall more than a winning Lotto ticket. After experiencing Jami’s professional white glove treatment, I can recommend her services.

What I expected

  • A thorough critique of the manuscript – written within the document so examples of the flaws were showcased
  • Advice about my characters
  • Analysis of my story structure: the first turning point at least
  • Identification of recurring writing weaknesses
  • Discussion of my overall writing voice and its effectiveness
  • Confirmation that my story premise worked
  • Discussion of the story problem and stakes

What she delivered

  • A thorough critique of the manuscript. Besides lengthy notations within the manuscript, Jami provided four pages of explanation about the larger issues – good and bad – in the story
  • Advice about my characters. She analyzed the character arc of both protagonists, discussed their shortfalls, remarked about how to improve them. In short, I saw my characters in a different spotlight after reading her comments.
  • Analysis of my story structure. Jami identified the story problem but couldn’t pinpoint my character’s driving needs. Because of this, she didn’t see the first turning point the way I had when I wrote the story. Obviously, this is an issue – with my writing, not her editing.
  • Identification of recurring writing weaknesses. Do I really need to list these? Suffice it to say that I’m still doing more telling than showing. My descriptions are over the top (quite surprising) and often unrealistically delivered. Too many participles. Not enough strong verbs. Even a grammar issue (when to use ‘the’ rather than ‘a.’)
  • Discussion of my overall writing voice and its effectiveness. My third person POV didn’t go deep enough. My characters could be heard loud and clear in only a few sentences. If I want my readers to buy in, I need to delve more deeply into the psyche of these people who tell this story.
  • Confirmation that my story premise worked. Right off the bat, Jami raved about how well I nailed this. My thanks to Larry Brooks and Kristen Lamb. I learned the importance of this from them. Looks like it penetrated my thick skull and became a part of my writing arsenal.
  • Discussion of the story problem and stakes. Again, I managed to strike it rich. Of course, the lack in my characters rubs off on the overall story problem. Since their motivations are unclear, it holds readers at arm’s length.

My revised opinion

I have seen recommendations from authors who are traditionally published. They tell you not to spend the money on an editor for your manuscript before shopping it with agents and editors. I sighed hugely when I read this advice.

Now I’m going to refute it. Time to face facts: you won’t hook an agent or editor with a manuscript that doesn’t shine. No matter how great of a writer you are or how many degrees you possess, you aren’t the best critic for your written work.

I can slash in red with the best of them (ask my sons who have experienced my unforgiving editing for more than a decade). With a critical eye, I can spot plot holes, weak characterization, telling passages and other major flaws.

No matter how much I squint, I’m too close to my own story to recognize most of these shortcomings. I know what I meant. The characters are my intimate friends so I read between the lines. I see subtext that doesn’t exist. Caricatures are the invisible woman.

If you’ve shopped your story and no one is biting, take the plunge. Spend the money on a developmental edit to ensure your manuscript is sound of structure. Look at it as an investment in your career – like workshops, craft books and conferences.

In the end, your manuscript will shine. You will learn how to write a stronger story. Best of all, your name will appear on the cover of the book you’ve envisioned. And you’ll be proud to have people read your work.

Have I convinced you? Great.

One more thing. Do you have an extra $1000 I can borrow? Really, my friend. Help me get a much-needed developmental edit on my manuscript.

What are your thoughts on critique groups, beta readers and professional edits? Do they all serve the same purpose? Do you believe spending money on an editor is a waste if you’re a newbie seeking traditional publishing?