3 Things Developmental Editors Need from Authors

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Developmental (or big-picture) editing is about bringing out the best in a manuscript by analyzing elements such as story arc, character development, and structure. It takes a macro view, looking at the plot, themes, messages, and characters instead of micro-level details such as sentence clarity, consistency, and grammatical correctness. 

The job of a professional developmental editor is to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of a story and offer suggestions for fixing any issues, which can dramatically elevate the quality and commercial viability of a manuscript. However, criticism is rarely easy to hear, even when it’s constructive and meant solely to realize the full potential of a draft.

Every good author needs a good editor to give them objective feedback and help them tighten and focus their story to make the reading experience authentic, cohesive, and immersive. Hiring a developmental editor doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer—quite the contrary. Your subjectivity limits your ability to see your manuscript clearly, so a fresh pair of eyes can be just what you need to take your book to the next level. However, the editing process is a two-way street, which raises the question of what an editor needs from an author.

If you’re ready to get insightful commentary on your manuscript, check out our developmental editing services and take the next step toward accomplishing your publishing goals. 

Let’s now look at three things your developmental editor will need from you. 

1. A fairly polished draft

Even though you’re sending your manuscript to an editor, developmental editing doesn’t focus on fixing grammar and spelling issues—that happens later on, in the copy editing round (yes, most authors need developmental editing and copy editing). Although your editor doesn’t expect your draft to be error-free, they’ll appreciate it if it’s not too sloppy. The more grammar and spelling mistakes there are, the harder it will be for them to get through it, and you want to make their process as seamless as possible. If they’re constantly distracted by careless typos or verb tense shifts, it’s likely that either the quality of their work or the turnaround will suffer. 

You don’t want to bog your developmental editor down with issues that can distract them from focusing on the big picture, especially if those are issues you could easily eliminate yourself. If you want to get the most out of this process, we highly recommend doing a thorough self-edit of your work before sharing it with your editor. You can also have a friend or a family member give your manuscript a quick read and help you identify any problems you can address before you get a developmental editor involved. 

The quality of your writing also affects the quality of the feedback your editor can provide—if they have trouble grasping your plot due to inconsistent and chaotic writing or unclear explanations, they may offer entirely irrelevant suggestions due to misunderstanding where you want to take your story. A quick round of self-editing also gives you the chance to consider anything you want the editor to give extra attention to, for example, the structure of your second act or the consistency of the point of view—just add a note in the margin with any questions you might have. 

2. Openness to criticism

Submitting your manuscript to a developmental editor is a major step that can feel scary, but it’s crucial if your goal is to produce a professionally crafted, commercially viable book. Every best-selling author out there has had an editor giving them notes they probably hated at first until they stepped back and realized that cutting that line or killing that character was the best thing for the story. Knowing that your editor has your best interests at heart doesn’t make it hurt any less, but it does help keep things in perspective. 

So, send your manuscript off to your editor with an open mind, ready to accept feedback you don’t necessarily want to hear. Don’t get defensive and protest all the criticisms—they’re not attacks. They’re meant to make your manuscript even better. If necessary, you can remind yourself that all authors, including the ones you look up to, have gone through the same painful process. You also need to be open to rewriting or overhauling major sections of your manuscript. Don’t shy away from the extra effort—you already wrote a full manuscript, so you can certainly revise it.

If you want to carve a space for yourself in the publishing industry, you need to develop a thick skin and be open to criticism. It all starts with your editor, except they will mark up your manuscript in the hope of making it better, not out of a desire to tear you down. It’s not always easy to get notes, especially when they imply major rewrites, but it’s essential to consider each comment and suggestion from your editor, no matter how hard it might be at first. You’d much rather any issues with your plot, characters, or narrative arc be discovered by your developmental editor than by readers or critics.

3. Willingness to do the work

At the end of the day, it’s your job as the author to either implement or discard the suggestions of your editor. It might take a bit for them to sink in, and that’s okay—just give yourself time to consider why your editor made the suggestions they did and how those can make your story better. If you’re upset with the criticisms, allow yourself time to cool off (preferably with some relaxing activities that put your mind at ease) before you start accepting or rejecting them. That initial pain will fade, and you may realize that your editor was right, much as you didn’t want them to be. 

You may find that you still don’t like some of the suggestions, even after you’ve had time to cool off and think everything through. That’s only natural—not everything your editor suggests will work for your story. Even if you don’t agree with every single comment, at least ask yourself what the deeper issue is and how you can solve it. You may not like your editor’s solution, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’ve identified a problem.

All of this will take time and effort on your part as it means not only reexamining your work but quite possibly making significant changes and rewrites. However, it’s those changes that will shape your manuscript into the best possible version of itself, which is something no author can do all on their own. That’s the value of developmental editing—it helps you realize the full potential of your manuscript. The process can be painful but is absolutely worth it.

To start working with a professional editor, reach out to our developmental editing team

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