Do You Need a Developmental Edit, Or a Copy Edit? What’s A Pitch?

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blackwingNovelists contact me with manuscripts in hand. I’ve got 80,000 words, they say. Can you quote me on a copy edit, or a developmental edit? You use these edits in a different order. Developmental edits are different from a copy edit. The copy edit only takes place once you’ve chosen all of the paths the story will take, and the scenes that will remain. Developmental edits help you make those choices. What’s more, it’s better to have an outline, with not all of your book written, before you purchase a developmental edit.

(If you’re ready to see how copy editing looks — just to get an idea of whether you and your editor will be a good fit — a good editor should be able to edit a 500-word sample for free. It’s just a couple of pages worth, but you get the idea.)

How ready are you to pursue a publisher? One very important part of breaking in with publishers is your summary paragraph about your book. In about five sentences, tell me the most important things about the story.

Your entry to the whole process is your pitch. You use a pitch to get the attention of an agent, or an editor at a smaller press. It’s the one sentence you say when people ask, “So what’s your book about?”

Pitches for novels should contain setup, hook, and resolution:

When <character> discovers <catalyst>; s/he must <overcome problem> before <impending doom>, or else <stakes>.

Donald Maas (agent-book developer) had a good deal to say about stakes during the seminar I took with him in San Francisco. They are crucial, and the higher the stakes, the more compelling your story will be. They go all the way up to mortal stakes (your character will die, or someone they love will die.) You can even go beyond those mortal stakes. For example, in my novel Viral Times, millions of lives are at stake — because if Dayton Winstead cannot find the source of the MightyHand virus, then tens of millions of millions will be infected with HIVE-5.

At some point in the near future, you’ll have a chance to deliver the story you’ve written, perhaps by telling a pitch in person to an agent. That’s what conferences can offer you. What you do between now and then will give you a better opportunity to find someone who’s the right person to represent you.

You do research. Which books are like yours, not just in subject but in tone and style? Who agented them?  Use online resources like Publisher’s Lunch to sort through the known universe of agent submissions. Learn as much as you can, and start a list. Rank agents in order of likelihood of love match.


Synopsis: tough, but essential

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I call a synopsis of a book essential because this summary is packed with the essence of the story. Whether it’s aimed at non-fiction or a novel, a synopsis is an important tool to use in selling your writing. It also has benefit to you during the writing. Re-creating your synopsis, once every few weeks, lets you restate and polish what your work is designed to accomplish.

Over at the Guide to Literary Agents blog, Chuck Samubchino serves up an example about how to craft a complex synopsis: one with lots of characters. This is the mission for my novel Viral Times, which sports seven main characters. Five are important enough to have their own first person POV during the book. The action happens on three major locales.

Samubchino uses the example of creating a complex synopsis for the movie Traffic. This is a film bristling with characters and varied settings. He uses a good technique, organizing the story by setting. There are three major locales in Traffic, and his synopsis covers each setting with three paragraphs each, such as “In Mexico:” Yes, just nine paragraphs. You have to keep it short, no matter how long the book is on a final draft.

You’re unlikely to get something useful for a synopsis after a first draft. So this task, which is useful if you’re selling your book or publishing it yourself, is also an exercise in rewriting.

Synopsis help from a great group partner

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My friend Laurie, hard at work drafting her novel Claire’s Run, served up a great synopsis links site awhile ago. My other writing group partner, Larisa, is now doing the heavy lifting on The Gender Game to create the synopsis to show how great her novel has become through her writing and rewriting.

Writing a synopsis is hard, so you should practice. This document sells your book. It also shows you, as you revise the synopsis, what needs to be written or rewritten, as you create your book.

Laurie’s main link is

Inside that page is a wonderful link to a Beth Anderson’s synopsis how-to, presented by way of the Chicago Crimewriter’s Web site.

Laurie posts to her own writing life and lessons blog. I recommend this tool. A blog is a place to talk out your writing process, expose and examine your log, as Eric Maisel advises in his book Fearless Creating.