So much time, and so little to do...

(strike that, reverse it)

These days it can seem as though every editor has his or her own definition of what goes into each stage of the editing process. And that makes sense. Every novel is unique, after all. And just as every writer has his or her own approach, so too does every editor.

Many people can work on a single novel, but at the end of the day it has only one author: You. And that means that, ultimately, you alone are responsible for the choices that shape the reality of your vision.

Choose wisely.

Editorial Assessment

This is the place to start if you've just finished your first draft and are thinking about the possibility of major changes to genre, perspective, plot, main characters, and/or themes. It's also a great place to start if this is your first novel and you're feeling a bit lost, as an assessment can help you to get a solid grasp on exactly what your story is about.

With an Editorial Assessment, you can expect to receive a three- to five-thousand-word write-up examining the following:

  1. Genre. While it's possible that you may want to make a sharp left turn to a completely different genre, it's more likely that you'll want to accentuate particular elements of your story and develop them into a clear sub-genre: Whether your story is Horror with comedic relief vs. a true Horror-Comedy can make all the difference in the world when it comes to fulfilling readers' expectations.
  2. Perspective. When Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the first draft of A Study in Scarlet, it was Watson alone who used his skills as an Army doctor to solve the mystery. But something didn't quite feel right; the reader, Doyle felt, had too much access to the mind of the protagonist, and he wanted that protagonist to be just as mysterious as the plot of the story itself. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how it all turned out.
  3. Plot. This is sort of a tricky one. As an editor, I make it a point not to change anything fundamental to the story itself, and one of the quickest ways to alter the meaning or importance of a story is to alter the plot. That said, I will be spending a lot of time examining what exactly your story is about, and I'll tell you what your story means to me. Moreover, I'll be looking at the pace at which the main plot unfolds, as well as how the sub-plots you've created serve to further and color that core narrative.
  4. Main Characters. Your characters are the soul of your story, and as such they ought to be the ones that drive the plot and leave their marks on the world you've created. The human mind is easily the most complex system in the universe, and so creating characters that are honest, deep, consistent (in their own way), and interesting is one of if not the absolute trickiest things to do, period. I can't promise anything concrete here in terms of what you'll get back except that I'll give it absolutely everything I've got.
  5. Themes. While, depending on your philosophy of fiction, the meaning of a story might be the sole responsibility of the reader, as an author your use of theme is going to be one of the ways you can, shall we say, influence what the reader may or may not pick up on. As your editor I'll be focusing mainly on identifying what themes you've chosen and how best to utilize them to serve your story's characters, plot, and world.

It's important to note that this is not going to be a detailed look at any particular chapters or sections of your novel. This is by design: At this point you're considering whether to cut or rewrite major components of your manuscript, and so focusing too much on any one element can make it even more difficult to make those rather intimidating decisions.

But don't worry! An editorial assessment is only a starting point. If producing a novel is like folding an origami crane, then an editorial assessment is equivalent to making sure the corners and edges of your paper are as sharp and as true as possible.

Developmental Edit

By now you've got a pretty good handle on what your story is about. You can see the overall movement of it, the progression of major plot points, and the way your characters have started out in one place and gone someplace completely different (and possibly ended up back where they started). You can see the forest, and it looks great, but the trees themselves are still a little bit out-of-focus. You know how you want all of the pieces to fit together, but for some reason no matter how much you rearrange them they never quite seem to connect.

You're ready for a developmental edit.

Before, we were just gassing up, checking our mirrors, fastening our seat belts. But this is where the rubber meets the road. We'll be taking a much deeper look at each component of your story--every character arc, plotline, location, individual theme. We'll be looking much more at the structure of your story, the timeline and the revelation of truth, as well as the pace and flow of individual chapters of themselves as well as with regard to their place in the overall story. We'll be killing a lot of darlings, and unless your story involves a zombie plague they won't be coming back.

You can expect to receive:

  1. A three- to five-thousand-word write-up examining plots and subplots, themes and character arcs, as well as narrative voice and tone, particluarly how it develops throughout the story. This will cover a lot of the same ground as an editorial assessment, only in much more detail, and with the approach of working with the story as it is now rather than suggesting the sort of fundamental changes that might result in rewriting large percentages of the story.
  2. Three to five hundred words of write-up on each chapter, looking at what new information is being presented to the reader and the resulting implications, tracking how your characters develop as a result of each new beat. I also believe that it's important for each chapter to have its own beginning, middle, and end, in most cases, and so I'll be considering each one in with regards to that.
  3. A proposed outline, combining the suggestions presented in the overall and chapter write-ups into a single document. Real fiction, as you know, is all about exploring the unknown, but when you decide to go off the beaten path and investigate those dark caves, you'll want to bring whatever sort of map you can find.

While we'll be considering whole chapters and even sections of chapters, it's important to note that we're not yet ready to look at single sentences, or even paragraphs (for the most part). The reason is the same: We don't want to spend our time polishing things that we'll eventually cut, and we don't want to polish them so much that we can't bring ourselves to cut them at all.

Line Edit

Now we're getting into all the really gory details. At this point all of the major components of your story are where they need to be, and the task becomes to make sure they fit together snugly and smoothly. We'll be looking at your writing paragraph-by-paragraph and sentence-by-sentence, even down to individual word choice. We're going to make sure those transition sentences are working to your advantage and that it all supports and enhances the deeper story you're trying to tell.

A line edit comes in the form of a marked-up copy of your original document. There are a few important things to note here:

  1. I'll be rearranging paragraphs, sentences, clauses, and words, all with track-changes enabled, so that you can compare it with the original before you decide whether to accept or reject my suggestions.
  2. I'll be making use of attached comments to explain my reasoning for the changest I've made, meaning that you'll be able to understand my thought process and the why behind it all.
  3. Oftentimes I'll be making similar changes over and over again, so while I can't explain each individual one in detail, I strongly encourage you to shoot me an email whenever you come across a change that you'd like further explanation for or for whatever reason just doesn't seem quite right. I love talking about this stuff, as you might be able to tell by the length of these descriptions, and I'm always looking for places where I can improve the clarity of my craft.

But perhaps the best way to get a feel for what you'll get is to just send me a thousand-word sample of your story, and in a few days I'll return your choice of a developmental or line edit, totally free of charge.

Take the Next Step

Submit a Sample

What type of edit are you most interested in?

Submit a 1000-word sample of your novel, novella, or short story, and I'll return a sample developmental or line edit in just a few days!