What Does Developmental Editing Entail? An Overview for Authors

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You have a completed draft of your manuscript and need the help of a professional to take it to the next level, so you’re thinking about hiring a developmental editor to focus on issues with the plot, structure, and character arcs. Any problems with these essential story elements have deep implications for the quality of your manuscript, but you know that you’re too close to it to identify all possible issues. Still, you’re probably wondering what exactly developmental editing (also known as big-picture editing) entails. 

What will the editor look for? What will they give you back? How long will it all take? If this is your first brush with developmental editing, there are surely countless questions swirling around your head. To get a quote and a turnaround time for your manuscript, contact our developmental editing team and get paired with the perfect editor for your project. 

Let’s take a look at the essentials of big-picture editing.

What does a developmental editor look for?

Developmental editors meticulously go through your book until they get fully familiar with the story, the world, the characters, and you, the author. Some editors will read a manuscript several times, focusing on different issues in each round. This also allows them to become better acquainted with the plot and spot problems they may have missed in the first read-through.

They’ll make notes on things such as how to improve the structure, storytelling, and readability, keeping the commercial and literary viability of your book in mind. If you’re an indie writer planning to self-publish, you may not feel comfortable changing major aspects of your story for added commercial appeal, but it’s still good to know what the market is looking for. 

Your developmental editor will also ask themselves if the story is being told in the right order, if the chapter and scene structures make sense, if the premise is logical, and if the narrative is compelling. Of course, they will also look for consistency. Are the descriptions, dialogue, tense, character development, and point of view consistent? They’ll analyze the strength of your voice and style, gauge whether it works for the story, and consider the genre and market expectations. 

Essentially, they take a deep dive into your manuscript and consider all the big-picture issues within it, so their feedback can entail a great deal of revising and rewriting for you.

What does a developmental editor deliver? 

When done editing your book, your editor will deliver copious notes in the margins of your manuscript to address more specific issues within the text, like repetitive or unclear ideas—think of these as the red mark-ups in the days of paper-based editing. Your editor will disregard paragraph- and sentence-level linguistic issues, such as typos, grammatical errors, awkward phrasing, and poor flow—those are issues for a copy editor, who you should hire after you’re finished with all the revisions.

The developmental editor will also deliver a multi-page editorial letter outlining your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses and a strategy for improving its overall quality. The letter will cover elements such as plot and character development, dialogue, and structural cohesiveness, offering targeted feedback about issues readers and publishers might notice. 

While reading through the criticisms in the letter and the notes in the manuscript margins, be sure to keep an open mind and a sense of perspective. These are not attacks—they’re thoughtful suggestions aimed at making your manuscript even better. You’d much rather your editor pick up on these issues than your readers, right?

Things you should not expect are ghostwriting, rewriting, or copyediting. Big-picture editors suggest solutions for the problems they identify, but they don’t fix those problems for you. They might make suggestions about sections that need rearranging, but it’s up to you to take their advice. You don’t need to accept every suggestion they offer, but you should trust their expertise and genuinely consider every piece of advice they give you.

How long does developmental editing take?

The short answer is it will depend on multiple factors, from page count to subject matter and the amount of work your manuscript needs. In general, it can take about two weeks to edit a shorter book and a month for an average-length one, but those timeframes can fluctuate depending on how busy and sought-after the editor is. 

Moreover, every editor works at their own pace, and slower isn’t necessarily worse—it could indicate closer attention to detail. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what your ideal turnaround time is and factor that into your search for the right developmental editor.

Unlike reading a book for pleasure, editing one is a complex process that requires a critical eye and a focus on ways to make the storytelling better, help the prose flow, and create a more engaging reading experience. Hopefully, your developmental editor will also enjoy your story, but they’re there to identify all the problems keeping it from fulfilling its potential. 

All of this critical consideration can lead to major changes, adjustments, and rewriting, but that’s all part of the process and a crucial step in the publishing journey. It can be intimidating, not only to face all the criticism but also to rework significant portions of your lovingly crafted manuscript, but it’s all in the name of producing a better book.

If you’re ready to start working with a professional, check out our developmental editing services and take the next step on the road to publication! 

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