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This question was asked on a forum I frequent. I figured the answer might be of general interest.*

A developmental edit concentrates on major structural elements like plot and characterization. Basically, it's looking at the story as a whole and not worrying so much about presentation at the sentence and paragraph level.

A good critique group can provide this service as well, but feedback from an editor is often useful for three reasons:

1) The editor may hilight issues that polite critiquers would be unwilling to address. Critiquers are often hesitant to suggest major changes like combining two characters or shifting scenes around; it feels too much like rewriting the author's story.

2) If the editor's any good, then he/she will have more experience than the average critiquer, and (presumably) be better able to home in on core problems rather than obsessing about surface details.

3) The editor gets paid. This means that he or she will spend several days thinking about the book, reading back through key sections, and drafting a well-thought-out summary of strengths and weaknesses. You're unlikely to get equal service from a free critique exchange unless you're doing it with your mother or your best friend.

My advice regarding professional editing vs. critique groups? Definitely start with a critique group. When you've gained experience knowing which feedback to use and which to ignore, and when you're starting to feel that your career's reached a tipping point: that's the time to consider hiring an editor.

*Please note that I am not currently seeking new editing clients. However, there are handy lists of on Codex and Kindleboards for those who are interested in finding someone.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
bearmountain
Mar. 1st, 2012 02:25 pm (UTC)
And now, speaking from the writer end of a developmental edit: Nancy is harsh, thorough, critical, detailed and the best critique/editor I've ever had. In short, exactly what a book needs. I gave her Under Witch Aura when I thought it was PERFECT. I never give my beta readers anything less. I thought, "Ha! She'll never find a thing wrong."

She tore it into little bitty pieces and critiqued each part (completely professionally and clinically, of course.) She worked with me on a couple of things that I didn't understand and we discussed a couple of areas where I disagreed (she was right though. On the two areas I didn't take her word for it and only made small changes, the very next beta reader beat on the same issues.)

It's important to have more than one reader (at least for me.) Nancy hit the highlights and the lowlights, narrowing in on problems. Once I fixed those, it was important to see IF I fixed them and how well.

I value Nancy's input because she doesn't let anything slide. My beta readers aren't under a timeline when they promise to get it done. Nancy is. My beta readers aren't at all responsible for catching things that don't make sense, that are just bad habits or bad plotting. Nancy has a fine eye for that sort of thing. She has a lot of talent and reading experience. She's kind, thoughtful and THOROUGH.

Under Witch Aura was hugely improved by her input.

I think it's important to have a few people look at it--and don't be afraid to have some that are thorough and some that are cheerleaders. I have a couple of beta readers who aren't picky. They read for the emotional impact of the story and don't care so much about plot. These are just as important, but there's nothing like a good developmental edit from someone who is experienced and good at it.
nancyfulda
Mar. 3rd, 2012 10:09 am (UTC)
Aw, thanks Maria. I'm glad my feedback was helpful!

And you make a good point about the timeline. It's hard to hold volunteer readers to a schedule. :)
pingback_bot
Mar. 1st, 2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
March 2, 2012 Links and Plugs
User charlesatan referenced to your post from March 2, 2012 Links and Plugs saying: [...] Fulda on What's the Difference Between a Developmental Edit and Feedback From a Critique Group? [...]
rymrytr
Mar. 2nd, 2012 07:27 am (UTC)

I too have used Nancy's editoral service and, as a total novice, she gave me a great deal to think about!

Writing is something we all may do.

Writing well is something that we must learn to do.

To learn, one must have a qualified teacher.

Thank you Nancy, for your excellent help. :o)



Edited at 2012-03-02 07:27 am (UTC)
nancyfulda
Mar. 3rd, 2012 10:10 am (UTC)
You're very welcome. And thank you for being an excellent student. :)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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The Death and
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Movement
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Dead Men Don't Cry:
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Nancy Fulda is a 2012 Hugo and Nebula Nominee, a Phobos Award winner and a Vera Hinckley Mayhew Award recipient. She is the first (and so far only) female recipient of the Jim Baen Memorial Award. Her fiction has appeared in a number of professional venues.

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