December 7, 2009

What Does a Developmental Editor Do?

editI’ve encountered a lot of misunderstanding on what a developmental – or content – editor does. I’d like to take this opportunity to talk a little about this, and why you may need one.

Many new (and even established) writers are not great self-editors. They may know that something isn’t quite right with their manuscript, but they have trouble seeing any solutions. This is a common problem. Although you can train yourself to edit in a methodical, non-emotional way, for most writers, it’s simply easier to find a developmental editor to help accomplish the task.

A developmental editor may be the crucial step to making your work succeed at getting picked by a publisher (or succeed as a self-published book).

What they do

Once hired, the editor will first read the entire manuscript to understand how the current work flows. then evaluate what is needed and construct an over-all plan to achieve it.

As with a mechanical editor, spelling, grammar and logical order are attended to. However, the most important job of a developmental editor is to retain the author’s voice. All alterations, suggestions and “fixes” are to better the story and voice – not an exercise in the editor’s ego.

Going through the manuscript, the editor will possibly reorganize the material, sometimes within chapters, sometimes from one section of the manuscript to another. Often, the first chapter should happen much later, and a middle chapter should be moved to the start. Whole sections can be moved for better clarity.

Special attention is given to the informational flow (if it’s a non-fiction) or clarifying the story arc and all the character elements (if it’s a novel). 

The editor may do some light fact-checking, simply to make sure s/he understands where some elements are coming from. A full fact-check is not done unless by arrangement – so make sure of your data before turning the ms over to the editor.

Not all editors are right for all books. Some specialize in technical subjects, others in children’s books. Ask if your book falls into an editor’s area of specialty.

What does it look like when the manuscript is edited?

Editors vary in how they manipulate the ms. Once upon a time, marks and arrows were used. However, with electronic documents, track changes and other tools, manuscripts have color to show what the editor has done.

All alterations, suggestions and “fixes” are to better the story and voice - not an exercise in the editor’s ego.

In my own case, I’m thinking about dropping the use of red to denote deletions/changes. I’ve found it gives writers more of a feeling of being punished for wrongdoing – something that an editor does not want to imply. I use several colors to show various activities, plus comments.

How Much Should I Pay an Editor?

All of the above is a non-trivial task involving countless hours. Some editors charge by the hour, some by the project. You should expect to pay somewhere between $1000 – $5000. Or more. I know, that’s a heck of a range – but then there’s a huge range of projects, work needed and time to be used. Also, don’t expect the work to be done in a week.

Most editors will want to see 1-3 chapters to make sure your manuscript is ready for editing (it may still need work before the editor can actually be of help), if the manuscript is something they want to work on, if you are compatible together, and how much work will be involved. The editor will then return 3-5 pages to you with their edits. If you feel s/he has improved your work, that’s the editor for you! From there, the editor can tell you a price.

I once had a client tell me that working with me was like suddenly having an extra brain, and I helped him accomplish that which had been his aim (although he had not quite achieved it). That’s every editors desire – to help make a writer and his/her story better.

And yes, as it happens, I do have some spots available on my 2010 calendar. Let’s see if we can work together!

Areas of specialty
~Mature YA (readers 14 and up) novels and some non-technical subjects
~Novels (adventure, fantasy, non-technical sci-fi, non-literary)
~Biographies, history, narrative formats

Comments Are Closed