Occasionally, someone will ask me if I can read their work and “tell them what I think.” Though I love writers and readers, unfortunately, I don’t have time to read everything that’s put in front of me. Plus, I realize that what they are usually asking for is a developmental edit (well, sometimes they’re just after validation that their work has value).
This is a whole different request, but it is a service I offer. However, I think developmental “editing” is a misnomer. I think developmental “consulting” is more accurate. On the few developmental projects I’ve done for hire (you’ll see why just a “few” shortly), I’m essentially asking questions, pointing out areas that may need clarification, suggesting areas where they could show instead of tell, or directing them to resources that might help them (such as The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson), along with my thoughts about the characters, plot, setting, etc. I don’t actually make any changes.
What I usually suggest (and the reason I’ve only had a few developmental projects) is to save their money for copy/line editing and instead get beta/test readers. The more beta readers, the merrier, but I think at least six to eight is a good number. They need to be people you trust, who are thoughtful readers, and who will be honest with you (albeit kind) in their feedback. Give them the manuscript as a PDF (or print if you can afford it and they insist) and at least one to two months to read. You can receive the feedback in written form, during one-on-one meetings, or in a focus group format.
People seem to have the most trouble finding beta readers. First, look to your family and friends; you are bound to have a couple who don’t mind providing honest feedback. This is also where networking comes in (maybe you thought you didn’t have to worry about networking as an author – sorry). Attend writer gatherings, workshops, and conferences to meet and develop relationships with other writers with whom you may be able to trade beta reading in the future. You can also participate in Facebook groups and get to know people on other social media sites so that you may get responses when you post to ask for beta readers. If you really can’t find any beta readers, this is where paying for a developmental edit (or consult) might be worth it.
When you get beta readers and they are helpful, treat them right. Make sure to thank them personally and in your book acknowledgments. Sending them a finished copy of the book is also a good practice, and they are likely to share about how they helped to shape it, which will help sales.