I thought I would write today on developmental editing. For me, developmental editing occurs after my beta readers have looked at my draft, and I have reviewed their feedback and revised until, once again, I can't “see” my draft any more. Then it's time for me to send it off to my developmental editor.
The job of the developmental editor is to make sure that your story and characters are solid. The developmental editor does not work on your grammar or use of language. That's the job of the copy editor further down the road. When I send a draft to my developmental editor, I attach questions. I may ask about things that the beta readers brought up, where I would like to receive another opinion. I always ask if I landed the plane. I tend to rush my endings. I generally ask her about titles. She often doesn't like my titles. That's all right. I don't want someone who necessarily agrees with me. I want her to tell me what she thinks and why.
I have had experience with my developmental editor where she has basically told me that I needed to start over, and she was right. Fortunately, that was my second book, and I was far enough along in my writing process to have begun to develop some grit. I thanked her, told her I planned to send her a new draft by the fall (this was spring) or the beginning of the next year (that's what happened), and I set out to work. That time, I needed to get some more real world experience. I volunteered at a summer horse camp, and after that time, I was able to write the book.
For my upcoming book, The Sharpest Claw, I knew something was seriously wrong, but I couldn't figure it out. My developmental editor solved the mystery. I had too many stories in one book. She identified each story, listed them in order of preference, and also told me of one storyline that she didn't like. In this case, I need to say that I knew that I was going to have do a dramatic revisioning. I thought that it might be another “back to the drawing board” experience, and to fortify myself before I heard what she had to say, I read Save the Cat Writes a Novel and took extensive notes. When I read my developmental editor's appraisal, I thought she was right, and I felt armed with knowledge to pick one of the stories and make that the book. I now had a map of “beats” to help guide me along the way. For this book, since the revisions were extensive, I did ask for a second edit. This time, my developmental editor gave me the thumbs up. When I sent her the draft back, I said that I had kept in a storyline that she hadn't liked, but this time she did.
For me, the developmental edit is one of the most important parts of the writing journey. Once I've passed that test, I feel like I have a solid book. Perhaps if you have great plot skills, you don't need this step. But for me, it's an essential part of the writing process.