I am SO excited for this opportunity as it will allow me to work with more writers and their crazy-awesome imaginations, while also being able to feed myself and buy extravagances like, you know, clothes. Working with writers in Pitch Wars has been incredibly fulfilling, and I'll be able to continue that work with Cornerstones, since they also scout for agents.
Some of you might be picturing me at a desk, hunched over a manuscript with a red pen, correcting grammar and doodling in the margins. Let me extinguish that vision right now. First, I do all my writing on my couch. Second, a developmental edit is way more than making sure you've crossed your t's and dotted your i's - it's getting into the very bones of a manuscript and looking at things like structure, pacing, continuity, suspension of disbelief, characterization, etc. Basically, it's a master's course in writing tailored specifically to you and your book. To better explain the process, allow me to dig up my "Editing Process Round 1" post from when I was a wee writer and had just finished going through such an edit for the first time:
Despite all the blog-stalking I did to answer the question "what is a developmental edit, really?", I was still apprehensive when the much-awaited email from my editor arrived. "She hates it!" I worried. "She's going to tell me, 'This was an amusing first try. Better luck next time.'" (I won't lie when I tell you my conference experience is mostly to blame for that.)
Buuuut... Ms. Jamie Chavez kept her promise that she's just as much cheerleader as critic.
If you have an editor like Ms. Chavez, you'll receive two documents when she's completed the initial edit: one with notes on Big Picture issues like plot, point-of-view, characterization, world building, miscellaneous loose ends, and one that's your actual manuscript with comments in the margins. My favorite section is the beginning of the first doc, a couple pages of "things that worked"! And there are things that need work, of course, but none of her suggestions make me feel like it's not my story anymore.
And I figured out just why you need an editor:
- Someway, somehow, Jamie pulled more out of one month/two read-throughs of my manuscript than myself and five+ beta readers over a year/dozens of read-throughs
- Her attention to detail is scary-good (how, HOW she keeps track of all these little things, I will never know)
- She can speak into the construction of the book, something I've never really thought about while reading. The proper use of multiple point of views, moving the inciting incident to the first six pages, challenging whether the right protagonist is front-and-center.
- Her encouragement is invaluable. Hearing "This is great!" from your best friend or your mom is cool, but it's another thing entirely when an industry professional says, "You've done so many things right here."
There are big changes. I'll be rewriting/chopping the first few chapters. I'll be rewriting/chopping the ending. I'll be switching from multiple points of view to a single third person perspective. But with Jamie's helpful notes and suggestions, some very interesting things are already in motion. For instance, you'd think forcing multiple perspectives into a single would obscure the antagonist's motivations, right? If you're not in the bad guy's head and you don't have a, "Before I kill you, Mr. Bond," moment, how do you justify his actions throughout the book? But despite this, somehow I've gone from a 'muahaha' antagonist to someone I can sympathize with, to someone I feel sorry for, because that's how my protagonist perceives her. Just hope I can pull it off.
And that's only the tip of the iceberg. So for anyone asking the question "Should I invest in a developmental edit before I query agents?", I'm going to tell you yes, yes you should.
Three years later, my answer is still the same. I should say that particular manuscript wasn't the one I broke into the industry with, but it was critical to my career, because armed with all the new knowledge I'd learned from my editor, I went on to write Duplicity. If you feel like you're almost-but-not-quite-there, I highly suggest looking into a freelance editor. And if you're writing YA, I really hope to see you in my queue!
A word of caution: Not all freelance editors are created equal. I found Jamie via recommendation from a publisher friend of mine, so I knew I was getting my money's worth. Cornerstones is also a company that carefully vets its editors before hiring them. I 100% recommend either one, but if you decide to go with someone else, do your research!