What exactly does a developmental editor do? What’s going to happen to your book baby once you hit send? And possibly most terrifying, what will it look like when you get it back? Not many writers have a clear idea of what it would be like to work with a developmental editor and the unanswered questions keep them from hiring one.

So, what’s it really like to work with a developmental editor?

work with a developmental editor

The nightmare

You attach your baby to an email and hit send. Immediately, you’re hit by a wave of doubt and insecurity. What if the editor doesn’t get it? What if she hates it? What if she tells me I suck? You shake the thoughts from your head and take a few deep breaths, deciding to wait and see.

The next few weeks are spent in agonizing silence. You haven’t heard anything from your editor outside of a perfunctory, “I got it,” email. You’re growing increasingly sure that no news isn’t good news. You’ve drafted several, “How’s it going?” emails but they all fail to pass the chill test so you deleted them before sending.

Just when you think you can’t stand it any longer, you get an email. There isn’t much in the body of the thing, so you open the attachments. Everything your editor says confirms your deepest fears. She tore your baby apart, finding every flaw and holding a magnifying glass up to it. There is clearly so much work left to be done, and you start to think it might be hopeless. Obviously, you just can’t do this whole writing a book thing.

There’s no silver lining to be found and you’re left devastated and unsure of where to go next.

The reality

Whew! Writing that made me so anxious, so let’s take a few cleansing breaths, yeah? *Inhale . . . exhale*

Okay. That was the nightmare scenario. One that a lot of writers carry around in their heads and hearts and that stops them over and over from reaching out.

The good news is: that’s not how it really goes.

Working with an editor, any editor isn’t like uploading your work to a mysterious black box that spits out all the ways in which you fail as a writer. Or, it shouldn’t be anyway.

Editors are humans. Humans who love books and the people who write them and want both to succeed! You should never be nervous to email them for updates or even just reassurance. And you should always feel supported and encouraged, even when receiving critique.

How I work with my writers

The very first thing I do with my writers is get on a face-to-face video call to talk all about them, their writing, and this book. I do this for a lot of reasons. I love talking about writing with writers, for one. It’s fun to get to know the person behind the story, and I want my writers to know and trust me.

But most importantly, I need to know what your goals are for this story. If I don’t know your vision before I start working, I can’t help you get there. I can only take guesses at what I think you were going for and make suggestions for where I think you should take it.

Once we’ve had our get-to-know-you call, I get straight to work on the full developmental edit. This takes me about two weeks, depending on the size and condition of the manuscript. (If I need more editing time, I will let you know ASAP and it won’t affect your revision coaching time.)

Generally, this is the longest you’ll go without hearing from me. But, like I said, you are absolutely free to send me “how’s it going” emails. Just know that if I’m answering too many of those, that’s time I’m not working on your baby.

A full developmental edit from me consists of two full read throughs of your story. The first is purely for comprehension and experience. I make notes about my reactions to certain events, write down questions as I have them, and get a complete picture of your story as it exists.

The second read through is for deep critique. Did the questions I noted get answered in a timely fashion? How is the pacing/plot structure/character development and what can be done to improve all those things?

In addition to my inline comments (made using Track Changes in Microsoft Word), all my thoughts and suggestions get condensed into a multiple-page developmental memo. This document fleshes out my ideas on/for the story, broken down by major elements like plot, characters, theme, author voice, tensions/pacing, etc.

A few days to a week after I send you all this feedback, we get on another call to go over aaaaallllll your questions/comments/concerns. This is when you get to ask for clarification about things that didn’t make sense to you, or push back about a suggestion I made that didn’t feel right. The goal here is to make sure you understand what you’re changing and why. 

Then begins our revision coaching period! We break down your novel into manageable chunks based on our timeframe and what you reasonably can expect to get through in a week. Usually, it’s at least 40 pages per week.

As you send me revised sections weekly, I’ll be sending them back to you with my new thoughts. You don’t have to address this new feedback as it comes, in fact, I recommend my writers NOT do that. It’s important to keep moving forward. If something needs to be addressed as you go, like a recurring formatting mistake or maybe an element that’s going in the wrong direction, I’ll highlight it in the body of my email.

This process allows for more in-depth explanation and guidance on my part. And can keep you from making changes that take you off course.

Are you ready to Build Momentum?

This whole process is designed to give you a ton of valubale feedback on your work, show you what to do with it, and then help you actually do it. The guidance and accountability built into this package virtually guarentees that you’ll come out the other side with a whole new version of your story!

I only take two Build Momentum clients a month, and spots fill fast.

You still have a few days to take advantage of my current special: an extra month of revision coaching FREE. Click here to book now!

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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