Developmental Editing | How To Elevate Your Story

Jun 16, 2023 | Editing

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How to Hire a Ghostwriter

One truth I’m fond of relaying, both here on this blog, and when I’m speaking to writers who email me is this: the best writing, ultimately, comes out of rewriting. Let’s be honest. The initial draft of your book, regardless of whether it’s the first, fifth or fiftieth in your series, is merely a starting point. In order to elevate your story, you need developmental editing to make your fiction book memorable.

For most writers, the trouble with rewriting is knowing where to begin. When we write something, whether a short story or novel, or even an email, we have an idea where we want it to go. The trouble comes when, after writing that initial draft, a writer calls it done.

Where does that tendency come from? In my experience, it comes when the writer looks at that first draft and celebrates how it met those initial expectations.

That first idea on where we want the story to go? Nailed it. Time to move on.

Hold on just a moment though. I would like to suggest that maybe, just maybe, our initial idea of where we want the story to go is not necessarily the end of the road. Better said this way: maybe that first idea is just the first place your story could possibly go and, only through a process of rewriting, can we get to the best version of the story we imagined. 

erick mertz writing, portland, oregon, developmental editing

Developmental Editing – Three Easy Techniques You Can Use

Earlier in this blog, I brought up email. Have you ever written a really important email? Maybe it was to a prospective client, or your boss, someone you wanted to impress.

Let’s talk about the process of writing that email. Do you sit down, write out your first thoughts, then simply press send? I’m going to guess that you don’t.

What do you do instead? If you’re like me, you probably go back and re-read the email. You make sure it conveys your message. You smooth over the rough parts. You pull back language that’s too rough (or, in some instances, doesn’t deliver the punch you want). Whatever you actually do, the first step before sending is to make absolutely sure this is what you want to say.


Go back and reread your work. For some writers, me included, going back into a first draft can be painful. It is hard to do, but, if you’re going to elevate your story, you absolutely need to give it a good, hard look.


Be honest with yourself. This can also be hard, but, like above, quite necessary.

Do your scenes carry the necessary emotional or story impact? If you read a scene and feel like maybe it’s too soft, too long, too whatever, it’s time to consider re-writing it. 

Are your characters consistent? Do they change in the right way? 

If you, the writer, sense areas your manuscript could use help, what do you think prospective readers are going to think? I’ve got a hint. They’re probably going to find the same faults and more.


Connect with other writers and get their feedback. Some of the best writers I know are involved in writers groups, collections of writers seeking feedback on works in progress.

Does a writer’s group work like a developmental editor? Kind of. In order to get that level of feedback, it’s best to work with a professional. However, if you’re just starting out, and can’t afford developmental editing services, then getting together with a writer’s group would be the next best thing.

erick mertz writing, portland, oregon

Beyond The Self-Editor: Developmental Editing At Its Best

Self-editing can get a writer pretty far in rewriting their book. With the aid of a good writer’s group, similarly, you can take your manuscript the next mile. Any author that told me their path included these steps, I would encourage them to do so.

What do you do, however, when you want your book to rise above the others?

Amazon has made publishing easy. Almost too easy, actually. A writer can literally write whatever they want, smack a cover on it, post and press publish, and call it good. 

Do you think those authors are successful though?

The open nature of the publishing world has actually raised the standard of quality across the board. Independent authors are investing in their businesses. They understand the market. They know the kinds of books readers want to read and are, with the help of professional developmental editors, making sure they deliver the kind of product that’s bound for success. 

Developmental editing, a key to elevating the story you’re writing right now, not only pushes your manuscript to be the best it can, it also acknowledges that successful books understand the market. When I work with a client as a developmental editor, I make sure that we are improving the book and, while staying true to its core message, work to position it in the market. 

Are you writing science fiction? If so, we’re going to target tropes and ideas that science fiction readers really look for and value. The same with fantasy and mystery.

Developmental Editing – Some Final Words

The market for fiction is ever changing. Tastes are always in flux. Platforms like Amazon and others change the playing field, creating and removing opportunities. Sometimes those changes come at the drop of a hat, leaving even the most dialed in writers scratching their heads.

The most important thing for you, the author, to understand, is that quality never changes. Never. Well-written books in any genre rise to the top. The best written books stay there.

You, as an author, can accomplish a lot with the self-editing steps I showed you. In order to get where, you’re going to need something more. On your path to a successful author career, working with a developmental editor on areas you can elevate your story is a priceless step.