A Day’s Work: Developmental editor

Charlotte Herscher

Charlotte Herscher

Charlotte Herscher is a busy woman. In addition to raising her three children, she is a freelance developmental editor. While she does editing for authors who self-publish, the bulk of her work is through a major publisher. Originally from Washington D.C., Herscher has lived in a variety of places from Long Island to England. She currently lives in the Village of Saugerties with her three children.


What is a developmental editor?

That means that I read novels not for spelling, punctuation and formatting but for story line, characterization, plot and pacing. I’m not a copy editor so I don’t deal with grammar and formatting. It’s a very different field. I work with more global storytelling issues. I am the step before the copy editor. I deal with the bigger issues, not the nitty gritty. I’ve developed relationships with some of the authors that I’ve worked with numerous times so they do occasionally reach out for help. Sometimes I help them with their plot points or guide them with a few things.


How did you get into this line of work? What type of education and training?


I have a degree in comparative literature in French and English from Brown University. I went straight from college in to an entry level job in publishing in New York City, working as an editorial assistant. I was at Random House for 10 years, became a senior editor and got on the job training. I had an internship in college in publishing and it sort of followed from there.


What sort of person makes a good developmental editor?

A variety of people. There are those that are writers themselves who will go in and rewrite or smooth out the prose. They often make good editors. I am more of an analytical person. I am not a writer but I like analyzing stories. I often work on suspense novels so I am looking at plot points to make sure that the jigsaw all comes together, it all makes sense and there are no loose threads. Sometimes I work on characterization and deepening the character or adding or cutting details to regulate the pacing.


What’s a common misconception about the work?

A lot of people think, “Oh I can do that” and I am sure they could. However there is a lot of training and experience that is needed to do this. Just because you like to read and feel like you know what is wrong with the story doesn’t necessarily mean that will translate to a good editor. Not just anyone off the street could do this, though they think they can.


 How are the hours? Does the job provide a good work/life balance?

I probably work too much. Since I am freelance, I am in control of my own hours. I tend to do too much because I really like it and I value my relationship with the publishing houses and authors. I don’t want to turn down jobs and damage any budding relationships so I say yes when things come my way. That is me though, not necessarily an aspect of the job specifically. It can be hard to set the boundaries and turn things off. It’s great though. I work from home and I am with the kids. I am able to deal with snow days, sick days and be there for school events. I can go on vacation and take my laptop with me. So that’s great.


What makes for a really good day?

Good feedback from an author. An author who is really excited to dig into edits and who takes my suggestions. It’s always good to complete a project too.


How has the job changed since you started?

Within the last five years, it has changed a lot. As a freelancer, there are a lot more opportunities. Due to online publishing and e-books there are more publishing companies out there beyond the big New York City publishers. Of course because of technology, it has become easier as well. I lived in England for awhile and could just email my edits. As long as I have a computer I can work from anywhere.


What type of books do you work on?

I work mostly on commercial fiction but sometimes literary fiction. Primarily I work on mysteries, suspense thrillers, romance, romantic suspense and women’s fiction. A few of the more recent books I’ve worked on are Blood Defense by Marcia Clark, My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni and Known by Kendra Elliot.


Do you have any tips for someone who is looking to become a better writer?

If you’re a genre writer, there are great writing organizations that provide a great deal of support. There are courses and conferences and critique groups. For writers that are really trying to hone their craft, I find those organizations to be very helpful.


What do you find to be the most challenging part of writing for most authors?

Most of the authors I work with are pretty well established and have the craft down. Most authors have that book that they struggled with. New authors tend to struggle with point of view and head hopping. That’s when they jump from one character to another in the same paragraph. It can be very distracting. Sometimes they aren’t even aware that they are doing it and it can run throughout the manuscript. Established authors tend to get away with it more and have more control and awareness of those incidents.


The type of editing that you do seems more subjective than, say, someone editing for grammar. How do you learn to trust your instincts?

It’s mostly just experience. It gets easier when you have an on going relationship with the author. As I develop a relationship with them our dialogue gets easier. I usually give them a suggestion and say this is a problem and sometimes we just discuss what they can do about. I don’t necessarily tell them exactly what needs to be done. At the end of the day, it’s their baby so they can take my suggestions or leave them.


How’s the pay?

I’m happy.