By Karen S. Cole: Developmental Editor – do you need professional editing for your book manuscript?
Why you should hire a developmental editor to assist you with your manuscript.
How do I start – what is the hook of my story to a developmental editor?
What does a developmental editor do? The major part of being a book editor begins at the beginning. BEGIN THE BEGUINE! Where do I begin to tell the story? Of how great a love can be? My life’s purpose, all about my mother’s saga, how business nowadays can sell, how personal relationships can improve, how to properly rig a sailboat…? The beginning of your story is your “hook.” It’s the necessary element of surprise, fascination and development of the reader’s interest.
When you start something written out, you need to grab the reader’s attention! There must be no wandering eye over to the refrigerator, the TV or the door. You need to say something relevant to what the reader is looking for, so new, fresh and evocative that it sets their minds reeling, so poignant they say, “Aww, how cute and gripping is…this story about Siamese twin hippos, this system for gambling at the puppy races, this relationship with his bisexual ex, that celebrity’s gnarly future…etc.”
Whether your book is a business book, a relationship guide or a memoir about your family, shout it out! Tell all about a corrupt partner or the latest story of how the Royals of Britain are keen on sympathy, tea and scandals. You need to introduce it originally, in a thought-provoking whirlwind manner. You may have written something with a slam-bang ending and a weak beginning. One answer is to move your basic end to your beginning. Then retrace your steps in flashbacks throughout your book. Thus, you bring your readers into a stark-staring conclusion – possibly, a different ending than the one you telegraphed before.
Find ways to keep your reader riveted to the page, from the very start of your book. Give them details that make them wonder about further details. Keep them surprised and guessing! A great developmental editor will know exactly how to do this. It’s how to create a proper hook and close it with an intro to the rest of the book. It makes sense, is easy to understand and familiar enough to relate to readily.
What is the beginning, the middle and the ending about?
The beginning is your hook, as above. Then you usually start chronologically in the order of events. You want the reader to perceive them unfolding. That’s right; you forever need to think in terms of your reader, not you. All the events may not be in strict chronological order, though. So you may want to introduce each new premise as you need the reader to slowly draw understanding from it. The events need not be perfectly in order timewise. It can be smart, though, to draw up a timeline. You can then keep events in chronological order, as they might not be exactly that way inside the actual manuscript. Having two people, such as when hiring a developmental editor, works like a charm. One of you is sure to catch any mistakes missed by the other one!
When a developmental editor works on your book, events may also not be seen in the same importance as the way you originally put them. Certain events of a “greater” significance play out differently, such as deeply expanding on or even removing them. Your paper timeline can show the events in the order in which you want them to be perceived. Also, they can be perceived separately in the order in which they actually occur over time. The middle of your book will consist of the actions and dialogue of your characters. This is if it’s a work of fiction, or it could consist of the outlining of the contents if it’s a business book detailing, for example, how to better run companies. Or real people’s actions, names or pseudonyms, nuances and results of reactions if it’s a work of nonfiction. The order you put the events into is entirely up to you and your developmental editor.
The ending of the book is the denouement. That’s French for the final resolution of the intricacies of a plot. It is your climax, where the important event or events of your ideas are finally made crystal clear. Or, if you have a sequel, they are carried further out in the next and following books in your series. The beginning and the ending of your book, especially if it’s fiction, are seen as the most important parts. The middle can contain a lot of padding and filler. It’s up to you and your developmental editor to make it as lively and interesting as humanly possible. It may contain pictures, quotes, references to pie charts and graphs, etc. It shouldn’t be irrelevant, and should stick closely to the topics of your book. The ending is most crucial to whether or not you are seeking a continuous readership.
The end or denouement of your book should always be a bang, not a whimper! This is far more important than in the beginning, if you want your readers to come back for more. It should be a surprise, what you’ve led up to in the case of a nonfiction book where you’re telling the details of a real life incident. Or in a business book, where you are laying out the steps in a plan. Or for a relationship book, where you recap what you’ve told everybody before lovingly in detail. No matter whether fiction or nonfiction, the end of your book should be memorable. A professional developmental editor is well trained in making strong beginnings. You need consistently prepared middle sections, chapter and section headings, naming chapters, and laying out the entire book until it comes to its smashing conclusion. A developmental editor will help you create a more compelling book.
If my book isn’t strong, what is making it weak and undeveloped?
In the case of a fiction book, it might be your characters. You may be putting too heavy of a load on your main character, and you need to develop and bring out the roles your lesser lights play. Don’t make the reader fall in love with just one character; spread the joy around so that several people are cared about. The old-fashioned ploy of having the main character be “available” is worthwhile, but not always effective. Readers “get that” nowadays, and don’t fall in love so easily. You should probably go for an atmosphere of family. This is how you draw in interest wisely through distribution of character traits, foibles, inner humanity and reserves of honesty and celebration. One thing about fiction is you always need a new slant, especially on an overworked concept such as Dracula. Make sure the Count of Vampires is doing what he’s never done before. People get tired of the same ol’ thing, so you need something like he reincarnates as the Dalai Lama, with fangs. He is bringing sex into the Tibetan Buddhist religion, while leaving Mt. Everest strewed with corpses. Something that flagrantly different!
In the case of a nonfiction book, it might be your facts. The story of how an airline was corrupt enough to hurt exactly one person may sound good if that one person is the author. But is it enough to get other people caring about it deeply? Not necessarily. Development of an idea of newsworthy reportage is the main thrust of a nonfiction work about a timely important event. A developmental editor can assist you with talking about things in an opportunistic, socially engaging manner. The event should be clearly and cleverly laid out in reader-friendly style. It must make points throughout involving the “big scandals” or happenings original to your book. There should be pictures of your people and events, with written permission to use the truest possible facts whenever needed.
In the case of a memoir, it may simply be your writing style. There’s a tendency to start at the beginning, “I was born in a small log cabin in 1920…” and bog down from there. Try not to write your book as a revenge ploy, merely the exposé of people or a family nobody has heard of. Don’t play up what a hard life you had – at least, not without mentioning in glowing, public detail all about how you overcame your obstacles. Many people have hard lives and will be able to relate to yours. But they won’t be seeking vengeance against the people who hurt you personally. They have no interest in it! You must write for your readers, not just you – unless you want “just you” to read your book. Your book editor will try to be impartial, fair and honest with you concerning this.
A developmental editor may even bring out the “people person” in you. Of course, you might need a family memoir just for your friends, family, relatives and colleagues. If so, it may be advisable for the editor to help you develop whatever you are trying to state in your memoir or life story. You are bringing out the most wonderful, readable details of your or your relative’s life, which may not be freely flowing from your own pen. The editor will help you, in a manner similar to book coaching, having you write out a chapter outline or point by point outline of events. The editor will also act to draw out your important facts, events, names of people, and fact check for you. This ensures you did indeed get it all down on paper correctly and smoothly.
In any case, your own poor grammar, syntax, spelling and other related issues may be part of things. This requires a grammar editor and proofreader, not a developmental editor. Do bear in mind the difference between them. A grammar editor is cheaper than a developmental editor. However, a good professional developmental editor will assist you with your spelling, grammar, fact checking, redundancy problems and other such abysmal woes. This is part of the overall editing process. A great developmental editor will include all of these things in the overall price, so that you get something well-structured, polished and golden. Your book should shimmer in the light like a jewel, not slurp in the mud of sameness, poor grammar, or consistent lack of style and substance. And literary agents and book publishers will frown on an incomplete, boring, error-ridden manuscript. It may be your baby, but remember, it isn’t theirs yet!
Isn’t a developmental editor only for when I have writer’s block?
No. You can hire a professional book editor at a much cheaper price than a ghostwriter. He or she will develop your characters, sub-characters and background people, your plots, sub-plots and general machination and imagination of your story. This holds true whether it’s a screenplay, a song or a book manuscript. Someone can be a second set of eyes and a wholly fresh mind. They are paid to review, absorb and tell you critically in a personalized but impartial manner what is wrong with your story.
Hire a developmental editor to give you the polish you need from a professional writer. To bring out all the good you are aware lurks beneath the surface of your so-far humdrum, prosaic purple prose. You can make your book sing, with some outside knowledgeable assistance. Two heads are better than one. It is worth the cost; sometimes you can hire a writer to come in as your credited co-author. Then you save yourself at least some of the money you would ordinarily pay a developmental editor, too!