March 2013 was a breakthrough month for me. It was the first time that I had my poetry accepted by a competitive literary journal. Despite majoring in creative writing at Beloit College, where I graduated in 2007, I didn’t have my first piece published anywhere until six years later. I didn’t think I was that good, and the professor who wrote “Don’t make a career out of this” on one of my short stories did wonders for my confidence. I quit writing for a while, but my friend Russell Jaffe got me engaged in poetry again, helping me with the basics of craft and offering me a spot in a poetry reading he had organized. I took the ball from there, rolled with it, and soon started getting my poetry published in many interesting literary magazines.
As much as I liked writing poetry and enjoyed the works of Bukowski, Neruda, Ginsberg, and many of the alternative/outlaw poets on the Internet in the journals in which I was getting published, I had always been, first and foremost, interested in reading and writing fiction. After I quit my job as a college instructor/librarian I spent a lot of time working on short fiction. Given my friend Rairigh Drum’s generosity in offering me a rent-free spare room in her and her husband’s home in Clarion, Pennsylvania, I had plenty of time to devote to writing, considering that I didn’t have to work much over the next few months as I had amassed a decent savings from my job. My stories were good. When I showed them to Rairigh, she was impressed. They were a far cry from the admittedly awful work that she remembered me passing her way when our campus clique would hang out. It was a big compliment to see how much, in her eyes, I’d improved. But improvement or good work isn’t enough. The fiction needed serious work. Rairigh again showed her generosity, working with me to develop the plot and characters, and showing me what to rewrite. The result? A number of my stories were published. It wouldn’t have happened without Rairigh’s edits. They’d just be stories that were good, but not good enough.
Rairigh was my developmental editor, but what exactly does that term mean? How is that any different from a copy editor or a line editor, and why do I need an editor in the first place? The answer to that last question? Because every serious writer needs an editor. Sure, you can catch some things here and there and make your work better with multiple revisions, but every author has many blindsides when it comes to their own work. I would never release a novel or short fiction without going to Rairigh first, and I’d strongly suggest that all writers work with an editor before attempting to publish or self-publish their writing. Below are the types of editors and what they do:
What they do: A copy editor ensures that your writing is free of any errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation.
What they don’t do: Improve the actual prose or structure of a work.
What they do: A line editor ensures that your writing is tight, focusing on paragraph structure, sentence flow, word choice, and forward movement. Line editing usually comes with copy editing as part of the process.
What they don’t do: Improve or suggest ways to improve the structure of a manuscript.
What they do: Hiring a developmental editor provides the most intensive level of improvement of a manuscript. A developmental editor trims, rewrites, rearranges, and writes new passages/chapters of their clients’ work. Some developmental editors may just critique your work, offering suggestions for a writer to implement on their own.
What they don’t do: For most intensive developmental editors, line and copy editing are standard additions; however, for those offering critiques, line and copy editing are not included.