One of the fun things of my job that I don’t spend enough time on is the developmental edit. I have decided recently that I needed to spend more time on it. I’m not sure what parts of my job that will eat into, but it’s a very important step and I don’t want to short change it. That being said, some books don’t need much of an edit. My revision requests aren’t a reflection of me, I don’t think. They are requests which I think will make the story stronger. I do my very best to stay out of the story. I hope that make sense.
When a manuscript comes in, I usually read it quickly the first time through. That gives me the plot and any holes or issues will stand out. I make some notes, but not many. The first read is like a gut check – am I sucked into the story, does the mystery hold up, will it sell? At this time I decide if I need to do another read and a developmental edit. I also get notes from the production editor. If our notes match up, I add in anything else I have and then I send those off to the author. But if the book needs more, then I do a second read.
(I want to add in here that if author A gets little or no edits than author B doesn’t mean that author B sucks. It is all a process of continuous learning. Instead of lamenting that you got an editorial letter, instead think, hey, this editor acquired my book because they believe in me and my writing and this editorial letter is going to make my book stronger and tighter.)
So begins the second read. I start with the printed ms, a notepad, and sharpened pencils. As I read through the ms, on my notepad, I record the important information for each chapter, including characters and the info about each one. In the margins of the notebook I also note the day to establish a timeline. If there is something that is really bugging me, I make stars all over it so I when I finish the ms I can easily find them. The notepad notes are the big picture. On the ms itself, I make notes too. Those are usually little things like typos, would a character say that, this sentence doesn’t make sense, etc. The second read can take me a good ten to twelve hours for a 300 page cozy ms where the first read would be two to three hours. The more details the longer it takes.
Once I have completed the second read, I ruminate on the book for a bit. I might step away from it for a day or two. Then I go over my notes. Sometimes it’s very clear on what needs to be done, cleaning up the timeline, adding some red herrings, beefing up a subplot. Sometimes I need to think on it a bit more. Once I’m feeling I have it all sorted in my mind, I type up my notes and send my notes and the production editor’s notes to the author for revision.
I often forget the compliment sandwich. You know:
Just finished your manuscript. You did a great job! I love it XY and Z about it.
I do have some revision requests that I have attached. If you can make those and get your revised ms back to me by XXX, that would be awesome.
Again, I just wanted to tell you how much I love this book. You are awesome!
Once in a while an author will say they don’t want to change something. Then we talk about it. Maybe there are other ways to get around the issue I have. Maybe not. At the end of the day though, the content of the book is the author’s story to tell. If they refuse to make a change, that is ok. I only ask that when I send revision requests, that the author takes a step back and look at the book critically, to determine if what I am asking will make the book stronger or not. Not only do I want our books to be awesomely plotted and written, but I also want it to sell a kajillion copies. Sometimes those things don’t go hand in hand, which sucks, but no one has ever called writing or publishing an easy or fair business.
So there it is – developmental editing. That is what I have been doing for the last three days. J