I firmly believe every novelist needs a good developmental editor.
Writers of short fiction benefit from them, too, but novels in particular, with all their unwieldy size and multiple threads really cry out for that help.
What does a developmental editor do?
They are the first stage of professional editing. (Feedback from critique partners and beta readers might come before this.) A developmental editor gives generalized feedback on how the story works - where it could be cut for pacing, where more detail can be added for clarification, where emotion can be amplified, perhaps even reordering of scenes for maximum effect. In short, a developmental editor does what it's impossible in most cases for an author to do: evaluate the work objectively.
But how do you choose a really good developmental editor?
I hear a fair number of authors recommend editors saying "they're really good and they don't change my voice!"
Why? Because this is utter nonsense. I don't get this writerly terror of having their voice changed. Let me give you a little clue, folks. I'll even all-cap it so it sticks to your brain better.
NO ONE CAN CHANGE YOUR VOICE BECAUSE IT COMES FROM YOU.
So, let's talk about the actual topic: Five Traits of an Ideal Developmental Editor
- They can see both the forest and the trees
An ideal developmental editor has a good feel for the overall scope of a story - or series - and can carefully track key worldbuilding details, to keep the story logic in place.
- They care more about the book being good than your feelings
This is particularly important for self-publishers, because the editor is hired by the writer, instead of by the publishing house. The temptation is to keep the client happy by telling them what they want to hear. This is not good for the book. Find an editor who's willing to tell you what you don't want to hear. Then listen to them.
- They also tell you what works
A good editor is able to give praise as freely and specifically as criticism. Beyond the soul-crushing of editorial critique, well-targeted love can show the flip side, where the craft and the story IS working. It's much easier to fix problems when you can study your own successes, too.
- They're able to offer suggestions for fixes
Not all writers like this, but I love it. A good editor can not only say "this isn't working," but offer ideas for rephrasing, clarification, adding, cutting, etc. A smart, talented and diligent editor cares as much about the book as the writers does and can often see what the writer can't.
- They know the market
The best developmental editors know their genre and what's acceptable within the reader contract. Making a book shine means knowing the potential readership and what they'll expect. Adjusting a story to adhere to genre conventions can mean the difference between delighted readers and an angry mob.
What else? Any traits of an ideal developmental editor that I missed?