Self-Editing Tips for Beginning Writers

So, you’re just starting your new book and you’re new to this whole ‘writing’ thing. Or maybe you’re a seasoned writer who has written blogs, articles, or fiction. However you came to this current manuscript, the following advice can help you, even if it’s a reminder. There are two main areas of editing to think about: spelling and grammar.


This one’s easy, right? Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Scrivener . . . all the big ones have spell check built right in. On top of that? There are services such as Grammarly and ProWritingAid that do a pretty good job of catching the biggest, most egregious mistakes. As far as each of these tools has come (Does anyone remember the early days of spell check where the suggested spelling was more often than not completely wrong?) they still need an actual human being to make sure they’re getting everything correct. Consider self-driving cars. There’s a lot they can do now (other than catch on fire randomly) but for now and in the near future, a human driver is required behind the wheel. Well, you’re going to need to be that human driver behind the wheel of your manuscript when you employ those great digital tools. Here’s a big rule: it is not enough to rely solely on built-in or third-party spell checkers. Reading your manuscript carefully catches errors in addition to what the computers will find. You’ll likely find missing words, misused words, and any other number of things that need fixing. Another benefit of doing a spelling pass is that you will more than likely fine-tune other aspects of the work you may have missed while feverishly writing your drafts. Another caveat? It’s ideal to have another person do a pass, as well. Our minds tend to ‘fix’ things automatically. We hear words in our own voices. It can be a challenge to find everything. I didn’t believe this for years until I became a professional copy editor. My work would come back with errors that I couldn’t believe. How could I miss some of these very basic things? My answer was that my mind was doing the auto-correct thing. Strange, but true. I’ve spoken to other editors who deal with the same phenomena. That being said, you can eliminate a ton of these errors with the methods outlined above. It will go a long way to making life a lot easier for your copy editors later.


This is a much more complex type of editing. Think of grammar as the blueprint or architecture of writing. What parts make up a sentence? See Jane run. Grammar can be very simple, or very complex, of course. This is where things can get very tricky, especially for the auto-corrects and yes . . . even Grammarly, despite its name. English is a very challenging language. Again, these tools can help guide you, but they are even less effective than their use for correcting spelling mistakes. The biggest issue I’ve seen with grammar has to do with tense and point of view. When correcting your manuscript, make sure your verb tenses are the same throughout a section or chapter. Example: if you begin a section using past tense; ‘John liked writing stories’; stick to those verb tenses. In this case, you’d primarily use verbs ending in ‘-ed’. Switching to the present tense, such as, ‘John edits the stories he’s writing’ presents a tense conflict and needs to be addressed. Now, let’s say you want to switch tenses. If you must, use a section break (***) to do so, signaling your reader of the change. And make sure to add another section break when you’re switching back, too. Although, this style isn’t common for current fiction readers.

Point of View

This is another big issue, mainly in fiction writing. It boils down to character perspective. If it’s the main character’s point of view, stay there. Don’t ‘hop’ into another character’s head in the middle of the scene. Head-hopping is jarring and hard to follow. You want to stick with one point of view (POV) during your entire section or chapter. If you do want to ‘hop heads’, use a section break (***), and make sure to close the section with one, too, if you switch back. In popular, commercial writing, be aware that sticking to one POV per section or chapter is much preferred by agents, publishers, and especially your readers. This wasn’t always the case. In many gothic texts, and even up through the mid-20th century, head-hopping and even dialogue were often crammed into one paragraph. Sticking to one POV per chapter is something major to look out for when redrafting and editing your manuscript.

Learn More

One of the first lines of defense is to school yourself in these matters! It’s not very time-consuming and it will serve you well. My highest recommendation is reading Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. It is a thin book, under 100 pages. Inside, it has almost everything you need to know to write clearly, concisely, and professionally. I read it annually as a refresher. Another great book to check out is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King and Renni Brown. This is a much more extensive and detailed book, but the tools and advice are priceless.


There are some amazing sites you can check out, as well. The major dictionary, thesaurus, and encyclopedia brands all have excellent, and in most cases, free pages with convenient search tools. One of my favorite sites is Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tricks if you really want to do a deep dive, it’s also a great resource for searching those peculiar grammatical pickles in which we sometimes find ourselves. Happy writing and happy editing!
John Palisano’s nonfiction, short fiction, and poetry have appeared in countless literary anthologies and magazines such as Cemetery Dance, Fangoria, Weird Tales, Space & Time, McFarland Press, and many more. He is the author of the novel Nerves and Starlight Drive: Four Tales of Halloween, and has been quoted in Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times, and The Writer. He has received the Bram Stoker Award© and was recently President of the Horror Writers Association. Say ‘hi’ at:,,, and

Embracing Criticism and Feedback: Using Red Ink (Literal or Figurative) to Improve Writing

Writing a book is a mighty achievement. Not many who start a manuscript ever finish, and not many who finish a manuscript seek help to improve and make the work suitable for publishing. Anyone can write a book, and anyone can publish a book, but what does it take to make one’s writing any good? Writers need editors. A writer must embrace that fact if they ever want to publish a book that meets professional standards, especially if working on their first book. Once a book is published, it is out there, forever, and it defines the author and begins their brand. Closer to publishing a book, writers must also consider other professionals in the industry who can help, such as book cover artists and layout designers, but working with an editor (preferably editors, plural) is the first step to publish a book to the best of their ability.

The Many Types of Editors

In one’s book-writing journey, a writer may be involved with any number of editors. There are many types, and all have different specialties:
  • Developmental Editors
  • Structural Editors
  • Revisions Editors
  • Copy Editors
There are more than four types of editing, including line editing, mechanical editing, as well as beta and proofreading, but for self-, independent-, and hybrid-publishing consideration, those are perhaps the most commonly seen, and the lines more often than not blur between editors. A revisions editor, for instance, may assist early on with line editing, or a developmental editor might point out repetitive writing habits to help with structural or revisions editing down the line. Developmental editors, who sometimes offer substantive or content editing, assist writers anywhere from concept to completed draft. Developmental editing, as the first word in the title defines, helps with overall development of the manuscript, such as pointing out issues with fundamentals, helping to source content, referencing necessary chapter components, suggesting improvements for narrative flow, etc. Developmental editors sometimes even function as a mentor and writing coach. Structural editors take an overall look at the first draft manuscript upon completion, or near- completion. They sometimes work with writers during developmental editing to offer further guidance, but more from a structural standpoint. Is everything where it should be? Does the narrative flow in terms of style, tone, and overall quality? They look at the core components of future books and provide an analysis. Revisions editors work with manuscripts that are already completed, turning first (or second) drafts into more well-defined drafts. Revisions is an umbrella statement, of course, since manuscripts go through multiple revisions (or should, even rewrites). But revisions editors, in this case, work with writers to improve writing by way of improving the writing fundamentals: hook, character, plot / conflict, point of view, show vs. tell, dialogue, voice, pace, etc. They point out what works and what doesn’t and offer suggestions while also putting the writer to work collaboratively. Copy editors should be the final step before a manuscript goes into layout. This includes making minor spelling, grammar, and punctuation corrections, as well as enhancing the writing quality, searching for passive voice, awkward sentence or paragraph structure, and if working on nonfiction they make sure citations are properly formatted, among other things. Once a manuscript goes through copy editing, no further significant changes should be made other than to fix last-minute proofreading errors. Other types of editors exist, all playing different (or sometimes crossed) roles. A line editor, for instance, goes through the manuscript line-by-line, examining word choice, making sure author / character voice is consistent, pointing out clichés and run-on sentences, and focusing on clarity. A mechanical editor, on the other hand, focuses primarily on the mechanics of the writing, making sure it conforms to style guides, and uses consistent capitalization, punctuation, and abbreviation, which are tasks copy editors sometimes absorb as part of their duties. That is a lot for a writer to take on if attempting to create a book on their own, and so multiple sets of eyes are always recommended (and should be required) instead of a lone set of eyes.

Editing Is Highly Collaborative

No matter which type of editor (preferably editors, plural) a writer works with along their publishing journey, it should never be assumed the editor(s) will simply fix issues and return a perfect manuscript back to the creator. All editing is highly collaborative and ultimately on the writers’ shoulders. Developmental and revisions editors, arguably, spend the most time with writers hands-on. Depending on their services, this could be anywhere from eight to sixteen weeks or longer; for structural editors, this could be anywhere from four to eight weeks or longer. In either case, a relationship between writer and editor is established, and during that time the writer needs to put in as much time and effort as the editor, or significantly more. Working with a structural editor is no different. They are not there to change the manuscript, but to suggest changes to help make the writing better. Are there inconsistencies with the writing compared to the outline? Are there incomplete or missing chapters? Does the manuscript feel complete? They offer a book-level evaluation so the writer can fix such things before going through further revisions. The least amount of interaction is between writer and copy editor. Since a manuscript draft is considered “final” by the time it reaches them, having passed through the hands of many previous editors, copy editors work on the practical details that do not need much writer interaction, although an interaction is still there, no matter how small. Yet it is not an editor’s job to simply make changes to a manuscript (except in the copy editing phase, in most cases), but to point out what could be improved so the writer can make those improvements. It is the author’s job, and obligation if they want to be a writer, to put a manuscript through multiple revisions before their work ever becomes a published book. The goal of every editor is to help writers become better writers. After all, it is not their book; it is the author’s. In fact, editors—although they put in a significant amount of work into manuscripts—are not listed as contributors within books other than seldomly appearing in an acknowledgment page. Editors have a passion to help writers, which is why they do what they do. They have a need to insist upon the world the highest quality of writing when it comes to published books, otherwise the world would be (and is, unfortunately) inundated with mediocre, unprofessional books.

Hard Work and Dedication

What many novice writers do not expect is the level of hard work they must put into revisions. It takes a significant amount of time to write a first draft manuscript, but it should take significantly more time to put that manuscript through multiple rounds of revisions before ever becoming a book. Consider a 60,000-word first draft manuscript, completed entirely by the author alone, with no help from any type of editor. Did the manuscript go through an extensive round of self-editing at least? More often than not, this is not the case, since most novice writers are not familiar with self-editing other than basic checks for grammar and spelling. Is this a first draft, second, or third? It all matters how familiar a writer is with the writing, editing, and publishing process, which is extensive. Let’s say, for the benefit of the writer, the manuscript at least went through a round of self-editing, which means it is a second draft. Then, after collaborating with a developmental editor, they put it through a third. Next, they send it off to a structural editor, who works with them on putting it through a fourth. Then a revisions editor, who helps them put it through a fifth or sixth. Then a beta reader, a copy editor, perhaps a line editor, a proofreader, etc. What draft number is it now? Some argue there is no such thing as a “final draft,” that a manuscript can go through endless revisions, that at some point a writer must simply be done with the thing and abandon it, either publishing their work or not. But if the writer decides to publish a book and become an author, wouldn’t it make sense to put it through as many drafts as possible and write / revise to the best of their ability? If this is the case, a writer needs to embrace the red. When editing by hand, many editors use a red pen to note suggested changes, and in word processing programs, edits are typically found as red text. And if the editing is done right (in the case of novice writers), there might be more red text on the page than black, and this can scare a person at first glance.

Embracing the Red

My first experience with an editor was for a 7,500-word short story called “Unstitched Love.” I put it through a weekend writer bootcamp that focused on self-editing because I wanted to learn more about the process and about my writing. One instructor leaned heavily on plot and conflict, another on dialogue and voice, another on point of view and show vs. tell, and the fourth took a line editing approach. When first turning in the story, I thought it was great, and then I received the feedback. The pages bled with red ink. While “a story is there, somewhere,” I was told, it had conflict but no plot, and I had a lot of dialogue that was unbelievable when spoken aloud, and my point of view was all over the place and hopping between characters, and I was telling more than showing. And from a line editing perspective, if I were to fix each of those items previously mentioned, I needed to cut (according to the blood on the page), at least a third or more of the text. I was horrified, at first, then I put their suggestions to use. I turned my conflict into story beats and suddenly had a plot. I created believable dialogue that sounded right for each character (instead of all sounding like me). I took the “camera” off the various characters’ shoulders, as it was analogized, and instead put the lens solely through the mind of the main character. From a line editing perspective, I trimmed the manuscript from 7,500 words to 4,000, cutting the story almost in half. After struggling for years writing alone, and not selling short stories to the markets I was seeking, I suddenly had my first professional manuscript. I sent it out and it instantly sold to a market in Sweden. I then went on to sell that same story to a market in South Africa, twice, and finally published it in the U.S. Without incorporating their feedback, I would have continued struggling as a writer. Today, I put those same practices to use, and from every new editor I work with—whether for a short story, nonfiction article, poetry collection, or novel—I learn a little more each time, forever improving my writing and editing to the best of my abilities. As an editor myself, I pass on what I have learned over the last twenty-something years to other writers and editors and hope they will do the same. Not until you embrace the red and incorporate criticism and feedback will your writing improve, which is an investment of the self. The more editors you work with over the years, the better your writing will become, thus needing less and less editing. It hurts, at first, until you realize it is a necessary pain and part of the process of writing successfully.
Michael Bailey is a Senior Editor and the Head of Developmental Editing at Manuscripts, LLC. He is a recipient and nine-time nominee of the Bram Stoker Award, a four-time Shirley Jackson Award nominee, and a multiple recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Award, along with over thirty independent publishing accolades. He has written, edited, and published many books. His latest is Righting Writing, a nonfiction narrative about dedication to the craft. He is also the screenwriter for Madness and Writers: The Untold Truth, a creative documentary series about writers. Find him online at, or on social media @nettirw.

Righting Your Writing: How to Improve Your Craft by Working With a Developmental Editor

The job of the developmental editor is often referred to as substantive editing, with a goal of improving the writer’s potential by taking a deeper dive into the work and helping them improve with early constructive feedback and constructive criticism; helping to further develop not only the writing but the writer.
I recently finished a manuscript for a nonfiction book called Righting Writing, an exploration into the madness of writing, editing, and publishing. A book for those who need to write. It took a few years to complete, but I consider 2022 a great year because the manuscript went through multiple revisions and at the start of 2023 became a book. “Need” is used in the statement above because while many want to write, those who need to write almost always follow through, and those who want to write rarely do. Righting Writing exists because of my never-ending need to help other writers improve their craft. The title holds meaning in its tense: writing needs constant righting; otherwise, the title would be Writing Righted, or Writing Right, which, of course, means there is only one way. A writer, no matter their level of expertise, can always improve; their writing can always be righted. Every successful writer-turned-author relies on an editor to make them better. And there are many ways to better one’s writing, especially for novice writers, such as by seeking the help of a developmental editor. I am currently working with Eric Koester on his second book in his Pennymores series (and soon a third). My main focus is developmental editing, but I offer advice to help prepare his manuscript for later revisions editing, such as with point of view, show vs. tell, and tightening prose by way of immersive language. My other focus is to help him realize his full potential. Eric has proven time and again that his storytelling is a need, not a want, and he takes my honest and constructive criticism to heart. He has a desire to ever-improve, which is key. The words flow out of him not with a “my writing is great” (and it is) attitude, but with a mindset of “no matter how great it is, it can always be better.” As a developmental editor, I have helped hundreds of writers: nonfiction narratives, memoirs, novels, fiction collections, poetry collections, and even graphic novels. And every writer who shares that same mindset of self-improvement publish. Along with providing developmental editing for Eric, I help train and manage developmental editors at Manuscripts, LLC, and assist with revisions editing and other departments. We all experience one thing in common: our writers not only finish manuscripts, but they put in the work it takes to turn manuscripts into incredible books. And yet it still surprises me that some first-time authors do not seek help. I thought I’d share my experience working as a developmental editor for Eric Koester’s latest book in his Pennymores series and how we collaborate, as well my experiences working with other writers.

My Fear of Providing Feedback as a Developmental Editor

When I first became a developmental editor at Manuscripts, LLC, I was terrified of my critiques coming across as being too brutal. Before that, I had nearly twenty years of freelance experience editing for various publishers, and so I was (and still am) well aware of writers resisting feedback. The world of editing can be precarious. If my reviews of works-in-progress were taken as too harsh, for instance, perhaps writers would not take my reviews as helpful but hurtful. Their impostor syndrome was quickly becoming my impostor syndrome, despite what I knew I could offer. Years later, I have learned that the writers who utilize the many services offered at Manuscripts, LLC have the following in common:
  • They need to write manuscripts and publish books.
  • They want honest criticism from editors.
  • They have the passion (suffering) it takes to put their manuscripts through the gamut that is developmental editing, revisions editing, structural editing, and later copy editing.
  • They publish their books, successfully.
  • They typically go on to publish more books, successfully.
My own fears as a developmental editor dissolved as soon as I realized what I had known all along: writers who need to tell stories, although they may hesitate when first seeking or receiving feedback, are usually willing to learn what it takes to write to the best of their abilities. Once a writer realizes a developmental editor (or any editor) is on their side, and willing to work with them in all sincerity to improve, that’s when the magic happens. They not only begin to believe they are ‘good enough’ to write, but that they can become great (and they do).

Expect More Than Editing

When collaborating with a developmental editor, know they are not there to simply edit what is already written. And don’t expect them to write if nothing is written. Developmental editors are not ghostwriters; they are mentors, coaches, cheerleaders, and sometimes even therapists if impostor syndrome kicks in (and it will, at some point). Developmental editors are sounding boards. They brainstorm. They work with writers to develop a book from the ground up, or, if an unstable framework is already established, they can help stabilize the foundation. They help turn ideas into stories, help turn stories into chapters, and help form those chapters into a workable Table of Contents. If a manuscript is already written, they can help develop that draft into something stronger. To quote a section in Righting Writing:
A developmental editor offers advice on basic writing fundamentals but does not necessarily correct spelling or grammar mistakes, although often points out such things. They can either be brought in during the book’s development—even prior to any writing whatsoever—or after the first draft of a manuscript is already written.
Developmental editing is thus more focused on a book’s structure rather than prose, such as with character, plot, conflict, voice, theme, and setting. Do chapters have enough hook to pull readers along? Do chapters have the right components? What about the 3 D’s: dialogue, detail, depth? What about the other fundamentals of writing that can be righted: intrigue, prose, pace, tense, point of view, show vs. tell, and imagery? Developmental editors work with writers to improve upon each of these areas, noting what is working well while also pointing out what is not. Working with any editor is highly collaborative, but think of the developmental stage as creating the architecture of a book. Consider the original idea and what it will take to turn that concept into a reality. Then realize there’s a professional on your side to make that happen. Questions to ask developmental editors prior to utilizing their services:
  • What is your experience / training?
  • What are your editing styles or how do you edit?
  • What are your specialties / strengths?
  • What are your expectations?
Questions to ask while utilizing their services:
  • What goals / routines should we establish?
  • What can I expect and what is expected of me?
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses?
  • What can I do to improve my writing?
Expect lots of communication. Schedule weekly meetings if at all possible. Ask for advice on impostor syndrome or writer’s block. If struggling, ask for help! Above all else, do not be afraid to share “ugly” writing, those early first drafts. Developmental editors have seen it all (and do not judge). They can help turn ugly writing into good writing, then good writing into great writing. When working with Eric, if he doesn’t ask the questions above, I bring them up. I offer my experiences to help him better his writing. I point out strengths and his weaknesses, but more importantly suggest ways to improve not only his weaknesses but his strengths. We establish weekly goals and routines. I expect his writing, no matter the quality, and he expects my critiques, no matter how harsh they may seem (although they are always positive). We always push forward.

Five Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Developmental Editor / Writer Relationship

Developmental editors are on your side. All editors have a desire to help other writers improve, which is why they became editors in the first place. And most developmental editors, specifically, are writers, so they know the importance of having the help required to complete a manuscript and publish a book. 5 tips to consider:
  1. Connect: Plan to meet weekly with your developmental editor by way of a video call, or at a minimum weekly messages. It can be daunting at first, so break the ice and then jump right into the writing / editing. It will get easier with time, and might become the highlight of your week. 10 to 30 minutes, depending on what’s needed, even if it’s a simple catch-up or to ask for advice. Are you stuck, overwhelmed? Your developmental editor can help.
  2. Communicate: Send messages over whatever platform you are using. Constant communication with your editor is key. Ask questions. Answer questions. Leave notes and respond by way of in-line comments and wrap-up comments within the document(s). Be precise, always asking yourself and your editor, “What can I do next to improve?”
  3. Collaborate: Editing is highly collaborative. For every hour your editor spends on your work, plan to 4 or 5 times that to further improve your manuscript, maybe even as high as 10. And remember: your developmental editor is not there to make changes or to write for you, but to suggest improvements with your writing. They may suggest sources for additional information, or point out what’s working and what isn’t with your writing.
  4. Set routines / goals: Work with your editor on weekly expectations. Take your word count (expected or already written) and divide that by the number of weeks working with your editor. 60,000 words and 16 weeks? That’s 3,750 words per week, which can be anywhere from 2 to 3 hours of developmental editor time, and 8 to 12 hours for the writer, at a minimum. Keep in mind that you are most likely not your editor’s only client, so be respectful of their time. Punctuality for meetings is important.
  5. Have an understanding that writing / editing is tough: If you put in the effort, your editor will do the same. Your editor will spend a lot of time not only reading your work but suggesting edits (always with the overall book in mind), so also be respectful of their expertise. They know what they are doing. Ask questions if you need clarification.
Developmental editors work with all types of writers, so a big part of the editor / writer relationship is determining your writing style and figuring out what works best in terms of all 5 items listed above. They are experienced working with writers who suffer from impostor syndrome or writer’s block, so listen to their suggestions. The primary goal of the developmental editor is to help writers, no matter their level of experience, finish manuscripts, and become better writers. There is nothing an editor loves more than to experience a writer they have worked with succeed and become great. * * * I am first and foremost a writer, and it is my passion to consistently improve my craft. And as an editor (developmental or otherwise, as I wear many hats), helping other writers improve their craft is also my passion. As an editor, I need Eric and other writers who are motivated with their own work (and their own betterment as writers) to keep me motivated. I read a dozen or two books each year, but perhaps as many as a hundred or more unpublished manuscripts. And when I see one of those projects turn into a beautiful, published book, knowing the writer and their editors did everything in their power to make it wonderful? Nothing makes me happier. Nothing written is ever perfect, but why not get it as close to that as possible, and then make the next writing even stronger, and the writing after even stronger, and so on . . . A special thanks to Eric Koester for not only founding Manuscripts, LLC, which cranks out countless inspiring book each year, but also having the drive to showcase his writing and the books of so many others. Righting Writing is the title of my latest book, but also my mission. It’s an active statement, the continuous art of righting one’s writing, of taking the written word, no matter whose, and ever-improving upon it.
Even the best editors need editors.

Michael Bailey is a Senior Editor and the Head of Developmental Editing at Manuscripts, LLC. He is a recipient and eight-time nominee of the Bram Stoker Award, a four-time Shirley Jackson Award nominee, and a multiple recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Award, along with over thirty independent publishing accolades. He has written, edited, and published many books. His latest is Righting Writing, a nonfiction narrative about dedication to the craft. He is also the screenwriter for Madness and Writers: The Untold Truth, a creative documentary series about writers. Find him online at, or on social media @nettirw.

Righting My Writing: What It’s Like to Work With a Developmental Editor

We believe writing a book is a solitary activity. But you can't make it solitary if you want to finish writing your book. I learned the hard way I had to Stop Writing Alone.
2022 was a very different year for me as an author. I published two books. Both books sold thousands of copies in their first year. Both books have won multiple awards. Why was 2022 such a great year for me as a writer? Two years prior, I began working with a developmental editor – a book writing coach. And if there’s a single thing that impacted my writing, it was that. I’m not unusual – I’ve interviewed and spoken to several hundred professional and successful published authors writing nonfiction, memoirs, novels, and essays. 70-80% of them shared they worked with a developmental editor or writing coach during their book development. And yet it surprises me that most first-time authors don’t. I thought I’d share my experience working with my developmental editor, Michael Bailey on my latest books: Pennymores 2 and 3 (I’m writing them both concurrently). I’ll share a bit about what held me back from working with a developmental editor on my first two books, then will talk about how Michael and I collaborate.

My Fear of Feedback as a Writer

I published my first book in 2009 and my second in early 2011. Honestly, I was terrified I’d written terrible first drafts when I shipped them to my acquiring editor. I was late on submitting them – five months late on each, actually – and was politely told if I didn’t submit them, I’d likely lose my opportunity to publish. I had what I’ve come to learn is a very ‘traditional’ view of book writing.
  • A writer writes until they finish a good draft.
  • An acquiring editor at a publisher gives you a ‘Roman-style’ thumbs up or thumbs down.
  • Revisions happen.
  • Publish.
This belief system holds lots of writers back from seeking or receiving feedback. And for many of us, we never actually produce something we think is ‘good enough’ to even submit to that terrifying acquiring editor.

You Want a Coach, Not Just Editing

Many first-time authors don’t work with a developmental editor because they believe editors simply edit what you’ve written. And unless you’ve written a lot or the entire thing, there’s nothing for them to do. It turns out that’s not what developmental editors do. Developmental editing is a different category, more focused on the structural components of the book rather than the prose. The analogy is building your dream home. The developmental editor is the architect who helps you design your house. Everything from the number of bedrooms to your kitchen layout to maximize the light. We think about other editors who help us with the prose, writing, copy editing, and proofing. They’ll help make the home feel right. Both are critical to having a home you’ll love, but you don’t do interior design until you’ve got the designs done, the foundation poured, and you are confident you don’t need to add a sun room. Great developmental editors coach. According to the ICF, 80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence, and over 70% benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills. 86% of companies report that they recouped their investment on coaching and more. That’s why I tell people Michael is my writing coach, and our working relationship is built very differently than I imagined:
  • We do a weekly call. We talk strategy, we work through ideas together, we talk about my writing time, and he coaches me when I’m struggling.
  • I share first drafts, and I share them as I write them. Usually, I’m sharing chunks that are 500-1,500 – so it’s not something that needs to be ‘complete’ or ‘done’. Michael reads what I write each week, and offers feedback on it as it’s written. But he also tells me not to make the changes – just read them and use that feedback to improve.
  • He doesn’t fix my grammar. Michael reads everything I write, but his comments are on strategic questions from structure, pacing, flow, and consistency. He doesn’t worry about my grammar or writing since that will all be part of revisions.
ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. Michael isn’t editing or fixing my writing; he’s helping me realize my potential as an author.

The Psychological Benefits of Working With a Developmental Editor

I realize now that my first two books were written from a near-paranoid state. I didn’t share drafts with anyone, I didn’t tell many people I was writing them, and I spent a lot of time worrying about my grammar. I realize now it was a pretty lonely process. Working with a developmental editor provides me with a wide range of psychological benefits, both during the editing process and after the book is published. One of the main benefits of working with my developmental editors is that I gained a deeper understanding of my writing and general writing craft. A good developmental editor can provide feedback on the structure, pacing, arguments, and character development of a manuscript, as well as help an author identify and overcome any weaknesses or inconsistencies in their writing. This process helped me develop my writing skills, but the added benefit was enhancing my confidence in the book. The second psychological benefit of working with my developmental editor is that it has helped me to overcome writer's block and to stay motivated during the writing process. I’m now working on books six and seven, and I still struggle with feelings of uncertainty, self-doubt, and frustration when working on a book. A developmental editor can help provide guidance, support, and a sense of accountability. Michael has worked with hundreds of authors to navigate this, but he’s an author himself, having had the same feelings. Maybe it’s obvious, but having someone counting on me and a call scheduled each week to talk strategy has been central to staying focused and productive, avoiding getting bogged down by self-doubt or procrastination. I’ve also found a massive difference in the amount of rewriting I’ve done. My developmental editor offers perspective on my work as it’s happening. Writing a book can be an intense and personal experience, and it can be challenging to be objective about my writing. I’d spent quite a bit of time wrestling through a complicated scene, and after sharing it with Michael, I could sense he enjoyed it. He wrote in his comments that he wanted to hear more detail about it. A developmental editor provides an outside perspective on the manuscript, which has helped me see my work with fresh eyes and to identify areas that need improvement.

Five Tips to Set up a Positive & Productive Relationship With Your Developmental Editor

The most important thing is to remember your developmental editor is your writing coach, not just revising or editing what you write. You’ll need to collaborate, communicate, and iterate to success.
  1. Communicate effectively: Clearly express your goals, concerns, and feedback to your developmental editor. Understand the objectives of your coaching relationship. I recommend a weekly conversation, whether a zoom chat, phone call, or messaging over text/DM. But you want to have a conversation, not just send written comments on your writing back and forth.
  2. Be open to feedback: Listen actively and be receptive to constructive criticism. Your developmental editor’s role is to help you improve, so be willing to take their advice. Michael offers written feedback on what I write, but we begin each call and conversation by discussing things that I didn’t understand or wanted to clarify.
  3. Be proactive: Take responsibility for your development and work on achieving your goals. This includes following through on any action items or tasks your developmental editor assigns. We set weekly goals and realistic outcomes.
  4. Be honest: Be honest with your developmental editor about your strengths and weaknesses. This will help them tailor their coaching to meet your specific needs.
  5. Be respectful: Show respect for your editor’s time, expertise, and experience. This includes being punctual for meetings and keeping agreements and commitments.
* * * As an author, my work is essential to me. It’s my legacy and a craft I’m committed to improving. And that means being real with myself that I can’t do that alone. I need Michael and others to help me to maximize my personal and professional potential. Coaching has helped me. But more than anything, working with a developmental editor has provided me with a professional opinion. I’m fortunate to have Michael bring years of experience to me. Besides being an author, he has coached hundreds of authors like me as the Senior Editor for Manuscripts, LLC and trained dozens and dozens of other developmental editors. He’s able to consult with peers when I had questions on my use of tropes and quickly get me perspectives outside my own. I’ve grown as a writer, author, and creative. I’ve improved more in the craft of writing than anything – and even if my recent books hadn’t done well both commercially and critically, I’d still know I’m a better writer today than before. A special thanks to Michael Bailey and ChandaElaine Spurlock who have been my writing coaches and developmental editors. You both have helped me Right My Writing.
Eric Koester is the founder Manuscripts, LLC, a b-corporation whose mission is to inspire, teach and support tomorrow’s creators — authors, podcasters, speakers, entrepreneurs, corporate innovators and course builders. Through his work he’s coached nearly 1,000 first-time creators. He is also a Professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Georgetown University and the school’s only two-time entrepreneurship professor of the year, faculty at Growth University, and the executive director of the Intrapreneur Institute, which researches, trains and develops future innovation leaders.

The Write Environment

Walk into a coffeeshop and you will likely find someone writing. She has a laptop or notebook in front of her and maybe an empty mug. She stares at the screen or the page, perhaps wearing earbuds. She writes slowly at times, madly at others, or simply stares off into space now and again while others silently judge her. She’s probably writing a book, they think, with aspirations of becoming an author. The coffee-goers move through the line and sit around her, spending what it would cost to buy an eBook on a fancy drink, or spending what it would cost for a paperback on a fancy drink and overpriced food, or spending what it would cost for a nice hardcover on food and drink for family and/or friends. Meanwhile, the woman writes or doesn’t write. She is there to create something from nothing using her imagination and life experiences. And she goes about this with or without plans to someday share her work with the rest of the world, and that’s if others consider spending money on books. She gets up sometimes for a restroom break or for refills. She stretches and moves around, because even in a constrained environment change is necessary. Like this woman and many others, I have written a half-million or more words in coffeeshops around the world, along with editing countless manuscripts, and have probably spent more money in those places than I have earned with books over the last twenty-something years, which is beside the point. The coffeeshop can be an ideal place to create: quiet at times, busy at others, the environment and its people constantly changing, which is important for all creators. Yet this is only one place a writer may find themselves writing. If the environment doesn’t work, another might. A coffeeshop may not be the ideal place to spark creativity for some, but maybe a silent corner in a room will do, or an office, or outdoors, or any place with stimuli.

An Ever-Changing Workspace

While in Costa Rica, along with occasionally writing in coffee shops, I often swing in a hammock with a laptop or with a moleskin notebook and pen. In the mornings and throughout the day, the seemingly endless song of parrots, toucans, macaws, oropendolas, hummingbirds, and other colorful birds surround me, along with calls of howler monkeys or the occasional and adorable cry of a baby sloth. Words start, then stop, then start again, depending on distractions. When the sun later descends, the sounds change to nightbirds, frogs, owls, and cicadas. There is constant noise because the jungle is never quiet and often blanketed by a downpour. In the rainforest, the environment is fluid, and more times than not this becomes the ideal workspace . . . for me. But this is not the place for all creators. Sometimes the writing or editing happens indoors, either at a desk or on a couch or while seated in a chair, and sometimes while upright in bed. And when not at home, the writing / editing might happen en la playa under a canopy in front of a turquoise Caribbean Sea with its mesmerizing ebb and flow of waves against black sand. Words flow there, but not always. There are ideal environments in which a writer can write, but they are not always the right place, which is important to consider when searching for a workspace. Also keep in mind that too much change can easily distract a writer, the words slowing — or stopping entirely — while taking in ones surroundings and all the senses stirring within it. The key is to constantly adapt.

The Right Setting

Before Costa Rica, I lived in California and worked primarily from home. I did my work on a laptop on a fold-down desk (attached to the wall because of space limitations) while sitting uncomfortably in a chair. I would get up throughout the day to stretch and move around, and for coffee or food, always constrained. Cabin fever, to a certain extent. To keep from going insane, or “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” according to Einstein, or so it’s attributed, I would switch from bedroom to kitchen to living room, or would work outside, depending on weather. I was stuck in this environment called “home” but adapted because writing and editing was a necessary form of supplemental income at this point in my life, along with editing and designing books for various publishers. I was a stay-at-home bonus dad at the time (we never liked the term stepdad), so there were always distractions of helping the children manage schoolwork since the pandemic forced everyone to at-home education. This was my setting as a creator. Setting is both a time and a place, and so sometimes I found a change of the clock helpful. I wrote at night, long after everyone went to bed, or got up early before the house came to life. And on days when the kids were with their biological father, I often worked out of coffeeshops for a change of setting, running into other writers among the coffee aficionados. And there, I was silently judged . . . He’s probably writing a book, with aspirations of becoming an author.

Avoiding Distractions

“What are you working on?” or “Are you writing a screenplay or book or something?” Nearly every single time I worked away from home, I was asked questions like these while deep in an imaginative state. The distractions (unwanted changes in environment) would pull me out of the groove with a look of confusion as my mind slipped back to reality — a creative groove that sometimes took an hour or longer to get there. The words flowing, then suddenly not. Interrupting a writer writing is similar to interrupting a reader reading. One moment they are immersed in another world and a question like, “What are you reading?” instantly destroys the magic. “What are you writing?” destroys magic in the making, like shaking a person awake out of a dream. After answering questions (plural, for their are always follow-up questions when asked about writing or working on anything book related), it would take another refill of coffee and a long period of time to slip back into the creative groove. The words would flow again, if lucky, and then . . . “What’s it about?” or “Where do you get your ideas?” or “I’ve always wanted to write a book.” I quickly learned that wearing earbuds — whether in use or not — would deter most from interrupting the creative process, although I still found myself pulling them out to answer questions.

Letting the Words Flow

What happens when a writer finds the perfect workspace and the words refuse to flow? Is it writer’s block, impostor syndrome? It could be any number of things: worry, anxiety, fatigue, not enough or too much stimuli, or maybe an under- or over-distracted mind. When this happens, a change in environment might be needed. If I ever find myself at a loss for words, I go for a walk, exercise, or do yardwork, but always do so while keeping the stalled project in focus. This is a type of pre-writing, a way of opening the mind and brainstorming. Exercise releases endorphins that help with creativity, and increased blood flow and physical exertion fuels original / abstract thought. A little movement can quickly reenergize a writer and help words flow once again. Not writing is a necessary part of writing, which is coming up with the words before they go on the page, and the time it takes for thoughts to become written words varies. A simple change in environment can either shorten or lengthen that time, and a little moving around can help fill plot holes and spark new ideas. The next time you find yourself in a coffeeshop — whether the writer or the curious coffee-goer — and you see someone staring off into the distance, they are most likely in the zone, in their own personal pre-writing groove, so let them be there for a while without the distraction.
Michael Bailey is a Senior Editor at Manuscripts, LLC. He is a recipient and eight-time nominee of the Bram Stoker Award, a four-time Shirley Jackson Award nominee, and a multiple recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Award, along with over thirty independent publishing accolades. He has written, edited, and published many books. His latest is Righting Writing, a nonfiction narrative about dedication to the craft. He is also the screenwriter for Madness and Writers: The Untold Truth, a creative documentary series about writers. Find him online at, or on social media @nettirw.