The Benefits of Developmental Editing for Fiction and Nonfiction Books

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Developmental (or big-picture) editing is a crucial step for both fiction and nonfiction authors working on manuscripts intended for publication. It comes before the linguistically focused copy editing, which most people think of when they hear the word “editing,” and it seeks to identify issues with plot, character development, narrative arc, and other elements that affect the story as a whole. 

Although any book can greatly benefit from this type of macro editing, it’s especially helpful for authors who are struggling to structure their story, who can’t quite pinpoint what isn’t working, or whose manuscript is either too long or too short. Developmental editing is also particularly valuable for new authors who haven’t yet amassed the experience to remedy these problems on their own. However, that doesn’t mean veteran writers can’t benefit from a good round of developmental editing—they certainly can! 

As an author, you’re limited by your subjective perspective, and the impartial eyes of a professional editor can go a long way in freshening up your ideas. If you want help with improving character arcs, finding and fixing plot holes, polishing dialogue, and fortifying structural cohesion, a developmental editor will offer an unbiased, professional perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript, plus a plan on how to fix any issues. While it’s up to you to implement their suggestions, they will set you up for success.

To start working with a developmental editor, check out our big-picture editing services for authors and take the next step in your publishing journey. If you’re still not sure whether this is the service you need, let’s go over some of the basics. 

What is developmental editing? 

Developmental editing helps authors craft the best version of their stories, ensuring their books will be up to industry standards and will meet the expectations of readers and publishers. As an author, your brain may be bursting with creative ideas, but unless you have your finger on the pulse of the market, it can be difficult to produce exactly what readers want without the help of a developmental editor. 

This type of editing focuses on the big picture, on fixing any major issues preventing your story from reaching the level of clarity and professionalism that agents, publishers, and readers look for. It rises above typos and grammatical mistakes—since developmental editing inevitably leads to a great deal of rewriting, there’s no point in fretting about your spelling boo-boos, grammar blunders, or vocabulary slips at this stage.

With the goal of improving the overall quality of a book, developmental editors deliver plenty of notes in the margins of a manuscript and thoughtful comments in an editorial letter, which can result in numerous suggestions to reshape, rearrange, or eliminate sections, ideas, or characters from the story. If the thought of all that revision work sounds daunting, just remember that you already wrote an entire manuscript—you can do this!

The other reason authors tend to shy away from developmental editing is that it’s rarely easy to absorb this kind of criticism, even when it’s constructive and helpful. The thing to remember is that it stems from the editor’s desire to help you improve your manuscript and your craft. You want the best for your book, and that might require deep rewrites of some sections or even the removal of certain characters. It can be painful, but in the end, when the emotional turmoil has subsided, you’ll be glad you listened to your developmental editor.

Developmental editing for fiction books

Developmental editing is particularly helpful for fiction authors struggling to meet the expectations of their genre or having a hard time making their world immersive, believable, or engaging. When you’ve come up with an entire universe in your head, it can be hard to notice when the ideas haven’t fully translated onto the page, and that’s exactly what the editor will look for—they’ll scrutinize your plot, story arcs, character development, point of view (POV), tense, structure, continuity, and sequence of events. 

Obviously, what your manuscript needs will depend on the genre you work in, so you’ll want to find a developmental editor well acquainted with yours. In genres such as fantasy or sci-fi, which typically deal with fantastical worlds filled with imaginary creatures or technologies, the author may provide insufficient explanations to help the reader understand the world they find themselves in. A romance book writer might need help with character development and dialogue since it’s easy to slip into cheesiness.

Developmental editors want to make sure the storytelling is cohesive and the manuscript ready to be proofread and published. Since the literary elements they focus on are closely related to creative writing, many people think big-picture editing is only useful for fiction books, but that’s simply not true. 

Developmental editing for nonfiction books

Nonfiction books also greatly benefit from developmental edits, which focus on clarity of ideas, readability, intent, logic, persuasiveness, and message. A developmental editor working on a nonfiction book will look for issues with organization, consistency of voice and tone, clarity of POV and perspective, concept and thesis strength, and overall impact. To fix any issues in these areas, they can suggest rearranging sections or chapters, optimizing titles/images/data, fact-checking, rearranging arguments, and simplifying the language to make the reading experience smoother and more engaging. Just as with fiction, you want to address these issues early on since they’ll be much tougher to fix further down the road.

Before hiring a developmental editor for your nonfiction book, consider whether your target audience consists of laypeople or readers already familiar with your field. If it’s the latter, you should look for a developmental editor who knows your subject. If you’re marketing to the general public, get an editor who doesn’t know much about your field—they’ll be able to judge better whether the language and explanations are appropriate.

In case you’re interested in working with a developmental editor to improve your manuscript, make sure you hire someone who you get along with, who’s a professional with verifiable experience in the field, and who shows interest in your book. An author and their editor have a close relationship, and you want to make sure it works for you, not against you. When you’re poised to receive copious critical remarks on the manuscript you’ve worked so hard to craft, you want someone who can deliver their feedback gently and compassionately.

To start collaborating with a developmental editor, check out our big-picture editing services and get paired with the perfect editor for your project. If developmental editing isn’t in your budget, consider our manuscript critique services

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