By Stacy Melanie Jerger (@ApoideaEdits)
Critiques, also known as evaluations, are inherently part of a developmental editor’s work. We do them naturally as a way of organizing all the big pieces of content that hang together, deciding what a story needs, and drawing up an estimate. When authors hire us for a developmental edit, they’re already getting a critique in a way since editors must evaluate a story to some degree--and communicate its needs to the author.
It’s easy for authors to shy away from critiques because the word reminds us of “critic” and we all fear a critic (even the one inside us). And some of us have had unsavory experiences in critique groups in which opinions are flung around, and by the end, all of those opinions can leave us discouraged and confused when we turn to revision.
What professional authors need when looking for detailed feedback is a professional talented pre-reader who offers suggestions specific to their project and has an interest in their success.
Developmental Editor vs. Beta Reader
Recently I came across a LinkedIn discussion about whether or not to pay beta readers. From my experience as a beta reader, it’s usually a volunteer-based role, but authors should mention them in the acknowledgements—that seemed to be the consensus in the comments.
Beta readers are great. They pre-read manuscripts and offer feedback to authors. There are no set rules on this. As a writer it really depends what kind of feedback you're asking for and how discerning your beta readers are. They can offer comments on plot, characters, any inconsistencies or areas that didn't make sense to them. Or they can simply keep their feedback toward reader-response comments (how first-time readers could react to the story).
But if authors are going to pay for feedback, that feedback should be from a professional.
A good developmental editor brings a lot to a critique. They look at manuscripts from both a reader-response and editorial mindset, focusing on first impressions as well as plot, structure, character development, setting, point of view, and many other areas of content.
My critiques give a detailed overview of the strengths and areas in need of improvement, in-depth and organized feedback, and specific solutions so an author can feel good about revision.
If that’s the level of feedback an author is looking for, a developmental editor may be the way to go (before or after beta readers).
What to Expect in a Developmental Editor’s Critique
Like anything in life, there should be balance somewhere. A balanced critique should contain discerning thoughts on what isn’t working and where and why; constructive thoughts on how something could be improved or revised (solutions); praise on the strengths of the story and what the author did right.
Here’s a list of areas I focus on:
- Story and scene structure (3 acts, suspense, flow)
- Plot and conflict (logic, entertainment level, loose threads)
- Characters (likeability, consistency, motives)
- Setting and description (details, senses, grounding readers, opening up the story)
- Point of view and tone
A good developmental editor understands that suggestions can’t be just any idea that would work better than what the author wrote. They need to be tailored to the story in ways that make sense and improve the work. To come up with suggestions and solutions require a developmental editor to problem solve and even sleep on ideas before commenting.
Do I Even Need a Critique? I Can Revise On My Own
I can revise on my own too, and the results aren't always great. Especially if I'm lacking direction or if I'm prone to "blind spots." Without outside opinions and trained fresh eyes, I could be fixing the wrong problems. I could be romancing the details when my conflict is weak and the structure has holes!
No matter how good the writing is, without prior feedback on content, readers could stumble into plot holes and float off the ends of loose threads.There are so many things that can go wrong in a story and issues can easily fall between the cracks.
Investing in a good critique helps writers get organized and brings their manuscript to the next level. Critiques can also affirm what we’ve done well (because who hasn’t had writerly doubts?).
Developmental editors understand story elements, writing rules, and authors’ goals, and they bring some great in-depth feedback and roundedness to critiques.