Developmentally Delectable

There are many stages in the editing process, and this month, Long Story Short will be fleshing out the reasoning behind the particular services How Novel provides, ordered chronologically with the writing process. Lucky for you, most everything comes along with an illustration or two straight from my geeky (but quietly charming, she said very convincingly) life, especially childhood.

It’s important for writers to find the support that helps their style and process. Some folks plan out everything. Others like the excitement of “winging it.” Some writers take months and years to deliberate over their manuscript, putting it in a proverbial drawer until they can weigh the pros and cons of proposed changes. Others like to keep the momentum going by editing as soon as they’ve received feedback. Hopefully, hearing about the services offered by HNE will be helpful for you as you continue on your writing journey and discern the best fit for your work!

DEVELOPMENTAL EDITING

This is the bread and butter (or more fitting for today, cake and frosting) of what How Novel does. You can find it over on the services page.

I’m that person at a wedding reception who strategically times her trip to the cake table. I lurk in the background watching my prey, avoiding the notice of other predators. I wait patiently until one of the corners (or, in a pinch, any edge piece) has been cut, and with the speed of a sugar-crazed cheetah, I pounce. If I can intimidate the attendant into scraping off the cake server onto my plate, I consider the hunt a success. Frosting is the reason for cake. This is the code I live by.

Come to think of it, that was the ONLY year I was allowed to decorate my own birthday cake.

Come to think of it, that was the ONLY year I was allowed to decorate my own birthday cake.

With that being understood, let’s go back to 1988 when my parents allowed me to decorate my own cake. That was the fateful year that I began to learn the truth of the words “too much of a good thing.”

Don’t get me wrong. I took full advantage of the situation, and the result was a five year old’s dream. The cake was a beautiful mess. But after a couple of mouthfuls of straight buttercream, it was hard to taste its perfection anymore. The glorious piles of multicolored frosting squiggles weren’t so magnificent after the second — or fifth — bite.

Imagine developmental editing is cake taste-testing. You’re looking for the right balance of flavors, the best ratio of cake to frosting, the correct texture to make it palatable, and presentation beautiful enough to make you just a little sad to cut into it. If my self-decorated birthday cake had been a book, it would have hit you over the head with the sweet feels, left you crawling toward the kitchen for a tall glass of palate cleansing plot substance, and would have had the elegance of an asthmatic rhinoceros performing Swan Lake. Developmental editing is like getting a second opinion about your delectable manuscript from a different set of taste buds to assess the content and style.

A developmental editor (DE) will not only identify areas of confusion, over-simplification, or entirely missing plot points but will offer suggestions to address those situations as well. If an author sends me a murder mystery, I ask myself, was it too easy to figure out whodunit? If so, I might suggest ways to send the reader down a bunny trail or two while still propelling the narrative forward. Or maybe the protagonist is reading as just a little underdeveloped, prompting me to brainstorm opportunities to make the character more three dimensional. Does the opening exposition drag on? Here’s something to think about to spice it up and trim it down. Sentences, paragraphs, or chapters might be recommended for cutting or moving if they are extraneous or working against the rising action. Like the cake frosting, the style and prose may be excellent, but is it a balanced part of the piece or does it mask the intent or action?

As to timing, this can happen at different intervals in the process, but if you’re wondering when to bring in a DE, a safe bet is by the time the first round of beta readers would see your manuscript. While a developmental editor will not be looking at your work for typos and grammatical errors, he/she will likely be distracted by them. Therefore, it’s in the author’s best interest (and, quite frankly, polite) to make a concerted effort to catch any glaring mistakes before it will be read by anyone else. An editor won’t expect it to be perfect (otherwise the world wouldn’t need editors!), but I have read submitted text that almost entirely lacked capitalization and punctuation before. That migraine is avoidable.

We won't delve into what happens if I discover that the flowers are real and not edible.

We won’t delve into what happens if I discover that the flowers are real and not edible.

Worth noting is that this can be a highly subjective process, so it’s important to find someone with whom you mesh well. It can be intimidating to put your work out there for consideration. So while an editor doesn’t need to be the author’s best buddy, a healthy respect for each other and, just as importantly, for the story is a must.

Additionally, while there are many things that are fairly standard, each editor will approach a manuscript and the editing process in a different way. For a business example, some services work by an hourly rate, while an HNE developmental edit includes a flat fee upfront that ensures the author a full ten contracted business days (starting upon HNE’s receipt of the manuscript) to receive my edits and then ask questions or request further input on alterations the author makes in the text. Why? Because I want to ensure that I never hand over my edits and say sayonara. I want to be around to clarify and support, to be an active participant in making positive growth possible. That may or may not be what a particular author is looking for, so the good news is that there are many freelance developmental editors out there. Chances are there’s a good fit for everyone!

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