Editing Reality Check

When writers have spent such a long time at writing, crafting their stories, many will happily turn their attention to editing. However, it saddens me to realize that many writers don’t fully understand what editing actually entails.

In a post earlier this year, I spoke about The Who, What and When of Editing. In that article, I mentioned that editing falls into four main categories: critique, developmental, line and copy-edit. Each stage is important for a manuscript’s development but for different reasons. Unfortunately, the number of writers that seem to miss the critique and developmental editing phases, going straight to line editing, is surprising.

I have yet to meet a writer that believes their writing is so perfect that they can go straight to copy-editing, publishing that manuscript straight from early drafts. No doubt there are a few out there, but they certainly don’t hang around for long. Everyone I know will acknowledge that there is always a need to tighten that sentence, improve that narrative, but there are a few who incorrectly believe that because they’ve hired an editor that their story will read beautifully and be adored by all. Time for those writers to face reality.

Not everyone is going to like your story.

Sorry, but that’s the truth. We all have our own tastes and your story might fall into the category of don’t like. Accept it. Move on.

You hired an editor. Good. Great. But what type of editor did you hire?

Not all editors are the same, something that I’ve spoken about a few times now, including in that The Who, What and When of Editing post.

Take a good look at the services that your chosen editor is offering. If they offer only copy-editing and/or proofreading services, then they’re not the type of editor that you need during the early stages of your manuscript. They’ll gladly take your money to correct your grammar and punctuation, but they won’t point out any plot holes in your story. They won’t highlight issues with your dialogue, be it unnatural speech or the dreaded he said/she said problem. They won’t take the time to explain to you about how the third-person, limited-perspective narrative works, and how you might be head bopping along the story tracks.

No… A copy-editor is the type of editor that you should be looking at hiring when you are getting ready for publication, not when you’ve only just finished that first (or second) draft.

The developmental editor is the one who you actually pay to tear your story apart, giving you guidance and the tools you need to help piece it back together again, and providing the healing balm needed for those editing scars. Developmental editing, in my opinion, is one of the most important stages of any manuscript’s editorial process. Don’t get me wrong… Punctuation and grammar are also important, but most readers will be willing to overlook that misplaced comma, or that odd sentence construction, in favor of the story and the characters. You could have the most grammatically correct piece of prose in existence but without the story and the characters, no one will read it.

I’ll come back to developmental editing in a moment, but I just wanted to finish with the issues with the belief that because you’ve hired an editor that your story is now beautiful.

You’ve hired the editor. It turns out they’re the exact type of editor that you needed. You get the report back. Did you actually do the suggested edits?

Some writers are under the impression that when you hire an editor that they’ll do the edits for you. WRONG!

They might make some corrections for you in your digital file (it’s the way of in-line editing within today’s technological world). However, if they repeatedly discover the same issue, they will highlight it in the report, correct it the first few instances, then ignore it for the remainder of the manuscript. The rest of the corrections for that particular issue will be entirely up to you.

And in the case of a developmental editor, they CAN’T do the corrections for you, because they CAN’T write your story. Only you have all the details needed to make a scene work. They can point out where the plot has gone off the rails, or where a character is not behaving the way that they should based on the characterizations throughout the rest of the manuscript, but exactly how you want to correct that particular issue is 100% up to you as the writer.

If you want your story to read beautifully, you have to be prepared to put in the work after the editor returns their notes to you.


Developmental editing: What really is it?

Developmental editing is an in-depth review of plot, characters, pacing, structure and narrative voice. Sometimes, it will delve into sentence and paragraph level, but for the most part, developmental editing looks at scenes and chapters, and how they progress from one point to the next, taking the reader along for the journey. Believe it or not, this is the same level that a reader looks at a story, the difference is, developmental editing is performed on those early rough drafts, when the story is still choppy and the characters might still appear flat.

Hiring a developmental editor might not be a viable option for some writers. Let’s face it, even my own fees can add up quickly for those larger manuscripts. But there are options that are cost effective, and I will gladly recommend all of them. (I have employed them myself within my own writing.)

Join a critique group.

This will be a matter of trial and error. Not all writers you meet will write in your genre, read your genre or even understand your writing process. Yes, all of these things are important. In some cases, the way in which a critique group works might not work for you, but you’ll never know unless you try.

Join an on-line critiquing site.

The advantage that a critiquing site has over a critique group is that they are literally thousands of writers on these sites that read/write your genre. Most operate on a karma-based system, such that to list works for critiquing, you must first critique the works of others. This is good for multiple reasons, one of which you can see how other writers work. If things work well between different writers, there is a potential of developing a long-term critique partnership that lasts beyond just the one manuscript. (This is where I obtained one of my personal critique partners.)

Downside of these sites is that many writers are not interested in sticking around for the long haul, hence, you don’t necessarily get a full chapter-by-chapter flow look at your story. Glaring plot holes can be missed. There will also be a range of feedback provided, depending on the writing skills of the critiquer. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but can be frustrating because you might not get the feedback that you actually need.

Interact with various writers on social media and advertise for critique partners.

Getting involved in the writing communities on social media is always fun anyway. However, when the chance comes around to swap writing, seriously consider it. I have found one of my best critique partners this way, and she and I are now writing partners on a completely unrelated project to our own projects (new genre and category, and it’s fun).

Advertise with your local writers’ guild.

I have found some of my best Beta readers this way. No critique partners, as of yet.

Put the manuscript aside and come back to it at a later date.

This is something worth doing anyway. As you develop your skills as a writer, you will also develop your editing skills. Sometimes, putting that manuscript aside was all you needed so you can see the flaws yourself.

Don’t be afraid to use Beta readers.

The purpose of your Beta readers is to read through that manuscript to ensure that it made sense. However, Beta readers have a habit of finding plot holes that everyone missed. If this happens to you, don’t be afraid to go back to your developmental editing process and fill in the gaps, starting the whole process again.

All of the above methods for getting insight into your manuscript’s weaknesses cost you only time. But it can be frustrating. Some people don’t return the comments in a timely fashion, if at all. Some people only read to a certain point, but say they ran out of time to read the rest. (This puts many questions in your head, and not good ones.) What about when you can’t get any feedback? What about when everyone is gushing with joy over your manuscript but you know in your heart that something is off, you just can’t figure on what? Desperation is sinking in. Unfortunately, you might be left with only the one option.

Contact a professional editor to do a manuscript critique.

If you decide that you really need to hire a developmental editor but are unable to afford their rates, see if your chosen editor offers a critique service as an alternative. This is often a fraction of the cost and won’t be as detailed as a full developmental edit, but it will at least give you the overall picture. (I offer a critique service myself for this very reason. More details can be found here.)

Whatever you do, don’t throw out any writing during your editing process. You never know, you may have written a scene for a future project.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016

Posted in General Advice, Writing and Editing and tagged , , , , .


  1. This is such an excellent post about editing. I was a victim of my own ignorance when I wrote my first book, just because my sister was writing a book (we are twins – identical) and so I though I would too. I wrote this adolescent adventure science-fiction story and I have to admit everyone loved the story, but the writing, grammar was awful. I wrote it, never looked back, never did a draft or had a beta reader and I never even reread what I had written (306 pages printed).

    After readers started buying it on Amazon (I did KDP) they emailed me and said, “great story, not-so-great grammar, lots of spelling errors”. After several revisions, it is now pretty much worth reading. Again, thank you for a great post and how important editing is to the successful of what might a very successful book ruined by neglect. Karen

    • The desire to be published can sometimes be all consuming. I know for my own novel that desire is almost crippling at times, but editing is so important. As tempting as it might be, never rush the process. It is a shame to hear that you’ve had to learn this lesson the hard way, but at least the lesson has been learnt. Here’s hoping that your next book is met with much better reviews.

  2. Judy, thank you. Yes, my latest novel has sold well and even the first novel, because it is a good little story is doing well now also, after a very very bad start. Karen 🙂

  3. Oh I hate that feeling that something is off, but you can’t put your finger on it!! Thanks for this insightful article! I know I’ve been considering hiring a professional editor later on…


    • I think the feeling that something is off is the worst feeling, especially if you are unable to get feedback for whatever reason. I have learnt that if you feel that something is wrong, then you’re right. At the end of the day, the one person that needs to be really happy with what you have produced is yourself. It’s your name on your writing. Good luck on finding critique partners, beta readers and your future adventures with editors.

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