This is a true story. A couple years ago an unpublished author contacted me about doing an edit for her. I jumped through my usual hoops trying to determine what she meant by that; after all, there are many different kinds of editors, and authors who have never been through the publishing process, I’ve found, are often completely unaware of the developmental (or substantive) phase of editing.
So I started there. I suggested a dev edit, or at the very least, a critique.
I’m not sure if what I really need is a developmental edit since I already worked with an editor and writer’s coach previously with my other novel. She also used to freelance for agents and publishers for authors that [sic] needed to clean up their work. Unfortunately, she has retired from editing services and I’m now looking for an editor I can work with. I’m familiar with the structure, pacing, voice, characterization, plot, POV etc etc but what I basically need is for the novel to become more exciting like by making the sentences more active, the action verbs more clear in keeping the characters in motion and the descriptions more authentic. I also need the dialogue to be less formal and sentences tightened. Do these categories fall into a developmental edit or a line edit? I wasn’t sure but in terms of structure, I’m confident that it is solid.
Um. Did you catch that?
I’m familiar with the structure, pacing, voice, characterization, plot, POV etc etc … but in terms of structure, I’m confident that it is solid. She’s worked with a coach on her previous book and now she’s got it down, folks. I did explain to her that every book released by, say, Random House goes through a developmental process. So whether you’re John Grisham, Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, or Danielle Steele (it appears RH has four of the top five New York Times fiction best sellers as I am writing this—weeks before you’re reading it), your books have each been through a developmental edit. Not just the first book. Every single one.
What I basically need is for the novel to become more exciting like by making the sentences more active, the action verbs more clear in keeping the characters in motion and the descriptions more authentic. I also need the dialogue to be less formal. This sounds like something some other editor told her to do. Because, you know, these elements make up the craft of writing. They’re the sorts of things publishers expect their authors to be able to do. (Just sayin’.) When I make these suggestions to authors in my editorial notes, though, I generally give them examples from their own manuscript and suggest ways to rewrite them. I told her it sounded like she wanted me to rewrite her book. Like, a coauthor.
I ended up reading her first chapter and synopsis (I no longer do this gratis; I don’t have enough time). Aside from the purple prose and ho-hum opening line and paragraph, it was about what I expected. The synopsis didn’t make much sense. But my favorite part was the nine-months-pregnant protagonist sitting on her bed in March (there was a reason for its being spring), clutching a photograph of her and her husband. The photo had been taken on their last romantic trip together—in fact, their unborn child had been conceived on this trip. It was a ski trip to Lake Tahoe: you know, all that fluffy snow and those romantic nights by the fireplace. All great details!
I’ll pause now while you do the math.
Yes, that puts them in Lake Tahoe in, oh, July. I’m not a skier, so I checked ski resorts in Tahoe. And guess what? There’s no snow in Lake Tahoe in July.
This is just one of the many things a developmental editor looks out for. Kids, you cannot reinvent the laws of nature. (Of course, you can just change the location of that romantic getaway to Jamaica. That’s the beauty of fiction.)
I realize many readers might not even notice these sorts of details—and I have no doubt that there were many more little issues like this in the rest of the manuscript—but I’m of the opinion that if this underlying structure isn’t good, nothing else can be good. This is based on several years of having my hands in manuscripts. I have yet to see one from even the most experienced author that didn’t need some substantive finesse.
Interestingly, the most experienced authors know this, and welcome the input.
This aspiring author didn’t hire me. And that’s OK, really. :)
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”