A developmental edit can feel a lot like sending your child to school for the first time. You’ve had several years to exert your influence on his upbringing and must now allow others into his journey. You may be ready to push the little bugger through the school door! Or you may be standing outside, your arms wrapped tightly around this child of your heart, wanting to run home for a few more years of one-on-one.
You may worry: What if my child performs poorly? What if my parenting inadequacies are discovered—or worse, what if the teacher doesn’t think I’m any good at parenting?
These relatable concerns can be countered with more exciting questions: What if he matures while we’re parted? What if his performance issues result in new parenting tools? What if new aspects of his personality are stimulated? What if it really does take a village to raise a child?
A story you submit for publication will be seen, much like the child going to school, as a freestanding work—and as such may be lauded, bullied, quoted, misinterpreted, picked apart, and psychoanalyzed by a public who will bring to it their own sensibilities, prejudices, insights, ideas, and experiences. You will no longer be able to come to your story’s defense. Whether or not you can handle that will be foreshadowed by how you handle a developmental edit.
Are you ready?
Signs of readiness for a developmental edit
You don’t send your child to school expecting a grade on your parenting, do you? No—you want the teacher to appreciate your child for his special qualities and help him acquire the skills necessary to maximize his potential in the world. Instead of, Am I any good? ask, How can I maximize my story’s potential?
Your story will be entering a conversation, and it has one chance to speak: through the words you’ve put on the page. Rest assured that you have submitted your best possible work and sit quietly while the editor reflects upon what she heard. If it seems she didn’t “get it,” use her guidance to identify the disconnect between what you intended and what she heard.
If hiring an editor, you must have thought your manuscript could be improved, or at the very least, you realized you were no longer the best judge of this. Still, it can sting when you hear you aren’t as far along on the novel’s journey as you thought. Allow this disappointment to remind you of how much you want to reach readers. Let it wash through and revivify you—then roll up your sleeves to make it happen.
Both writer and editor want to play on a winning team. Trust that by capitalizing on your story’s strengths and bolstering your weaknesses, your editor is trying to help you bring your project to its fullest fruition.
Try to open yourself to your reader’s perspective—she may provide you with feedback that is not at all what you expected. If she doesn’t seem to “get” it, you may have led her astray through unintentionally accumulating detail. Allow that even misinterpretation is useful feedback.
Someday, this conversation about your work may happen in a reader’s living room with her book club, and those readers might not agree with every choice you made. You need the quiet, non-combative confidence that comes from having a reason for what you’ve done—and allowing for difference of opinion anyway. At this point, you need to see it from the editor’s perspective, too, and make your best decision as to how to move forward.
Like schooling, publishing success demands diligence applied over the long haul. You may need another round of edits, since once you’ve made changes, you may have unwittingly introduced new issues. This is the nature of education.
Publication is not your end goal—it is simply a means to an end. The goal is to connect with readers—whether that be an agent, an acquisition editor, or a bookstore browser—in a way that results in repeat sales. That's how any entrepreneur stays in business.
Even with this emotional intelligence profile, it still may not feel good to read your developmental editor’s evaluation. But you’ll be better able to negotiate the collaboration, and the work it inspires will enhance your story’s meaning. You’ll feel that rush that always comes when your writing grows in both confidence and nuance. Your love for your characters will grow as their characterization deepens.
In my experience, it is those who treasure these benefits from a developmental edit who have what it takes to go the distance throughout the publishing process.
Have you hired an independent developmental editor? Did any aspect of the process hijack you, emotionally? Do you have anything to add to this checklist?
Kathryn Craft is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, and a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” was included in the writing guide Author in Progress, from Writers Digest Books. Janice Gable Bashman’s interview with her, “How Structure Supports Meaning,” originally published in the 2017 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, has been reprinted in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, both from Writer’s Digest Books.
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