Developmental Editing: How I Feel About Your Manuscript

By Stacy Melanie Jerger (@ApoideaEdits)

In May I guest-blogged at The Writers’ Creative about…well, a ton of stuff I do in developmental editing. But some of those things deserve their own post. Read Part 1: Does Developmental Editing Have Rules?


How I Feel About Your Manuscript

I mentioned on The Writers' Creative that developmental editors are supportive.

“The most important thing to remember is that, no matter how much work a developmental editor does on a manuscript, the writer makes the final decisions.”

As a writer myself (and one susceptible to low self-esteem), I honestly understand the anxiety writers feel when they send their manuscripts to anybody for a second opinion. The anxiety is much higher knowing it’s in an editor’s hands because editors are by nature, reading with critical eyes.

I don’t like to use the word “critical” because it implies a harsh, fault-finding, insensitive way of reading. When really, a good developmental editor looks for ways to make a story most effective and consistent. Of course, editors do so much more, and their range of tasks are a combination of learned skills and artistic talent. But I believe the most important quality an editor can posses is empathy. Without empathy, I wouldn’t be open to understanding different viewpoints. It’s essential in this line of work.

I'm not only critical but empathetic when reading a manuscript. And your manuscript is precious to me. 

I’m working in areas that are personal to writers, helping them tell the story they want to tell. Developmental editing is all about big picture ideas, flow, structure, characters, and many other things that play a role in content revision.

As I read, edit, and query, I’m trying to understand and preserve your message to readers, point out areas to maintain the consistency of what you’ve created, and find the most unobtrusive way to make moments sing.

I do a minimum of three passes on a manuscript, because writers deserve that level of commitment from me. And because book editing is very mentally intensive. Some passes last longer than others, but here they are in summary:

First pass – I read on behalf of a first-time reader, paying attention to my initial responses to the content. I take light notes along the way using Word’s comment feature. These notes are for my eyes only, and will remind me of my first responses during the second pass.

Second pass – By this time, I’ve stepped back to look at the manuscript from a bird’s eye view. I see the plot and characters’ actions stretched out before me like a map. Section by section, I go through the content, pointing out any structural gaps, giving suggestions and solutions, and asking the writer questions if something is unclear. For this level of editing, I don't touch the grammar.

Third pass – This is when I double check and tighten my content edits, and delve into some line editing. My line edits concentrate on flow, transitions, coherence, logic, clarity. And character actions. That is, if Alice orders a coke at dinner and sips red wine a few lines down, I’ll catch that.

*Note: Not all editors provide line edits. Sometimes content editors take on this task, sometimes copyeditors do. Be sure to ask editors you hire the range of tasks they do in their services.

My purpose is not to rewrite the story or change the writer's goals. If I want to write a story a certain way, I’ll write my own. :)

A manuscript is precious to me because I’m invited inside a writer’s world. I’ve been trusted with something that’s taken a writer months, even years to complete. That accomplishment deserves some respect!