Can You Publish Fiction Without a Developmental Edit?

Can You Publish Fiction Without a Developmental Edit_

The first and obvious answer to this question is “yes.” Ever since there have been printing presses, it’s been possible for humans to publish their work without anyone else’s oversight.

Of course, it used to be prohibitively expensive, and most people didn’t even have the education to get the job done anyway. Now, that’s not the case. Now anyone with time and a laptop can put their fiction out into the world.

The question is … should you do it without help?

If Control Matters to You, You Might Like Self-Publishing

Now, I’m all for doing things without help.

You can say my cover could be better, and it could. You can also say my work doesn’t have the final polish of a big publishing house, and it doesn’t.

You know what it does have? An actual existence. I won’t go into whether or not I could have landed an agent and traditional publisher had I sweated it out for a few more years. Some people say time and luck are all you need; others say luck may barely be enough in an industry so damn stacked against you it’s almost impossible to break through.

I don’t really care about that answer, and when you go too far down that road, things get defensive and controversial very quickly.

Bottom line: I’ve decided to go it alone and I’m very happy with that decision because it means I. Control. Everything.

The timeline. The cover. The format. The plot. The characters. The word choice. The color of the paper. How I promote it. Who I promote it to. And on and on and on.



One Thing You Shouldn’t Control: The Developmental Edit

There’s one thing, however, that I will never do, though, and that’s publish a fiction book without a developmental edit.

Now, let me clarify. I do plan to publish books 2-4 in my current series without a professional developmental edit, but that’s because the first edit was completed by one of the biggest names in the industry and she helped me work through the rest of the series.

However, I would never publish a first book or standalone without professional help. Yes, paid help.

Why? Because it’s just not possible to identify where the real problems lie in your book all by yourself. When a character is flat, when a motivation is untrue, when a plot hole is simply too big (oh come on, you know little plot holes are just a fact of life!) – an editor can help you see these things. Not to mention identify the fixes.

This includes:

  • When to reveal certain big plot points
  • How to pace an unfolding quest or mystery
  • How to flesh out a secondary character
  • When to give your protagonist backstory
  • How to pull off unreliable or other nontraditional forms of narration

These are only a few examples off the top of my head, and the ones that stand out most clearly for me, since they were the ones I had to fix during my own developmental edit. They are, however, the tip of the iceberg.

Alternatives to the Developmental Edit

As I’ve said before, I think you should do everything possible on your own when it comes to self-publishing tasks. But if you’re new to fiction writing, I’m not convinced that “anything possible” includes editing. Certainly not copyediting, and probably not developmental editing.

However, you don’t have to get a full developmental edit. It can be expensive and depending on your age, job, and other duties, it may simply not be in the cards. I think that’s okay; I really do.

In that case, I suggest you rely on a small cadre of writing friends who know at least a little about the craft, or at the very least, about the genre. Personally, for the second through fourth books in my fiction series, I’m relying on a select group of avid readers whose blogs and reviews have convinced me of their worth. That’s always a good way to go.

No matter what you do, I strongly recommend sitting on a manuscript at least a month after writing it, and at least a month after rewriting. That way, you can catch any inconsistencies. That, combined with readers, is the next best thing to a professional developmental edit.

What Do You Think?

So. Questions? Comments? Concerns? Pushback? Hate mail? Donuts?

I won’t lie, I’ll be happiest about the first and last items in that series. Just sayin’.

Anyway, if you want to share your thoughts on developmental editing or fiction writing, please do so in the comments! And if you’re interested in learning more about how to write for yourself, control your words and your work, and become a location-independent badass, you can find out more in my Free Resource Library (image below) and in my courses. Hope to see you soon!

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