What constitutes the beginning can vary from author to author, and project to project. One writer’s beginning may be an idea that needs to be transformed into a research project and then a written manuscript. This would entail working together to develop a research design, identify relevant literatures, write up a proposal, and so forth. Another writer may have a complete dissertation they would like to use as the basis for a series of articles or book manuscript. No matter what your “beginning” is, a developmental editor will offer concrete, detailed suggestions for how to proceed with your project, and specific solutions for how to deal with any dilemmas you might be facing.
As authors, we may have a sense that something is “off” in our writing but we are at a loss to figure out either 1) what that is, or 2) how to fix it. That is where a developmental editor comes in. I am the outside reader that can not only identify the problem, but also work with you to solve it.
You may already have some support in your writing. Perhaps you have a research assistant who compiles literature reviews for you, a co-author who writes alongside you, or a writing group where you are able to workshop your manuscripts in various stages of development. All of these resources are important, but none of them can fill the role that an editor does. As an editor, my single focus is the project that I am working on. I give you consistent, systematic feedback that addresses the issues we identify together. An editor also works with you through the evolution of your ideas and your writing. I provide a holistic assessment of your project – taking all of the various aspects of your work into consideration, while also working with you through specific points that are giving you trouble. An editor sees both the forest and the trees.
If you intend to work with a developmental consultant, how should you prepare? I send each potential client a unique list of questions to consider based on their project, but there are some general issues you should think about before consulting an editor:
What stage are you at, and what stage do you want to reach? Given constraints of time and budget, as well as personal preferences, you may want your developmental consultant to work on very specific tasks. For instance, I recently worked with a client who needed me to cut about 20% of the manuscript length. The client was specific in this request, and wanted suggestions for where to cut rather than me rewriting or suggesting how to rewrite the text. This meant that upon completion of my work, there would still be more revisions necessary – which the client wanted to take on himself. In other cases, a client may ask me to make adjustments in the writing or suggest revisions to improve the flow of the manuscript.
Do you intend to publish, and if so, where? You should be considering this whether you work with an editor or not. Different journals and book publishers of course have different style requirements, but publishing outlets also tend to gravitate towards specific subject areas, methodologies, and bodies of literature. Structuring your manuscript in the beginning to meet the expectations of the publisher – and the acquisitions editors who work at that publisher – will save you a lot of work in the long run. A good developmental editor will take a quick look at recent titles from the journal or press in order to have a sense of the reading audience and what will be required for your project.
What do you think is the trouble with your project as it stands? Make your editor aware of what you consider to be the red flags. That way, the editor can keep an eye out for them or assure you that what you consider to be an issue actually is not. Be explicit and transparent. For instance, you might be working with a manuscript or outline that presents multiple theses, and you know that reframing is in order. Communicate this to your editor. Also, let the editor know about any writing quirks you have. I for one never elaborate in my first drafts, and as a result spend much of my revision time “unpacking” arguments. If you are aware of your weaknesses (and we all have them), be honest about them. It will save you and your editor time.
Developmental consultants are not just for writers who are “stuck.” Indeed, I work with clients who are prolific writers as well as clients who believe that they need a push. No matter what your level of productivity or ability, a developmental editor can aid you in improving you writing and increasing your efficiency.