What to Do When You’re Unhappy with Your Developmental Editing
Not all developmental editing relationships end in roses, backslaps, and mutual congratulations. Try as they might, an editor might not be well suited to your genre or style. They may miss the point of what you’re trying to do. They may be inexperienced. Or they may just not have communicated well enough to make your developmental editing a success. But even if things go wrong and you’re unhappy, you can take steps to make things better before writing the whole process off.
Let your editor know what you wanted
When a writer is unhappy with their developmental editing, it’s usually because of a mismatch between their expectations and the editor’s. You can best avoid this by getting a sample read and clarifying what you want from your editor before they get started. But if they misfire, let them know where they’ve fallen short. Maybe their feedback wasn’t concrete enough. Maybe it was all negative, and didn’t mention strengths to build upon as you revise. Maybe it was too positive, and you worry their developmental editing didn’t go deep enough. Put together a list of things you wanted and didn’t get and send it to them. Good editors will respond constructively. They want to help, and they know it’s their job.
Let it simmer
Problems with developmental editing are sometimes less about the edits than about not knowing what to do with them. This happens especially often when the editor recommends big changes across multiple content areas. Maybe they think your main character’s motivations need fleshing out, and the setting isn’t going to impress genre fans, and the plot doesn’t follow a clear structure. In that case, it can be hard to know where to start, and easy to write the edits off as “this editor doesn’t get me,” or “this editor doesn’t know what they’re doing.” But sometimes that’s just an initial defensive reaction, and letting the edit letter sit for a few days will help you sort the wheat from the chaff and find something useful.
Don’t give up on developmental editing
If you have a bad experience with one editor, don’t give up on developmental editing completely. Many authors take multiple tries before they find someone they really click with. If you don’t like your developmental editor, keep looking for a better one. Ask your author friends for references. Check the acknowledgements in books you love. And keep trying. A great editor will help you grow as an author much faster than you would on your own.