Developmental editors - how to cover the cost?

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Rachel Ventura
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Developmental editors - how to cover the cost?

Post by Rachel Ventura » March 17th, 2012, 9:25 pm

I have done some research into developmental editors (different from the in-house editors at pub co's -- these folks help you to get a WIP "whipped" into shape before sending it out to an agent). And I am a fan of editor Alan Rinzler's blog, The Book Deal, which is also linked to on Nathan's blogroll on the main site. But the economy sucks, especially for young'uns like me, as it does for nearly everyone these days whose name isn't a homonym for Cardassian. :geek: And especially those of the Ninety-Nine Percent who may or may not be young'uns like me, but are aspiring writers and perhaps unemployed or underemployed and perhaps unwilling to be the opposite of "un-." (As in unwilling to be unemployed, or unwilling to be unemployed.) ;)

So say for instance one does wish to enlist the services of a developmental editor like Alan Rinzler or The Literary Consultancy based in the U.K. A recent article on Rinzler's blog attempts to debunk many of the myths and misconceptions about working with developmental editors, one of which is about cost:
Perception: Developmental editing is expensive. Is it really worth the investment?

Reality: The cost of editing varies depending on what you need and who’s doing it. The decision on your best choice and what you can afford is a personal judgment based on your own priorities. But there’s no doubt that the better your book is, the more successful you’ll be in the long run.
So I really do think it's a worthwhile investment, but of course I have just turned 5 :mrgreen: and have zero dollars in my bank account. If anyone has any experience with this type of assistance, I hope you can answer some questions for me -- is it possible to have a "sliding scale" adjustment or be billed thereafter in installments of some sort for people with financial difficulties? I mean, say someone barely scraping by on unemployment who's about to lose his/her benefits and be totally broke does have the Great American (or whatever country) Novel, but is, well, broke otherwise. What can be done for someone like that? (Namely, of course, me?) ;) Didn't J.K. Rowling subsist on welfare while she was writing Harry Potter? Did she have an expert wizard helping her along...?

And please don't say get a job. That's not at all feasible right now, and probably not ever. I finally have been able to beat at least enough of my ADD-ish-ness to get going on a draft again, one of which I'm up to chapter four and about 10K words in total. :) If I were to spend eight hours a day in school or at work, and then more time studying or, I don't know, bringing work home with me (aka stress!!!) I'd never be able to get this far this soon. But when I'm done with, maybe one or two (the one I'm writing now is part of what I plan on being a trilogy, so maybe all three) first drafts I'd like to get some pro-level feedback. I'm just not comfortable with critique groups or workshops or posting my work on forums; first, there's no non-disclosure agreement that applies to the internet or a coffee house, and second, to me that seems sort of like (can you even say this anymore, or is it un-P.C.?) the blind leading the blind, or the inmates running the asylum, as your partners would likely be roughly around the same level as you are. A set of beta readers (a new term to me) seems to me slightly different somehow...

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Re: Developmental editors - how to cover the cost?

Post by polymath » March 18th, 2012, 1:59 am

Developmental editors, like creative writers, come in an assortment of flavors and appeals. Some charge money for some other kind of editing than developmental, like mechanical style editing, which is copyediting. Some know what developmental editing is and practice the art to vayring degrees of skill. Some impose their creative visions on writers'. Most charge for services that have questionable outcomes. Good ones charge a lot of money and know what they're doing. Ones like me are still paying their dues and building their skills.

A good developmental editor helps a writer to realize her or his creative vision's full potential based on a sound understanding of the writer's creative vision. Realizing the creative vision is not easy to begin with. Extending that realization into helping a writer to reach the vision's full potential is about as hard as creating the work in the first place. Yes, it's a collaboration.

I've evaluated two dozen or so projects in my career for possible developmental editing practice. Two were ready for developmental editing and didn't need much more than a few comments about voice, craft, and narrative distance to take them over the top. I didn't charge them. They didn't need developmental editing in the first place. Any publisher's editor worth his or her salt would have made the same suggestions I did. Last I heard, they were picked up by publishers on options. The rest weren't ready for developmental editing as I practice it, nor were the writers in my estimation.

One lost my interest by the second word. I did read on a few hundred words until I found a feature that was working. I wrote a short report on the one feature that was working and one feature that wasn't working. The report wasn't well-received. Proving my estimation that the writer wasn't ready. My concern with that narrative was an opening that began with paragraphs of summary recital of the he saw X, Y, and Z variety. It was static and so was the rest of what I read. One feature that worked was the method for reporting thoughts closed narrative distance artfully. But too few other craft features and given by a disembodied and lackluster narrative voice.

Anyway, Rachel Ventura, post an exceprt of your writing in the Excerpt forum of Feedback Central and I'll take a look. I sample there both the excerpts and the response commentary. I might even respond myself. But my schedule is currently full and I won't be taking on any new projects for at least a year and a half.

As far as how to cover the cost of a developmental editor; one, arrange for what you can afford. That means free as much as possible, like, again, through the Bransforum forums. Two, determine what you most need input on, and ask here at All Things Writing for methods to span that gap. Three, if you must hire a developmental editor, set forth your terms and expect a negotiation over how to fulfill those terms. Bluntly assess what you can afford to spend and expect both the effort expended and the results to fall shy of your expectations. Four, ultimately it's a writer's journey. Do as much as you can, expect diversions, expect heartaches, expect following false leads, expect it to take time and effort on your part. The epiphanies that come with hard work are great joys to behold and well worth the effort.
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Re: Developmental editors - how to cover the cost?

Post by Rachel Ventura » March 26th, 2012, 3:04 pm

Thanks, Polymath, for that advice and for the suggestion. :D This is the furthest I've ever gotten in working on anything, as of now I am now up to chapter 7 and ~35K words. FWIW I understand that the first draft is supposed to be just that; as "Papa" (or was it King?) once said, "the first draft of anything amounts to sh!t" (or something along those lines). ;) Once the first draft is finished (I plan on 14 chapters, so I'm about halfway there), I guess the best advice would be the standard "file it away and forget about it for a while before looking at it again." The thing is, at that point I'd end up struggling with how to move from first to second draft and then nth -- I once took a creative-writing course at a local comm. college and found that I was one of those atrocious feedback-givers who's afraid to mark up the other person's page (but did my best anyway). I have no idea of how to self-edit and am intensely paranoid about offering up my work to random people; for this I'd likely want a professional one-on-one to work with (and a binding non-disclosure agreement to boot).

Pro editor Jordan Rosenfeld (a she, in case you're wondering) says this on her blog about when to consider hiring an editor:
A great time to hire an editor is when you have done multiple drafts, revised and tweaked everything you possibly can, and now you need an outside eye (and I recommend you go to writing groups or feedback partners FIRST).
That last part is what I have trouble with. I'm very shy "IRL" and as I said, intensely paranoid. Rosenfeld's advice seems to conflict with Rinzler's above, who says there's no such thing as too early; he even mentions "the germ of an idea" as being perhaps the ideal time to seek out a professional consultant before the eventual drafts go off-track. Right now I'm noticing a bit of faltering in my draft and a lot of wordiness, as seems naturally to be my forte (and not brevity). I also find that I'm more productive in terms of progress on the actual work when I just sit myself down (a "pants-er" as it's called), and I won't know until I'm able to print the "finished" draft how awful or fixable it might be. This is sort of a "NaNo"-ish process for me, albeit not in November itself. I keep reminding myself that the first draft of Twilight was written in three months or so --
Wikipedia wrote:[Stephenie] Meyer says that the idea for Twilight came to her in a dream on June 2, 2003. The dream was about a human girl, and a vampire who was in love with her but thirsted for her blood. Based on this dream, Meyer wrote the transcript of what is now Chapter 13 of the book. ... The last chapter of the first draft kept getting longer and longer, so she wrote epilogue after epilogue. However, she realized that she wanted to explore a lot of the events of the backstory and the reasons behind the events of the chapters she wrote, so, planning to write the backstory in five or six chapters, it turned out to be twelve chapters in the end. In a matter of three months she had transformed her dream into a completed novel
-- and of that quote about the first draft being comparable to an eight-letter word for bovine defecation. ;)

But when (not if) I finish this first draft and shove it away to revisit at some point, what should I be doing in the meanwhile? Writing something else obviously, but since this is planned as the first book of a series, I probably won't be able to put draft one of book one completely out of my mind if I'm still working with the same characters, storyline, etc. as a continuation into book two. Should I work on something else, or is it better to keep the story as a whole fresh in my mind lest I grow "rusty" with it? And should I find a third-party to examine the god-awful first draft, as Rinzler suggests (even if it is free), to have a baseline grip on where to go and what to do, or try my best at self-tweaking before I move on to something more professional?

Probably the best move is to finish up to the end of this one first. But advice on this end is greatly appreciated. :)

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Re: Developmental editors - how to cover the cost?

Post by polymath » March 27th, 2012, 1:36 pm

Rachel Ventura,

I've closely studied how writers develop from struggling to experienced artists. One skill factor they develop in common, over time, is learning how to go from raw draft to working draft to revised draft to published draft. I also notice when and where a developmental editor's suggestions might have been implemented or ignored, or if no developmental editor was consulted prior to publication.

The main features developed in later drafts are craft and voice. Jack Kerouac's On the Road took a decade of development before he knuckled down and wrote the raw draft in three weeks. It was several years more before he found the novel's improvisational jazz voice that took it over the top.

Stephenie Meyer's writing is a little awkward craft-wise, voice-wise a little on the weak side; however, I think those are part of the target audience appeal. She has a BA in English from Brigham Young University, a challenging curriculum. She did her apprenticeship before writing Twilight. She wrote the raw draft in three months, but had years of rewriting and revising to go before acceptance for publication and further rewriting and revising to do afterward. She to this day doesn't believe the opening "preface" chapter needed to be up front, as her publisher insisted it ought to be. Without it there though, the novel starts tediously slowly, doesn't timely reveal Bella's main dramatic complication. The next chapter does get into an internal complication of a low-concept premise variety, hard to relate to, hard to access. It's chapters later before the external complication of a high-concept variety is fully introduced, which is readily accessible and easy to relate to. Simply put, a main dramatic complication is what a character most wants and the conflicting forces internal and external that oppose achieving the want, which a lack of development of is the number one shortcoming I encounter craft-wise in struggling writers' writing.

Meyer is fair to middling able with narrative distance, but the awkward way she at times applies craft techniques makes them obvious ploys that call a little too much undue attention to themselves, breaking the reading dream participation mystique, thus challenging willing suspension of disbelief. But again, the audience isn't writers studying craft, it's young to early adult females who buy into the saga's message of it's okay to insuperably strive for social elitism. Narrative distance is simply the distance between a narrator's voice and a viewpoint character's voice. Distance in terms of orientation to the persons, settings, events, and attitudes of a narrative's circumstances. The closer a narrator and viewpoint character are oriented to a narrative's proxy-reality world, to narrator, viewpoint character, and world, the closer readers feel they are to the secondary world of the narrative, the more engaging and stimulating and entertaining the narrative is.

To test your audience appeal, write some short throw-away sketches, anecdotes, and vignettes and post them for comment. If you don't put much emotional investment into them, criticism of them won't be so painful, and some of the crticism might actually be somewhat joyful for being playful. But publication is, unfortunately, opening one's self up to pain along with joy. The challenge is to turn pain into motivation. Life would be so much easier if it was easy to live. But we'd all be stuck in bathtubs contemplating our navels and eating lotus blossoms if life were easy to live. Great accomplishments come at the price of great pains.

By the way, facility with narrative distance is the number one all-encompasing shortcoming I encounter in narratives I evaluate. Mine included. But I'm getting there.
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Re: Developmental editors - how to cover the cost?

Post by Rachel Ventura » March 27th, 2012, 8:56 pm

Thanks again, Poly. I'm guessing your real surname is "Syllabic," for being just as comprehensive and verbose as I often am in my responses and IMHO doing a better job of it. (Mine are often more like On the Road written on a sheet of two-ply Charmin... and the "platform" used for its intended purpose.) ;)
polymath wrote:Stephenie Meyer's writing is a little awkward craft-wise, voice-wise a little on the weak side; however, I think those are part of the target audience appeal. She has a BA in English from Brigham Young University, a challenging curriculum. She did her apprenticeship before writing Twilight. She wrote the raw draft in three months, but had years of rewriting and revising to go before acceptance for publication and further rewriting and revising to do afterward.
The famous "dream" came in 2003. The first book was published in 2005. Two years isn't that long in comparison with the decades some people have to slog along through, or is this a bit of creative marketing aka "fuzzy math"? :|

The "target audience appeal" -- are younger readers as aware of the aforementioned "awkwardness" in terms of craft and prose as older readers, or do they mainly hone in on the story itself?
polymath wrote:It's chapters later before the external complication of a high-concept variety is fully introduced, which is readily accessible and easy to relate to. Simply put, a main dramatic complication is what a character most wants and the conflicting forces internal and external that oppose achieving the want, which a lack of development of is the number one shortcoming I encounter craft-wise in struggling writers' writing.
Right now it's primarily external forces in my WIP (not yet ready to reveal details), but those in and of themselves do have a profound effect on the character's inner development throughout.
polymath wrote:Meyer is fair to middling able with narrative distance, but the awkward way she at times applies craft techniques makes them obvious ploys that call a little too much undue attention to themselves, breaking the reading dream participation mystique, thus challenging willing suspension of disbelief.

I still can't believe people "forked" over ten bucks to see this in theaters. How did it reach this level of hysteria if it was only mediocre? Or did Twimania not take off until after the movie came out?

Then again, in terms of what's on the popcorn I still can't believe it's not butter. :mrgreen:
polymath wrote:But again, the audience isn't writers studying craft, it's young to early adult females who buy into the saga's message of it's okay to insuperably strive for social elitism.
Doggone one percent. ;) So that raises a few questions about how did she in fact get published if the agent is likely looking for things like craft and voice, not just the story itself but how well it's told. I mean, there is a natural linear progression of the traditional publishing realm anyway -- writer (and "written") > agent > publisher > audience. Or was Twilight merely a fluke? One of those once-in-a-million-lifetimes things that boils down primarily to luck and not presented skill?
polymath wrote:Narrative distance is simply the distance between a narrator's voice and a viewpoint character's voice. Distance in terms of orientation to the persons, settings, events, and attitudes of a narrative's circumstances. The closer a narrator and viewpoint character are oriented to a narrative's proxy-reality world, to narrator, viewpoint character, and world, the closer readers feel they are to the secondary world of the narrative, the more engaging and stimulating and entertaining the narrative is.
This part I actually copypasta'ed into a notepad document to reread several times over. The distance between point A (narrator) and point B (viewpoint character) ought to be as close as possible, if I'm reading this correctly. Right now this draft is in third-person, I want to say limited omniscient as the primary protagonist is this one character, but sometimes the inner reflections and external actions of others are available too, but not anywhere besides how they relate to the overall story of this primary character. It's not limited in that it's only through her eyes but the other threads are only mentioned as to how they involve this person. Not about their daily lives or whatnot. Should it be in first-person if the primary focus is the story of this one particular character, even though there are some external forces brewing in the background that she doesn't know about yet?
polymath wrote:To test your audience appeal, write some short throw-away sketches, anecdotes, and vignettes and post them for comment. If you don't put much emotional investment into them, criticism of them won't be so painful, and some of the crticism might actually be somewhat joyful for being playful. But publication is, unfortunately, opening one's self up to pain along with joy. The challenge is to turn pain into motivation. Life would be so much easier if it was easy to live. But we'd all be stuck in bathtubs contemplating our navels and eating lotus blossoms if life were easy to live. Great accomplishments come at the price of great pains.
Or like Springsteen said in "Human Touch,"

You can't shut off the risk and the pain
Without losing the love that remains,
'Cause we're all riders on this train.


Throwaway as in not related whatsoever to this project, and just as an example of how I write? Or things like character descriptions and nutshells of the plot for this one?

I'm something of a prude, so I probably wouldn't mind eating the lotus blossoms, but would definitely shy away from looking at my navel. :oops: Never mind anything below that point. 8-)
polymath wrote:By the way, facility with narrative distance is the number one all-encompasing shortcoming I encounter in narratives I evaluate. Mine included. But I'm getting there.
Distance is apparently a strain for me too. But then again, I have no sense of direction either. A sign that says "One Way" is like a spork in the road for me. :lol:

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Re: Developmental editors - how to cover the cost?

Post by polymath » March 30th, 2012, 7:08 pm

Hi again, Rachel Ventura,

Okay, I'm verbose, erudite even. C'est moi. But not in my creative writing where I become my characters so I can access their voices which aren't mine, or try anyway.

Meyer's account of her process doesn't sit well with me. Sure, a dream that became a novel that became a saga and a few months to place it through a book auction after numerous rejections. It couldn't have leapt fully formed onto the page out of a clear blue sky. She had to prime her subconscious for it and that took years, probably at least since she was a teenager and probably autobiographical as well.

The main reasons for Meyer's success are she wrote a sympathetic vampire love story, that the saga projects a mixed message of it's okay to pursue social elitism in this socially conscientious society which moral authorities questioned and challenged and condemned, and as a result created a social controversy which generated buzz, Buzz, BUZZ. So making it forbiden fruit for the target audience and catching them up in the young adult rebelion and prestige the saga represents. Being able to hold forth about the saga became an ingroup must do. Then the movies filled in the blanks much more easily for understanding than the books. Regardless, there's a plot and readers can dance to it so it's good enough to measure up for its audience expectations and the hype.

By throwaway I mean a few hundred words of a sketch so that you can ease gently into appreciating audience appeal, critique processes, and the gruelling process of going public, re publication.
Rachel Ventura wrote:Distance is apparently a strain for me too. But then again, I have no sense of direction either. A sign that says "One Way" is like a spork in the road for me. :lol:
I have issues with direction, too. Compel me to do something and in all likelihood the result will meet or exceed expectations but express a protest subtext too. Isn't that what creative writing is about?
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Re: Developmental editors - how to cover the cost?

Post by fernansch » September 7th, 2012, 5:00 pm

But the economy sucks, especially for young'uns like me, as it does for nearly everyone these days whose name isn't a homonym for Cardassian
There are other ways to cut down your costs but maintaining your overall quality. You can outsource this job and might be lucky finding someone to do this for you at a lower cost but the same or higher quality.

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