How Do Developmental Editing and Paragraph/Sentence Editing Differ?
Though there are various types of editing services, developmental and paragraph/sentence editing are the most consequential ones when it comes to shaping and improving a manuscript intended for publication. Most books you’ve read have undergone both, so the end product was not solely the author’s genius at work.
Developmental editing provides a macro edit, focusing on the big picture, while paragraph and sentence editing focuses on the details, providing a micro edit. Whereas the latter is more concerned with linguistic issues (such as typos, grammatical errors, clarity, consistency, and sentence and paragraph structure), the former considers your plot, character development, and narrative arc as a whole, paying less attention to linguistic elements and none to typing blunders. If you plan on self-publishing your manuscript or querying an agent, we highly recommend both types of editing, each one at a different stage of the writing process.
In a nutshell, if you have a completed first draft and want guidance on fixing plot, character arcs, and structural issues, check out our developmental editing services. If you’re in the final stages of revision and need help with spelling, grammar, word choice, and sentence structure, consider our paragraph and sentence editing services. Both are important, but you need to know which one you require at the stage you’re at in your writing process.
Let’s now take a closer look at what each service offers and what it delivers.
What is developmental editing?
Developmental editing, also known as big-picture editing, is for authors who have completed the first draft of their manuscript and want help with shaping their ideas, narrative, and themes as well as fixing plot holes, shaky character arcs, and structural issues. This is especially helpful for authors who feel that something in their story isn’t working but can’t quite put their finger on it. Though you know your story better than anyone else, this can actually be a hindrance in self-editing—you need a fresh, objective third-party perspective to brush up your narrative.
Developmental editing looks at the big picture to determine whether the story as a whole—the characters’ motivations and behavior, the underlying themes and messages, and every scene— works cohesively. Its goal is to resolve whether your story is written clearly and concisely, so the editor will focus on things such as structure, symbolism, pacing, consistency, and tone. They’ll consider whether your characters’ motivations make sense, whether there are any plot holes, and whether every character and scene is absolutely necessary.
The editor will deliver many developmental notes in the margins of your manuscript in addition to an editorial letter outlining your story’s strengths and weaknesses. They’ll also provide a plan to fix any problems. The number of notes isn’t a reflection of the quality of your work—even your favorite authors’ manuscripts are filled with notes from their developmental editors. Nonetheless, it can be difficult to swallow all the criticism, however constructive it may be, so prepare yourself emotionally.
It’s important to keep in mind that a developmental editor can suggest major changes to your story that require extensive rewriting, reworking, and rethinking. This can be painful and demotivating, but remember that they’re doing it with your best interests in mind because they also want your book to succeed. So, don’t take it personally, and give proper consideration to all their notes. You don’t have to embrace each and every suggestion they make, of course, but if they’ve identified a problem, take it seriously.
What is paragraph/sentence editing?
This service, also known as combined proofreading and editing, is for authors who have already resolved the big-picture issues in their book and finished any rewriting suggested by their developmental editor. If you have a completed draft that still needs work on elements such as spelling, grammar, word choice, punctuation, and sentence structure, this is the editing service for you.
Essentially, this type of editing looks at linguistic issues, not overarching plot issues, so your paragraph and sentence editor won’t help you flesh out your characters’ motivations or let you know when a subplot is starting to subsume your main narrative. Sort all those issues out before you get to paragraph/sentence editing.
This detail-oriented service is perfect for authors in the final stages of revisions who want a comprehensive edit to improve the style and correct mechanical errors such as capitalization, syntax, and repetition. Since it combines line editing and proofreading, the notes and suggestions you get back will help you refine your manuscript so that it’s ready to share with beta readers, agents, or publishers. Of course, any changes you make after the beta reading stage will need to go through a proofreader again to ensure your manuscript is ready for a literary agent or a publisher.
A paragraph and sentence editor will return your work with notes and suggestions for improving the language and will eliminate any typos that may have slipped through in earlier edits. It’s not just typos and spelling mistakes, though—these editors will also focus on clarity, consistency, tone, style, flow, and structure at the sentence and paragraph level. Unlike developmental editing, paragraph and sentence editing will not result in major changes to the plot or characters; it will focus on delivering a polished, error-free manuscript that’s up to industry standards.
If you’re ready to self-publish, consider one final round of proofreading to make sure no typos have slipped through the cracks. It’s much easier for those to end up in the published work when you’re self-publishing because you don’t have a publisher going over every aspect of your book with a fine-toothed comb.
Publishing a book is no easy feat, and it certainly isn’t done (successfully) alone. Every writer needs the support of an editorial team as they go through the different stages of writing, editing, publishing, and marketing to ensure they’re producing an engaging, professionally written book. Even if you’re a grammar whiz and know how to edit, you should still consult professionals since that objective third-party perspective can do wonders for your manuscript.
To find out more about the different types of editing we offer, check out our services for authors.