Developmental Editing Swaps

Sometimes, an editor (or a writer) wants to trade service for service rather than paying someone for developmental editing. We call this a developmental editing swap. Swaps can be an inexpensive, efficient way to get other eyes on your manuscript. They can also lead to frustrations, wasted time, and torched relationships with friends and colleagues. Here we’ll offer a few tips so you can good results rather than bad.

Find a good match

All developmental editing relationships, whether they’re swaps or paid, live or die on the strength of the match between editor and writer. That’s as true of a swap as it is of a commercial relationship. If you’re friends with an editor who specializes in cozy mysteries, but you’re writing gritty noiresque thrillers, the two of you may not benefit all that much from a swap, even if your technical skills and communication are strong. If you and your swap partner both specialize in feminist epic fantasy set in pseudo-medieval Africa, but you have vastly different ideas about what makes a good narrative, you might still not benefit from a swap, despite your shared genre. Look for someone who understands what you’re trying to do with your book, who thinks it’s awesome, and who can help you do it better.

Set deadlines

Developmental editing swaps, like other informal working arrangements, get frustrating if one party finishes their work quickly and the other lingers for weeks or months. But because most editors have to juggle unpredictable amounts of paid work with the unpaid work of a swap, manuscripts in a swap are likely to get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list whenever something else crops up at work (or in life). To make sure that doesn’t happen, agree to a timeline with your swap partner before you start. Many creative people, editors included, leave projects to the last minute. So if there’s no last minute, it’ll never get done.

Temper your expectations

In developmental editing, you tend to get what you pay for. So temper your expectations of a swap. Yes, you’re providing something of value when you edit someone else’s work, but that’s not the same as providing them with the ability to keep the lights on and pay the rent. Swaps can be a helpful, profitable way to keep the costs of producing a book down. They can be enjoyable, if you pick the right partner. They can even get you top-quality editing. But understand going in that they’re not a shortcut to success. They’re just an alternate path.

Next we’ll describe the steps in developmental editing. Or you can return to our developmental editing resources.

Developmental Editing Tips

We’re taking a break from our usual focus on the author’s point of view to give some tips about how to do developmental editing. These tips should be useful to budding editors as well as authors learning how to give critique. They’re are based on a decade of experience giving and receiving editing, which boils down to thousands of hours and hundreds of novels’ worth of editorial comments. We’ll focus the list on three basic rules a good developmental editor should follow.

It’s not about you in developmental editing

Always remember that it’s not about you. The editor’s job is to step out of their own head and imagine what a genre’s readers will think. You are not a critic, and your personal preferences have no place in your judgment of whether a piece of writing is succeeding. If you find yourself writing “I think” or “I feel” too often, and especially if you’re using blanket statements like “There’s too much telling in this scene,” you’re probably focused too much on your own experience of the story. There are no rules in writing. There are only reader expectations, and whether or not the writer is fulfilling them in a satisfying way.

Developmental editing is constructive

Second, always remain constructive. Editors who go too long without undergoing developmental editing themselves often get cranky and cantankerous. Never fall into the trap of frustration, and never take it out on the writer. Remember: you have no job without them. To that end, always check your comments before sending them back. If you’re frustrated, let it out in your initial pass. Then edit yourself before you turn over the manuscript. “What’s happening here?” is infinitely more constructive than “What’s happening here????” All you have to do to get there is delete a few question marks.

Do the work

Lastly, do the work. Not just the work of developmental editing, but the preparation you need to do the job well. Your formal education, if you have it, probably focused on literary fiction. Your reading background probably pushed you naturally into one or two, or maybe three, genres. But as an editor you’ll get submissions across every genre under the sun. Know your limits, and if you take on a project that will stretch you, do the work to become an expert in the genre. Ask the author for comparison titles and read them. Dig up craft books written by genre experts and learn the genre’s conventions. Communicate throughout the process about what kind of mystery/thriller/romance/adventure novel the author is writing. It’s not easy expanding your genre repertoire, and you’re fooling yourself if you think you can just wing it. If you try, your developmental editing will suffer, and the writer will bear the brunt of your mistakes. So do the work.

Next up, we’ll talk about developmental editing swaps, where two authors trade edits of one another’s work. You can also return to our developmental editing resources.