[Podcast] How to Overcome the Initial Shock of a Developmental Edit

3 honing the writing craft podcast post Jun 19, 2023
how to overcome the initial shock of a developmental edit

Every book needs a developmental edit. Even professional writers do. In fact, professional writers crave developmental editing, because they know they don’t know it all.

But too many new writers don’t understand what a developmental edit is.

They think a developmental edit is a proof of their manuscript. And they’re shocked when they receive comprehensive feedback that advises major changes, such as restructuring their entire manuscript, or developing a character more fully, or starting their book in an entirely new place.

A developmental edit is intense. It can be intimidating. Even crushing. But it’s important to the success of your book.

Developmental editors see the big picture of your manuscript. They know your target audience, they’re familiar with other books in your genre, and they know how your book idea should unfold to maximize its efficacy. 

Simply, they have the professional expertise needed to make your writing connect with your audience.

What Is a Developmental Edit?

A developmental edit is a meta edit. It focuses on the big picture—the content, structure, characters, style of a manuscript. It’s an intensive form of editing that will translate to significant changes to your manuscript.

The developmental editing process typically lasts several weeks to several months. The time depends on the scope of your project. Some manuscripts require extensive revisions that require a longer time.

A developmental edit is NOT grammatical or punctation correction.

Developmental editing is a collaborative process. Your editor will provide feedback and suggestions. But you will have to do the hard work. You have to own the changes and implement them. Not the editor. You.

While reviewing your manuscript, your developmental editor will focus on a few overarching points:

Structure. A developmental editor will determine if the overall structure of your manuscript is effective. They’ll assess whether or not the flow of information (nonfiction) or plot (fiction) makes sense. They’ll also check to see if your structure engages your reader.

Content. An editor will determine if your content is clear, accurate, and complete. They’re looking to see if there are any gaps that need to be filled, and if the content aligns with your audience’s needs and expectations. (For fiction, an editor will assess whether or not your use of genre-based tropes is effective.)

Voice and Tone. While reviewing your manuscript, an editor will check for your voice. And they’ll make sure the tone of your manuscript is consistent and suitable for your intended audience.

Point of View. An editor will also check to see if your point of view is consistent and effective.

Characters and Dialogue (fiction). A developmental editor will study your characters to determine if they’re well-developed and their behaviors/actions are consistent. They’ll also check your dialogue to make sure it’s natural and believable, as well as assess the relationships portrayed between your characters.

Theme and Style (fiction). Your editor will search for a clear theme, and an effective and engaging writing style.

Pacing and Tension (fiction). An editor will check your story’s pacing and assess whether or not the tension is sufficient to keep your readers engaged.

For some writers, edits to one or multiple of these points may require rewriting large portions of a manuscript. This can be frustrating. And debilitating. You just spent months, possibly years, writing your manuscript and now you have to redo major parts?

Frustration is understandable.  But it’s important to remember that significant changes are good. They will improve your manuscript to a point of commercial viability.

How to Overcome the Initial Shock of a Developmental Edit

New writers tend to simplify editing to proofreading, so actual feedback is hard to stomach.

Even seasoned writers struggle to accept developmental edits. They argue or defend the way something is written.

Defensive responses stem from a variety of reasons: the writer is emotionally attached to their writing; they take feedback as a critique that they can’t write; they think their editor doesn’t understand their creativity.

It’s normal to feel defensive of your writing.

However, it’s important to objectively take in what your editor is recommending. That’s why you asked them for help in the first place.

If you’ve hired a professional developmental editor, then your first impulse should be to accept their recommendations. You hired them. They have professional expertise. Trust that expertise. 

Here are some tips to help you overcome the initial shock of a developmental edit:

  1. Resist the urge to argue with them. Not all suggestions from your editor will be right. However, if you’re accepting less than 50% of their recommendations, you should fire your editor and go back to writing on your own.
  2. Review the feedback objectively. Approach it with an open mind. Read through comments and suggestions carefully, keeping in mind that your editor’s goal it to help improve your work.
  3. Take time to process the feedback. This will help prevent any immediate emotional reactions and allows you to approach the feedback with a clear and rational mindset.
  4. Identify patterns in your editor’s feedback. Noting recurring patterns will help you identify areas where your writing may need improvement. Or where inconsistencies or weaknesses in your manuscript exist.
  5. Separate yourself from your work. Remember: an editor’s comments are not a reflection of your personal worth. Use this opportunity to grow and improve as a writer.
  6. Ask questions for clarification. If parts of the feedback don’t make sense, don’t hesitate to reach out to your editor! Clarification will help you better understand their suggestions and make informed decisions about the changes you want to implement.
  7. Seek additional opinions. If you’re unsure about certain aspects of the feedback, or want a second opinion, consider sharing your revised version with trusted beta readers or fellow writers. (Do NOT go to family or friends. Their feedback is subjective and lacks professional expertise.) Beta readers or fellow writers can provide valuable insights and help you further refine your manuscript.

Writing is about revising and revising some more. And that isn’t easy or pain-free. But it will improve your book and its chances at success.

Remember: Every book needs a developmental edit. Yours included. You need an objective, professional opinion on what’s working and what isn’t. That’s the role of a developmental edit.




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