E32 – What Is Developmental Editing?
In this episode, Miss Catherine M.H. and V.E. Griffith discuss developmental editing. What is it, how does it work, and what does it cost?
The Revision Wizards are at https://www.revisionwizards.com
V.E. Griffith’s website: https://www.vegriffith.com
Miss Catherine M.H.’s website: https://www.scribes-pen.com
Transcript at: https://revisionwizards.com/?p=2363
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:00:00
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m Ms. Catherine MH, and I am joined by my co host, the gifted Ve Griffith.
V.E. Griffith 00:00:07
This is episode 32, and this time we’re talking about developmental editing with our resident developmental editor. So, Ms. Catherine, tell us, what is developmental editing?
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:00:19
Now, I already told you you’re going to answer that question, so back at you. What is developmental editing?
V.E. Griffith 00:00:28
Developmental editing is a professional 30,000 foot look at your manuscript. Unlike some other kinds of editing, we’re not looking for periods and commas and switching one word for another here or there. Instead, we’re looking at larger issues like content, story structure, character development, pacing, those kinds of things. We’re not looking at the little bitty details like I like. We’re looking at the big structure, things like you like.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:01:05
Yes. So another way to look at that would be imagine that you’re looking at the development of a person. How do they grow through time and does it match what they are supposed to be doing? So if you’re at five years old, you’re supposed to be doing this. If you’re at ten years old, you’re supposed to be doing this. When you turn teens, here’s this milestone. So we’re kind of looking at the story and the editing to do the exact same. All the story has to be there. All the characters need to be there. Everything needs to be following that pattern. That is storytelling. So that is developmental editing. So when does someone start looking into getting a developmental edit? For me, it could happen two ways. Either you’ve been coached and you’ve been doing almost this developmental edit as you go, or you have gone through your draft a few times. So you have gotten to the point where you think you fixed everything, but you need to make sure so that’s when you go and you find a developmental editor and they will once again look through your story and make sure that the story is all connecting. They are not focusing on your spelling, your grammar, punctuation, all those fun things that VE likes to focus on and I could care less about. So in that case, you really want to get one. Once you’ve decided that there’s nothing else that you can do with your story, or you’re really stuck with something, but you’re not really sure what’s actually stuck, that’s when you get your developmental editor. What about you? When do you think someone should get one?
V.E. Griffith 00:02:52
I’m in about the same position. It’s when you are as done with your story as you can get. Once you’ve reached the point where you’re arguing with yourself over what color blue dress the character is wearing, you’re done. And you need to stop, because you can go back and forth and over and over and over forever. At some point, you’re done. You’ve got it as good as you can get it. Once that’s the case, then you’re ready for a developmental edit. The time not to get one is after you do your draft zero or your draft one where you’ve gotten everything down on the page. Now send it off to somebody. That’s not the way to do it. After you do your first draft, you want to go back over it yourself. Use the Story Rubric, for example, which is available on revisionwizards.com, and look at each element of your story. You can even look at the three C’s, the conflict of choice and the consequence at the scene level and at the story level to make sure that your story is where you want it to be. Once you get it as good as you can get it, that’s when you want to hire somebody for a developmental edit.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:04:07
Yeah, I would say try to go through at least three drafts. Unless you’re somebody who writes really well, you’ve been doing this a while, you really understand story. But even then, you want about three drafts because usually your first one, well, it’s the first one, it’s going to need some work. Your second one, you’re catching things. By the third one, you’ve caught a lot more than you think. So at that point, I want to say by your 3rd, 4th draft, you’re probably ready to send it to a developmental editor.
V.E. Griffith 00:04:41
When you’re doing a developmental edit for a client, do you have a process or a set of tools that you use, or do you just sort of do it like you’re writing and you wing it?
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:04:51
So I do have a process. It’s the same process I use for my edits. So when I go through, I will do the exact same edit process that I do for my clients. I have a color code system. I absolutely love the color code system because my Dyslexic, my ADHD brain really likes it. So I will have five colors. Sometimes it varies depending on the client. Yellow means I really liked something. So if I’m highlighting something in yellow, it’s good. It’s made me laugh. It is something that I cannot stop thinking about. And those are always really good to get back and to give to a client to give them that little, hey, your book might need some work, but this right here was like Chef’s kiss. It was perfect. I couldn’t believe how funny or how amazing or how scary this section was. This, you nailed. And it really helps the person getting it back to be like, oh, my work isn’t shit awesome. Like, not all of it’s shit. I have some good stuff. And for me, it just reminds me as I go through my own writing, hey, you really liked this. Make sure you’re still playing with that kind of attitude as you go through your story. Next is green. And green means awkward. If I’m highlighting it, it either sounds super awkward or it’s so awkward, it’s confusing. If you read it out loud and you’re like, what did I just what gets highlighted as green? You’ll know, blue can be something of a reword or a delete. Usually I leave a comment on the side as well to be like, you don’t need this, delete it. Or hey, this is good, but you need to reword it a bit. So I mean, you saw some of that with my stuff. I used to have a lot more blue where I’d be like, oh, the sentence just needs to be flipped around. So I had a lot of those in there. And then pink is for consistency. Sometimes it can also be used for glossary. Really depends on what kind of work someone’s giving to me. If they have a lot of words or a lot of unknown words to a person, how often are they showing up on a page? So if I’m at the very beginning of the book and I’ve suddenly got like 30 names and like 17 words and I’m two pages in, I’m highlighting. So I’m going to go back, I’m going to start marking how many times you are bringing in a new character, how many times you are bringing in a new word. So for those people, that’s what pink will be. For others, it could just be something consistency or they need to research something. I do work with a lot of historical stuff, so if I see something, I’ll highlight it in pink and be like, hey, double check this. This sounds like it doesn’t quite match historical. I’ll also double check and be like, hey, go here for this reference. And then orange, which is one of my favorites and is debatable on the person. Orange means add more detail. So really like to get a character description. I really like to have more detail in a section or if there’s a lot of dialogue, I’ll start highlighting a little bit in orange to be like, hey, we just got talking heads here. Add me some detail of what’s going on in the scene. So that’s really how I go about my developmental edits is I give you a color code system and we go through the whole manuscript and I will leave comments on the side. If I am handwriting this or then you’re still getting the highlight system and you’re still getting notes written in the side margins. So that’s the system I really use. Do you have a system?
V.E. Griffith 00:09:03
I do. And I don’t do color coding because that’s not how my brain works. Instead, I’m going to open up your manuscript in Microsoft Word and I’m going to turn on track changes and I’m going to make fewer changes to the text and more comments in a developmental edit because I’m not looking at consistency and spelling and word choice. I’m looking at the overall. So I’m going to make comments about character description. I’m going to make comments about dialogue and pacing. I’m going to make comments about things like that that are not nitty gritty I’m going to look at is your villain believable? What do I think the conflict, choice and consequence in each of these scenes are? And I do that to make sure that I know what I think they are and you know what is coming across to the reader. If that’s what you want. If I’m picking the wrong conflict and I’m getting the wrong thing out of the chapter, then maybe that means that you need to edit the chapter again and change how you’re presenting the material for the overall story. I will prepare a story rubric for a client, and I’ll go through each section. I’ll keep the story rubric up. I have three screens, so I’ll keep the story rubric up on one screen. I’ll keep the manuscript in the middle screen, and then I’ll have notes to myself on the left screen that help me do things like create a reverse outline, make notes to myself, or help the client build a style guide so that I can make sure that all of the character names are consistent, that she still has blue and green eye, blue or green eyes or whatever the color is. And those eyes don’t change. That helps me remember characters, and it also helps the client, I think, make sure that what they want to get across about the character has been gotten across. So I don’t do a line by line, but I do do general impressions in that kind of a document. But the big thing is going to be my notes, the story rubric, and then an overall, basically an editorial letter that’s going to go over the details of what I saw, what I didn’t see, where I think things are excellent, where I think things are not so great. Because you’re right, everybody needs some encouragement. And I do like to try and find things that I like because most manuscripts aren’t complete wastes of time. Most of them have some good, and I like to point that out. Most of them need some work. That’s fine. That’s why you hire a developmental editor. But I need to find a balance because nobody likes to be told that their work is shit. It may be shit, but I’m not going to tell you that that way. I’m going to present it to you in a way that is actionable that you can fix, that you can work on, that will lead you down a path to making your manuscript even even better. So what do you give back a.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:12:14
Client when you’re done so it depends. Sometimes we’re doing a full rubric. If they want to have a full sit down and go over the things with me, that’s when I pull in the rubric to go over with them. If they’re like, hey, I just want you to look this over and give me your color code system as I go through, and then I go do it. Then I’m like, here you go. So of course they always get the manuscript back. They get the color coding back. And of course they always have the comments along the side or they’re handwritten there. So they’re usually getting that if, like I said, they want to have a longer conversation and really go over in detail sections. I’ll add a rubric. If a scene is super bad or it’s super confusing, I’ll then pull in a scene rubric and I’ll give it for that chapter and I’ll go through like, hey, this is where this chapter, it’s not falling right. Rest of your work is doing pretty good, but this section right here, take a closer look at these sections because I don’t have enough room in the sides to leave you enough comments. So that’s what they’re getting back from me. What about from you?
V.E. Griffith 00:13:29
I do a lot the same thing. You’re going to get a copy of your manuscript back, a Word document that’s got my comments and track changes in it. You’re going to get back my editorial letter as a separate document that’s going to have the overall view of my findings. And those can be quite long and quite detailed. They can be 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 pages depending on the manuscript and depending on the level of work that you need, I’m typically going to divide it into sections that are sort of going to mirror the story rubric. I’ll give you a copy of the completed story rubric along with all of the comments that I found. I may give you a copy of my notes as well. And if I need to do an individual scene rubric like you do for individual scenes, then I’ll do that. I don’t typically do a scene rubric for every scene because that just becomes very time consuming. If the client wants to pay for that, then I will do it, obviously. But most don’t want to spend that much money and don’t want me to take that much time. They want it turned around quicker than that. So I’ll just do it where it’s necessary. Then I’ll package that up in several Word documents and send it back. And usually most clients are pretty happy with that. If the client wants a zoom call to discuss our findings or to discuss questions that they have, I’m certainly happy to do that as well. Most clients do want that. I kind of hesitate about whether I should send them the documents back before the call or after the call. I tend to prefer after the call because that gives me the opportunity to sort of prepare them for what they’re going to read. But some clients specifically want to look at the documents first. They might be more jaded, have thicker skin, or feel that, think that they have thicker skin, and then want to come back to me with more specific questions in the call. And if they want to do that, then I’m certainly happy to accommodate that as well. But the call winds up being sort of the capstone experience for what we’re doing. It’s where I can give my impressions and answer the clients questions immediately.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:15:49
Yeah, it can help being on the receiving end of yours. It has helped, but I’ve also found that I liked being able to read my edits first and then come back to you to be like, okay, I’ve taken my moment, so I’m not snapping your head off. And now I can actually ask you the questions I want. So just know what kind of person you are when you’re talking to your editor. Do you want the information first and then chat with them, or do you want to chat with them and then get the information?
V.E. Griffith 00:16:24
Yeah, it’s real helpful to have the client’s guidance on that, particularly if they’re an experienced writer. If they’re not an experienced writer, I’m going to tell them typically to go for the conversation first, but a more experienced writer or someone who has experience taking constructive criticism, they’re usually happy to go with the documents first, and I’m fine with that. Either way, it’s really up to the client and up to kind of my sense of where they’re at in their writing journey and in their comfort with taking criticism.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:17:02
V.E. Griffith 00:17:03
So what other big question on this? What does this kind of service cost?
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:17:09
That really depends on what or who you go to. So for both of us, we have the diagnostic on our website, which is pretty similar. Actually, I think it is pretty much the same thing for both of us that we consider that like our developmental edit, where we’re going through things, we’re going over them, you’re getting details back. It’s going to help you write your book better. We’re not writing it for you. That’s a big one. We are not writing your book for you.
V.E. Griffith 00:17:39
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:17:40
You are writing it.
V.E. Griffith 00:17:41
I have enough trouble writing my own stuff. I don’t need to write yours.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:17:45
You can get developmental editors who will rewrite sections for you, but you’re never going to really learn how to better your craft. And it’s an amazing thing when you’re talking to somebody and they’ve got that look and they’re like, okay, okay. And then it clicks, and they’re like, oh, my God, I get what you’re saying. And then you’re like, yes. I have taught you young padawan. And you’re like, yes. So it’s really great. So for us, our start is oh, gosh, it’s like, what, 1499?
V.E. Griffith 00:18:24
Yeah. That’s the general minimum for a Three Story Method Editor for I think it’s a 60,000 word manuscript, so it’s not a cheap product. You’re not going to do it for $500 unless you have a real short essay. Really? For a full length manuscript, that’s 80 to 100,000 words. You can expect to pay $1500 to $2,000, depending on the editor. I have seen editors who charge as much as $10,000 because they’re good, because they have plenty of work. They don’t need your work. And if you want them, you’re going to pay them, you’re going to pay them.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:19:06
And there’s also the difference too, with some editors package things. So if you’re going for just a developmental edit, you need to talk to your editor and be like, I am just looking for this. And if you’re not going to be able to do just this, can you help recommend me or point me in the direction? So do pay attention to that. Some people will do the developmental and they’ll do a line edit, or they’ll do the developmental and they’ll kind of do a copy. So it really just depends on the editor, and that will change the pricing.
V.E. Griffith 00:19:42
Some of them will also include things like coaching services after you get the edit back, and they’ll give you a package of coaching sessions, if that’s what you want. And it’s just going to vary by editor, and it’s going to vary by service you select. So in your initial contact with your editor, you want to get a sense of what they’re going to offer. And you may want to ask, or they may insist on what’s sometimes called a discovery call, where you sit down with them before they look at your manuscript, before you pay them any money for 15 or 20 minutes. To talk about what you want, what they get or what they give, and how the two of you will be able to work together. And sometimes after those calls, one or the other party goes, doesn’t work for me. I’ve done a number of those calls where the client says, no, you’re not the right editor, or I’ve said, no, you’re not going to be the right client. We’re not a good fit. And that’s perfectly fine because that’s saving everybody time and trouble and money and heartache to help you find the right person. The other thing is, don’t be afraid to talk to several editors because you want to find the right one for you. And really, if an editor is a good editor, they want you to find the right person too. It doesn’t offend me that you’re talking to three other people. I’m still going to follow up with you. I’m happy to take a no. All you got to say is, no, you’re not the right fit. I’m not going to stalk you or kill you or anything like that, but I need to know that you’re looking for the right person, and I’m helping you find the right person. And if I’m not the right person, a lot of times I can refer you to the right person. I can help you find another editor because we do have a small community of us, and referrals are a thing that we do.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:21:33
Yeah, when I first started getting into, I’m going to need an editor for my book, I think what I found was that most people charge between one to three cents per word. Now I had no idea 100% what that even meant. But that gave me an idea of a price range that I should start saving for. So when I put my word count into it, I can be like, all right, they are charging one penny per word, and then that is my lowest amount that I need to save for. Now, let’s see, what is the that’s the highest amount I’m going to need to save for. And that’s how I first started doing. Granted, I also had no idea that there were a whole bunch of different types of editors. I was just like, I’ll get an editor, which is how most people first start off. So that is my recommendation. When you’re thinking about price and you’re trying to figure out what a price range would look like for you, take your word count from your novel. Find out what it is if it’s one cent per word. Find out what it is if it’s three cents per word. And then that is your range of how much to try to save for if you’re not quite ready yet to get to editing. So, like, if you’re still working in the draft area, those two, three, four drafts before you send it to one of us, then take those word counts and that’s the, I think, the range. Wouldn’t you say that’s a good advice? I mean, that’s what I did.
V.E. Griffith 00:23:15
Yeah, that’s pretty standard is somewhere between one and three cents a word. depending on the type of edit, depending on the editor, some editors also do it a different way. Some of them will do it by the hour and they’ll simply keep track of their time. And they’ll charge you x dollars per hour, and they can estimate that they can go through your manuscript in so many hours, so they’ll give you a ballpark price. Sometimes editors like that will ask you to read the first chapter, or they’ll have you send the manuscript and they’ll read a random chapter to get a sense of how long it’s going to take them. And then they will talk to you in more detail about the price some people charge by the page. We have a previous guest, Valerie Ihsan, who sometimes does it that way. In that kind of a situation, you’re going to figure about 250 words a page. She’s going to specify your editor is going to specify how it should be formatted so that you’re not doing six point type and cramming too much onto a page. That’s not fair either. So you’ll get with your editor how they want it formatted to make it fair for everybody and to make it legible. So I personally go by the word, but other editors go by the hour, other editors go by the page. It just depends on the editor and on the agreement with the client.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:24:39
Yeah. And the standard format for sending it to the editor, I believe, is Times numeral times Roman numeral, whatever that one is. Twelve times new Roman.
V.E. Griffith 00:24:52
Yes. Twelve points.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:24:53
Times new Roman. Twelve and then double spaced. You don’t triple space it. Some people like a triple space. They’re weird looking at you, V.E. And then it’s an eight by eleven page, like a normal letter size page. And that’s what if you’re looking for editors who do it by page, you can get an average of how much you’re going to be charged based on how many pages you then have.
V.E. Griffith 00:25:22
Yeah, I prefer things triple space because it makes it easier for me to read. But then I don’t charge by the page, I charge by the word. So it doesn’t matter what size the type is. And sometimes I’ll even increase the type size so that I can read it more easily. It doesn’t cost anybody anything extra if I do it that way, based on the way I charge my clients. But that’s something that you need to talk to your editor about. How do they want you to present the work to them? And you can make their life a lot easier by following their instructions. And if they want it in Comic Sans, give it to them in Comic Sans, even though it sounds stupid, it makes their life easier and it makes things go faster for you. It makes their turnaround faster. I guess that’s the next important question that somebody would have. What kind of turnaround should somebody expect? How long does this take?
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:26:20
That’s something you need to be upfront with, with your editor. If you were on a deadline, you need to tell your editor that for us, I think, what is it we do? Like 30 to 60 days. You have it back. So about two months. We can do a 60,000 word manuscript.
V.E. Griffith 00:26:39
That’s pretty typical, is a month or two, depending on the length of the manuscript, for 100,000 words. A month to a month and a half, typically is what you’ll see or is what I’ve seen. I have been able sometimes to turn manuscripts around faster than that, and sometimes editors will be able to do it faster for an extra fee if you’re in a tight schedule situation. But again, that’s something that you can talk about on your discovery call. How long is this going to take? And they should be able to tell you, I can’t look at your stuff until next month, and after that it’s going to take me a month. I’ll slot you in for September, but if you send it to me in July, it’s going to sit on my hard drive until September, and you’re not going to get anything back until October or November. That’s perfectly reasonable question to ask. Whatever their answer is, is perfectly reasonable as well. As long as everybody sticks to the agreement. It is what it is.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:27:37
Yeah. And if this is an editor who’s very popular or very in demand, I guess that’s the same thing. Reach out to them, find out when they have openings, because at this point, they’re probably booking and you could be like, oh my God, I want this exact editor to do it. Yay, I’m done with my book. And now I’m going to go talk to them. Well, they might not have anything for two years. Sorry. So if you’re looking and you know how fast you can write and how fast you can draft some of these editors, you can book out that might give you a deadline, which, hey, maybe if you work with deadlines, that’s exactly what you need. So really look at their timing. Talk to them. Ask them what their turnaround is. Ask them when they have availability and just be like a normal person. Well, a normal writer. Just be polite.
V.E. Griffith 00:28:35
The other thing to think about or to keep in mind is that sometimes they will turn stuff around faster. I am particularly guilty of this. I will tell you a time and then I will, as sometimes is said in sales, I will under promise and over deliver. So I’ll tell you it’s 60 days and I’ll turn it around in 45 and you get it two weeks faster than I promised it, and everybody’s happy then because I get to move on to the next client. You get your stuff, everybody’s happy. But if your editor tells you 60 days and 60 days comes, and then they deliver it and they don’t deliver it early, that’s what you agreed to. So just keep that in mind.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:29:18
I think that pretty much covers it.
V.E. Griffith 00:29:21
Yeah, I think that about covers developmental editing. And so with that, we will see everybody next time.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:29:30
Thank you so much for joining us. For today’s episode, you can find every episode on your favorite podcast player and on YouTube. For transcripts, please visit our email@example.com. They go live the same day as our episodes.
V.E. Griffith 00:29:44
If you’d like to reach out to us separately, you can find me vegriffith.com, and miss Catherine at scribes-pen.com.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:29:52