You’ve done it! You typed the magic words that mean you’ve written a whole book. The End! Based on your time in Facebook groups for writers and all the podcasts you’ve been binging whenever you aren’t writing, you know the next step is a reread/self-edit. But when that’ll be over seems all too subjective. Some of the writers you follow are on draft four or five and they just keep self-editing. How will you know it’s time to bring in the pros and hire a developmental editor? I’ve got you covered.

hire a developmental editor

When you’ve just finished draft one

First of all, do a little dance, pat yourself on the back, text everyone you’ve ever met, whatever you do, C E L E B R A T E. So many people who “want to write a book” never actually make it to the place you’re at now. That’s huge! You rock!

When the celebration’s done, walk away. Save and close the doc, put away the notebook(s), hide it from yourself if you have to for at least two weeks. This time away from your draft is crucial for giving yourself as close to fresh eyes as you can get. Fresh eyes are important because they’ll help you see what’s actually there, or missing, rather than fill in what exists in your head.

Reread draft one

Once you’ve taken that much-needed break, reread your story as it exists. Some writers find it’s easier to do this reread on a printed-out copy, but if it doesn’t bother you to read on your computer then save the trees! The important part of this step is that it’s just a read through. You’re not going to be making any changes to the story right now.

PRO TIP: To help yourself avoid temptation, you could try saving your work as a PDF and uploading it to Dropbox or even your Kindle.

You can and absolutely should take notes as you read of things you don’t like/anticipate will need to change, but do that in a separate doc or notebook. This is about understanding your story as it exists after the initial writing.

Take stock of the basics

Part of your note taking should be making sure that all your storytelling bases are covered. At the bare minimum, this means making a list of major beats (Inciting Incident, First Complication, Climax, etc.), noting their location in the story and what happens. If you’re feeling ambitious (or didn’t do it before writing draft one), you could create an outline for the whole thing.

In addition to plot structure, make notes about how your characters are developing too. A list of character arc basics is going to be a good thing to have, going into your next draft.

Time to make some ch-ch-ch-changes

Armed with your notes, story beat list/outline, and character arc information, now it’s time to go back and switch things up! Go switch around or rewrite those scenes. Draft two is a good place to think about adding in more description as far as physical setting is concerned. You’ve put together and inspected the frame (draft one), so now it’s time add drywall and flooring!

This could be one more draft or maybe even two or three more. But you’ll know you’re done with this stage when it’s as close to a book as you can get it on your own. You’ve made every improvement you can think of, and the story is definitely stronger than it was when you first finished.

This is when you hire a developmental editor

To continue the house metaphor (which is my favorite metaphor for novel writing), your project looks more like a house than ever. There are real walls and a roof and people could probably live in it fairly comfortably. But there’s still something missing and you’re not quite sure how to make it feel done.

Bring in the pros! A developmental editor has actually fresh eyes and the expertise to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of your story, and even your writing in general. They’ll be able to tell you what’s not working, and, most important, how to fix it.

To give you an idea of what goes into a developmental edit, I’ve created the Ultimate Developmental Editing Checklist. It’s a bird’s eye view of the exact process I follow with my clients to take them from finished draft to publishable manuscript in just three months! Pop your email in the form below and I’ll send it to you.

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Author: Whynott Edit

Hi, I'm Megan! My mission is to help underrepresented writers refine their words, strengthen their skills, and tell the best possible versions of their stories.

If you have questions/comments/concerns about writing, editing, or publishing, or want to suggest a post topic, feel free to reach out to me! megan[at]whynottedit.com