Books elicit different responses from different people, so it’s no wonder that the feedback we receive from critique groups and beta readers can be varied and even contradictory. As an indie author, it can be hard to discern good advice from bad or know whose feedback to trust—especially when that feedback is yanking your story in different directions. You can make change after change, only to find that your critique partners are never quite satisfied. If you’ve reached this stage with your work in progress, it might be time to seek the advice of a developmental editor.
Unlike a line editor (who focuses on the granular details of your story, like grammar, sentence structure, spelling, punctuation, tense, fact checking, and voice) or a proofreader (who is usually the final set of eyes and is on the lookout for any mistakes that were overlooked during previous rounds of editing), a developmental editor focuses on big-picture items, like plot and characterization.
I hired a developmental editor before publishing my novel, Empty Arms, and the experience was transformational. With the help of my critique partners, I’d taken my manuscript as far as I could on my own, but something wasn’t quite right and none of us could put our finger on it. After my editor read my manuscript and compiled her notes, we met at a café in upstate New York to discuss her feedback. She showed me structural elements that weren’t working and distracting subplots that could be cut out entirely. She questioned my characters’ motivations and authenticity and helped me identify the true heart of the story.
When I left that meeting, my head was spinning and I faced a serious revision. Rather than wishing me luck and sending me on my way, she encouraged me to revise my outline and send it to her. It took some time, but I did. Again, she showed me what was working, what wasn’t, and why. She offered thoughtful suggestions for improvement, and I revised it again. We spent a few weeks going back and forth until the outline was tight, which made tackling the revisions more manageable.
Since publishing Empty Arms, readers have come up to me, grabbed my arm, and said things like, “I LOVED that book” and “I didn’t see that ending coming.” While compliments like that fill my heart with joy, I know they wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my developmental editor and the massive rewrite she inspired.
While hiring a developmental editor isn’t cheap, their expertise can be invaluable. But it’s critical that you find the right person for your project. Today, I’m going to share my process for doing just that.
Step 1: Do your homework
Compile a list of editors who specialize in projects like yours and have the qualifications to back them up. Research what titles they’ve worked on, how long they’ve been in the business, what type of training and credentials they have, and whether they have any client testimonials on their website. Here are some resources to get you started:
- Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) – membership required
- Book Editors Alliance
- Editorial Freelancers Association
- The Editors Circle
- Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) – membership required
- Independent Editors Group
- Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents
- Words into Print
Once your list is complete, send each candidate an e-mail detailing your project (include word count, genre, log line, etc.) and request a time to speak on the phone so you can get a feel for his or her process and pricing. While most editors will be willing to speak with you, a few may be too busy to take on new projects, have a long wait list, or only work with referrals.