I fancy myself a writer.

What to do with your first developmental edit from a real editor

Brendan Raven Hill Dustbin - Black

If you’re like most writers, your first draft likely belongs in a trash bin. But don’t despair. A professional editor can help you turn your garbage into a work of art. | Brendan Raven Hill Dustbin – Black (Photo credits: West Elm)

Picture this. You’ve just completed your first novel and are ready to hire an editor to give it a swift once-over before you publish it. You call an editor who comes highly recommended, and she asks you what kind of edit you are looking for. Do you want a developmental edit? A copy edit? Something in between?

You’re not quite sure, so she asks you if this will be your first edit. You inform her that you have edited it at least five times yourself. Plus, a couple of your friends read it and thought it was pretty cool. Your mom, especially, loved it. Based on this info, your new editor recommends that you put your novel through a developmental edit first. The following is a list of 27 long and crazy steps that many first-timers go through when their first novel manuscript reaches this phase in the writing process:

  1. Question the editor’s motives. Is she just trying to get you to spend more money? Why should you have to pay her for a developmental edit now and a copy edit later, when your manuscript is so close to being done?
  2. Reluctantly agree to the developmental edit. After all, she’s only going to find a typo here and there. You can easily fix those and skip the copy edit.
  3. Turn in your manuscript and wait. And wait. And wait. What’s taking her so long? It shouldn’t take this long to read through a manuscript and highlight a couple of typos.
  4. Receive your feedback document. It’s about time. You sit down at your desk and get right to work. If you really focus, you know you can fix your errors by the end of the day and have this thing published on Kindle Direct Publishing by the end of the day tomorrow, tops.
  5. Open your feedback document and gasp. Hold your stomach and cry because it feels like someone kicked you in the stomach with a steel-toed boot. Who the heck does she think she is, anyway? Your original document is covered with comments. She has included three additional pages of notes outlining plot holes and pointing out flat characters. She wants you to cut chapter one completely and rearrange several other chapters. Who the heck does she think she is?
  6. Toss feedback in the garbage bin. This is ridiculous. Your manuscript can’t possibly be this bad. One of your best friends is an English teacher, and he swears you are going to be a NY Times Bestseller. What does this stupid editor know about anything? You need a drink.
  7. Crack open a bottle of tequila and fall asleep on your couch in front of late night television. You dream of working as a garbage collector because you will never make it as a writer. Who do you think you are, believing you can write a novel?
  8. Wake up with a hangover. Brew a pot of coffee and stew over it while petting your cat in your lap. Wonder how you are going to keep her fed now that your dreams have been smashed into a billion tiny pieces.
  9. Take a long walk because you have to get out of the house and away from that manuscript in the garbage bin.
  10. As your head clears, you turn over that feedback in your head. You realize she might have been right about one or two issues, now that you think about it. Maybe you can fix those and then hire a copy editor. Not her, of course. You never want to work with her again for as long as you live.
  11. When you get home, you dig your feedback out of the garbage and wipe the coffee grounds off it. You sit down at your desk and get to work.
  12. Upon fixing one or two issues, you realize your editor was right about chapter one. It’s basically a boring info dump, and you know you can work those details into your story better. You cry while cutting chapter one from your document.
  13. You start to get confused about a couple of your characters. Their names and voices are too much alike, and you keep forgetting which is which. Maybe your editor is right. Maybe it would work better if you merged these two characters into one. You change a few other character names as well, so each person in your story has his or her own distinct and memorable label. You eventually reconsider all of your original character names. A couple of them are okay, but now that you think about it, some of them are a little ridiculous.
  14. With each plot hole you fill, you notice another one that needs filling. This is never-ending. You’re ready to give up. You were obviously not cut out to be a writer. Why did you ever think you could do this?
  15. Go out for drinks with a couple of friends – one of whom is a writer – and bad mouth your editor. Your writer friend, who has worked with your editor in the past, rolls his eyes and shakes his head. He pulls you aside later and asks you to give her one more shot. He insists this editor really knows her stuff. You may not agree with all of her opinions, but you have to remember she is a professional. So, she is giving you a professional opinion.
  16. Agree to be a little more open minded before taking a cab home and passing out on the living room floor with your cat curled up in a ball in the small of your back.
  17. Get up in the morning, have your coffee, and go for a walk. It seems walking clears your head better than drinking does. You decide that maybe you should make this whole walking thing a habit and cut back on the drinking part a little. You wrack your brain trying to think of a time when drinking has actually helped your writing and come up short.
  18. Think of one “error” your editor pointed out that you disagree with. “Aha!” you say. “I got you now.” You rush home to type up an e-mail telling her off. Only, you hesitate for a moment before hitting send and decide to hold off for now. After all, she was right on several other issues.
  19. Decide to get back to work.
  20. Several weeks or months later, you are finally done. You can’t believe you made it. You implemented almost all of the editor’s recommendations, and you can’t believe how much stronger your novel is. You craft an e-mail outlining your thoughts on the areas in which you disagree with your editor, but also thank her for all of her help. You ask her to edit this draft.
  21. Wait. But not quite as long this time. This draft returns much faster. Your new feedback document has way fewer comments on it, but it’s still not clean. You can’t believe she still thinks you have work to do! But you were so sure that last draft was about as close to perfect as it would ever get!
  22. Look for her comments on the issues where you disagreed with her feedback. She has explained that she understands what your intentions are now, but you are still not getting your intentions across within your manuscript. She gives you a couple of ideas of how you might achieve your vision as you have described it. The clouds clear, and you realize (finally, what took you so long?!) that she is not trying to hijack your novel and make it what she wants it to be, but is instead attempting to help you achieve your vision.
  23. Get an idea. You suddenly know exactly how to fix one of your biggest issues. You pat yourself on the back because you came up with this idea all on your own with no help from your editor at all.
  24. Get back to work.
  25. Repeat the above steps as many times as is necessary.
  26. This time, you know your manuscript is ready for proofreading. You decide to compare it to the draft that you had sent the editor in the beginning. You read that first draft and wonder what the heck you were thinking. The plot holes and “production errors” leap from the page. How did you ever miss those?
  27. You say a small prayer of thanks for your editor who saved you from making a complete ass of yourself. And you now know you really would have made an ass of yourself had you published that first draft without properly editing it first. What were you thinking?  

Have you ever worked with a professional editor? How does your experience compare to what I have describe above? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

~Amanda L. Webster

P.S. Check out this week’s flash sale at Luli Patchouli.

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