Are developmental edits worth it?

Source: prolixme and the Enlight app
One of the most common questions we ask as writers is – how much editing should I do?

We know first drafts are hardly ever (I don’t want to say never, but really, pretty much never) fit for publication.  But how do you know when your work is ready (or even simply good enough)?

I’ve heard other authors say that your work is ready when you put back in a “the” that you previously took out (in other words obsessing over the little things).  But that’s not necessarily true.  I’ve asked an agent at a writer’s conference and was told that you should get a piece “as polished as possible” before you submit it…but what does that really mean?

Pay editing services – should you or shouldn’t you?  The struggle is real…

For a long time, I struggled with if I should pay for editing services.  My editing method of choice?  Annoying friends and family to read my work and essentially proofread my novel and give me general feedback.  And btw – thank you to all of the friends and family who did read my novel (some several times), you are wonderful. 🙂

 

But after sending my novel out to two agents and getting rejected, I decided to take a second look at paid editing services.  First, let me say that in the book business, you are going to get more than one or two rejections.  But, because I’m an over-thinker (and because I know that you shouldn’t query the same agent/house twice with the same novel), I decided to get some professional help before the rejection letters really started stacking up.

How to find editors?

Ah, this part is oh-so tricky.  As writers, we’re protective of our work and we don’t want it stolen or butchered by shysters.  As a result, we’re a little tentative about who we give our darlings to for tending.  I can’t say with absolute authority who you should pick for an editor.  There are a lot of good ones out there. But I’d say (and this is only my opinion), for developmental edits:

  1. Use a well-known, legitimate source to find them or use a well-known giant in the industry, at least for the first time so you know where to set the bar in the future.  I went with Writer’s Digest 2nd Draft Service and was pleased.
  2. Find someone through word-of-mouth, from someone you trust, who knows what they’re doing.

Either way, you need someone who knows what they’re doing and has experience with developmental editing for novels (or whatever you’re trying to get published).  If you can find one specifically for your genre, excellent.  If not, try to find someone who at least has some industry experience.  Why?  I’m getting to that…

How much should you pay?

Oh, we starving artists.  I’m sad to say that developmental edits are pricy and for a long time, that was a sticking point for me.  But, after having one done, I can say that it was worth it for me.

Does that mean I’ll do a second developmental edit for fun, after I make some of the suggested changes to my novel?  Prob not, this girl has to eat too (and clad my feet in pretty shoes).  BUT, I will do it after I write my next novel, without a doubt.

What is a developmental edit anyway?

Fear not, friends.  Until recently I didn’t know what a developmental edit was either.  But I’ve recently gotten one done and as a result can speak with some knowledge on the situation.  Here’s what you’ll get with a developmental edit:

  • Logline (single sentence that summarizes your work, think mini-elevator pitch)
  • Synopsis of your novel (handy because it proves that someone took the time to read it).
  • Overall analysis (and kind of a grading) on your novel elements (plot, writing, etc.)
  • Detailed level of analysis:  Takes your novel elements (plot, writing, characters, etc.) and delves into a greater detail of analysis.  Here is where the editor will give you comments on what you’ve done well, where you need improvements, and sometimes even ideas on what you can do to make things better.  Also, sometimes developmental editors will point out some basic grammatical/proofreading areas for you to look at as well (which is super handy).

Do I really need a developmental edit?

My answer is – it depends.  If you’ve been submitting to agents and haven’t been accepted as a client, if publishers have rejected your work, or if your self published work isn’t doing as well as you’ve hoped – you might want to take a look at it.  Granted, a lot of the book industry is based on preferences and there is a chance that you haven’t found the right agent or audience for your book yet.  So, really take a look at why your book isn’t doing as well as you hoped (or think about why you don’t have an agent yet, like me) and do some soul searching.

For me – the answer is yes. I found the developmental edit extremely helpful and plan on implementing a majority of the suggested changes.  Why not all of them?  Because it’s my art and I can do with it what I want.  After all, some amount of editing comes down to preference and as the author, you hold the final say over your work.

That being said, prepare yourself when you get the developmental edit back.  Chances are, there will be a lot of good things that the editor has to say, but there will most likely be areas of improvement as well (and as a writer, I know how hard that is to take).  But think of it this way: if there were no items to fix, you wouldn’t be able to utilize the service to make things better.

Know that this isn’t your last edit.

lol.  I wish…and you probably do too.  But the fact of the matter is that after the developmental edit, there is at least one more round of editing/proofreading.  And, if you go the traditional publishing route, you may end up working with another editor to polish your work even more.  Don’t fear though…it’s just another step on the road to getting published and maybe one glorious day, seeing your book on a lovely shelf at Barnes & Noble or online at Amazon.

So chin up, it can happen…you might just need a little extra help getting there.

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