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  • Writer's pictureChristina Crosland

4 Steps before Sending Your Manuscript to a Developmental Editor

Developmental editors can help you most when you know what you’re writing and who you’re writing for.

Photo Credit: Unseen Studio | Unsplash

If you are looking for a developmental editor, you likely have a book idea ready to flesh out or even completely written. Developmental editing can help you further craft a work that fits into your genre and also expands on your original ideas. A good developmental editor will cheer for the progress you’ve made and lead you forward.

Before sending your manuscript in for a developmental edit, you can use the following steps to examine your own ideas. Anything you revise using the following tips will better your knowledge of both your writing and your book. That’s a win for you, your editor, and your story!


1. Picture who your audience is.

One of the main questions that your developmental editor will ask before working on your project is who your audience is. Your audience will determine what feedback your editor gives, and it should also determine how you write your story.

You may have heard the common advice given in the marketing world to create an avatar that represents your ideal customer. The same advice works when writing a book. Think about who you are writing for. What clothing do they wear? What gender are they? How do they style their hair? Knowing these kinds of details can help you picture the lifestyle they live. Then, dig deeper. What books are they reading? What content do they not want to read? Why would this person care about your book? What should you include in your book to hook and keep their attention? What do you want them to get from your story?

Make sure to write these answers down. Then, look over the story content you’ve written so far. Does your current draft represent what you’ve discovered about your audience’s wants and needs? If you are unsure, you can give your audience analysis to your developmental editor, and she can help you determine which parts of your draft are spot on and which might need revision.


2. Research the genre you are writing in.

A second piece of information that your developmental editor will need is the genre of your book. She won’t be able to give accurate feedback without a solid genre. But as many authors find out, nailing down your genre is easier said than done.

When determining genre, knowing the before-mentioned details about your audience will help. Remember the questions you asked about which books your audience is and isn’t reading? That will determine what genre you want your book to be and the type of plotline and character development you’ll need to include in your story. If you’ve already written your book but find that the genre you’ve written in and the genre your audience reads don’t line up, reworking needs to be done, whether by redrafting the book to match the genre, rethinking who your audience is, or both!

Knowing the correct genre for your book will prove useful in all aspects of the publishing process, from developmental edits to cover design. Marketing as a certain genre means that your book falls in line with certain expectations. And by fulfilling those expectations, readers are more likely to pick up your book. To learn about the expectations of the genre you’re writing in, look at books in that same genre and gather information about common tropes, character attributes, climax and resolution patterns, and more. Then, match your writing to that. Your developmental editor will help you fulfill genre expectations as well, so if this seems daunting, know you don’t have to do this alone.


3. Examine the main character.

Now that you have your audience set and your genre solidified, it’s time to examine your main character. Your choice for your main character connects very closely with your choice in genre. Take Hunger Games as an example. Suzanne Collins wrote the series from the perspective of Katniss, who fights and falls in love in a dystopian game. This story differs hugely from what it would have been if Collins had written from the perspective of Katniss’s sister, Prim, who joins the medical team in a dystopian rebellion. Both characters have a story to tell, and choosing one over the other also affects the genre: dystopian romance with Katniss or dystopian tragedy with Prim. Whichever main character’s perspective you choose for your story, make sure it falls in line with the genre’s expectations.

Next, we need to make sure that you have a dynamic, round main character with a full personality, complex background, and intriguing story arc. The opposite would be a static, flat character that does not change throughout the story, acting as a filler for the plotline. Generally, the latter kind of character does not work for a main character. For example, a lover who has nothing but an admiring eye and no internal struggle would not be a very gripping main character in a romance. Instead, readers want to read about a main character like Jane in Pride and Prejudice. She starts in one mindset (even hating the future love interest) only to grow into another viewpoint over the course of the story. The few genres in which a flat character might be passable as a main character are plot-driven genres like mystery and thriller, but even then, complexity and depth are never a bad option.

If you find that your main character does not match the genre you chose in storyline, background, or traits, you can address this with your developmental editor and determine the best course of action. That may be changing the genre, rewriting the main character, or choosing a different main character altogether.


4. Find at least two alpha readers.

The final step before beginning to work with a developmental editor is finding alpha readers. You may have heard of beta readers, but what about alphas? Just like the name implies, alpha readers come before beta readers. As a developmental editor, I generally suggest that authors find alpha readers after finishing their first draft and before sending it to a developmental editor. This gives authors a chance to get free feedback and write a second, better draft before paying a developmental editor to take a look.

Alpha readers are generally volunteer readers that can provide commentary on character development, plotline, arguments, etc. Often family members and close friends can be alpha readers, but make sure you choose people that you know will give honest feedback. If your alpha readers fall in line with your audience, that’s even better. To help them help you, try asking them to mark specific feedback, like emotions they felt during particular scenes, which characters they liked or disliked and why, areas where the setting was not clear enough, or parts of the story that didn’t seem believable. Then use their combined feedback to make revisions.


A developmental editor can guide you in any stage of the drafting process, but these tips can help you navigate through your story on your own beforehand. When you’ve given these four steps a go, let your developmental editor know, and she can work with you to further craft your beautiful wordscape.


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