In its broadest definition, developmental editing is work at any stage of the writing process between the earliest glimmer of an idea and the final wording before the book is released to readers. It can encompass more specialized practices such as line editing and copy editing, but its larger purpose is to view the writing project overall and make recommendations affecting macro-level features such as (in fiction writing) plot development, characterization, pacing, and style or (in nonfiction) logical structure, persuasiveness, liveliness, and tone of voice.
It's not unusual for developmental-editing consultation to also include individualized coaching in creative writing principles and nuances, focused on the client's specific project. The intervention of a knowledgeable editor as early in the process as the first draft can often head-off wasteful detours, unexamined assumptions, and the hardening of bad habits.
Developmental editing can take non-invasive forms (comments attached to a manuscript, a separate document with notes and recommendations, a brief evaluation) or involve structural editing measures such as rewording or reorganization of existing passages, or the sketching-in of a new transition or clarification passage.
Sentence-by-sentence rewording, deletion, and insertion — often called line editing — can feel very invasive indeed to an author who's been working in solitude and might not be accustomed to thinking of writing as the group effort it's certain to become at stages on the road to publication. For writers of novels or memoirs, where a great deal of one's self goes into each sentence, invasive word-surgery by an editor can be particularly wrenching. (Reversible change-tracking software, however, has done wonders to reduce the pain.)
Copy editing is the delicate work of preserving as-is, as much as possible, finished text while polishing-out flaws in typography, spelling, grammar, usage, punctuation — fine-tuning the "mechanics" of the language. It's not just about rules governing commas and semicolons, according to MLA or AP or "Chicago." A gifted copy editor also has a sensitive ear for the rhythms and inflections of speech that punctuation expresses. A copy editor doesn't just enforce style guides, she ensures the clarity and consistency of the voice of the prose.
During most of the process of developing a book, a complete copy-editing pass is wasted labor. Selective copy editing, however, can provide valuable insights into style and nuance to a fast-learning student of language. As a last step before a piece of writing is released to significant readers — agents, acquisitions editors, or eventually the public — thorough copy editing is as essential as a dress rehearsal before opening night.
Publishers offer contracts and advances for nonfiction properties on the basis of a book proposal that might include one or two sample chapters — it's not necessary for there to be a completed manuscript. (For novelists, alas, a polished draft must be complete to "THE END" before publishers will give it serious consideration, except perhaps when the author has a strong sales record with previous books.)
A book proposal is essentially a sales pitch for an intellectual property: the goal is to present such an effective business case for the marketability of the book that a publisher will place a high value on the property.
A professional developmental editor can enhance the potential value of an intellectual property in the same way the services of a landscape designer or architectural planner can enhance the value of a real-estate property.
Good proposals adhere to a conventional format, an executive summary with all the key points easy to identify and concisely covered. Although sample chapters are typically included to demonstrate the author's writing competency and style, other sections of the proposal can be more important to agents and publishers. Unless the proposal makes a convincing case that...
...most publishers won't be moved to offer a contract for even a well-conceived book project with impeccable writing.
The ironic challenge in composing book proposals is that the author is often the worst person to describe his own book objectively. A good proposal speaks with a voice that's halfway between the seller and the buyer, addressing the downside frankly and evaluating the market upside objectively. When a valuable project is at stake, hiring a professional who can add a wider perspective makes economic sense even for an experienced author.
We've prepared many successful book proposals, working closely with authors to express their vision in language the publishing industry understands. We can help you see market potential you hadn't considered, counter objections in advance, and present your case it the most persuasive light.
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We can work with you to fine-tune critical initial-contact materials such as a concise, effective synopsis or query letter wording.
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