What Is Developmental Editing, and Why Does Your Manuscript Need It?

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Congrats! After so much hard work, you’ve finally finished your manuscript! That’s certainly an accomplishment to be proud of. Unfortunately, it’s only the first step in your publishing journey. If you want an industry-standard book backed by a traditional publisher and displayed in bookstores, you have a lot more work ahead of you.

Once you’ve celebrated this momentous milestone, it’s time to start editing. There are different types of editing depending on what you need. Paragraph and sentence editing, copy editing, and proofreading are all common services, but developmental editing, also known as big-picture editing, is for authors with complete first drafts who want suggestions on how to improve their story and polish elements such as plot, character development, and themes. 

Developmental editing doesn’t concern itself with sentence- and paragraph-level linguistic issues—it looks at the big picture and helps you eliminate plot holes, make your characters more dynamic, and organize your overall narrative better.

We know the thought of having someone point out any weaknesses in your story might fill you with dread, but a developmental editor will ensure your writing is clear, engaging, and up to industry standards, which is a crucial step in case you plan on publishing your book. That doesn’t mean it won’t be painful, but it’s a necessary growing pain—if you want your book to be the best it can be, you have to be willing to subject yourself to constructive criticism.

Ready to get insightful pointers and suggestions for improving your manuscript? Then check out our developmental editing services for authors and get matched with an expert!

Why do you need developmental editing?

Whether they’re best-selling authors or just starting out, every writer needs an editor in their corner. After spending countless hours on your manuscript, it’s easy to lose sight of any issues that might be holding your story back. You know it by heart, and it all makes sense in your head, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it makes sense on the page, especially to other people. 

After so much reading and rereading, you might not notice tiny details that don’t add up, a shift in point of view or tense, or truncated flow—issues a professional editor is trained to spot. It may be easy for you to overlook plot holes or devote too much space to subplots that do little to enrich the main narrative. You’re too close to your story, both because you’re too familiar with the plot and because you’re emotionally attached to the characters and events, so you need an objective pair of eyes on your work.

A developmental editor will read your manuscript with professional detachment, expertise, and a critical eye, resulting in objective suggestions that aim to shape your book into the best possible version of itself. They won’t make any corrections or rewrites, meaning it’s up to you whether you implement their ideas, but keep in mind that their job is to improve the quality of your manuscript through constructive criticism. It may be hard to accept their criticism, but it aims to improve your manuscript. 

Of course, you shouldn’t implement their suggestions blindly—some of them may not work for your story. In such cases, however, you should still look for an alternative solution since the problem the developmental editor has pointed out still exists.

What issues does a developmental editor look for?

Regardless of the genre or whether your manuscript is fiction or nonfiction, a developmental editor focuses on the most important literary elements of a story, such as voice, style, narrative arc, plot holes, structure, pacing, tense, flow, character development, dialogue, clarity, and readability. They’ll look at the overall cohesiveness of your story and suggest changes that will improve it, which isn’t always easy to hear as an author. The nature of developmental editing can make their criticism harder to swallow than that of a copy editor, whose focus is on linguistic issues, not the very essence of your story.

If they suggest something like eliminating a character, reordering your chapters, or adjusting the POV, it might feel like they’re asking you to pull your entire story apart, but that’s part and parcel of authorship. Most books require multiple rewrites before they’re ready for publication, so don’t be disheartened if you receive a copious number of notes—it happens to the best of writers. There’s no such thing as a “perfect book,” so even the bestselling masterpieces of your favorite authors could trigger a plethora of suggestions from developmental editors. Just remind yourself that your editor wants your book to succeed commercially as much as you do. 

To get the most out of this process, it’s essential that you keep an open mind and accept the critiques your editor offers—you probably won’t like them all, and you certainly don’t have to implement every single remedy suggested, but if a professional flags something, it’s likely for a good reason. 

You also have to be ready to do the work—rewrites, changes, and restructuring—that may result from the notes your editor gives you, and you need to understand that this is all part of the writing and publishing process. Shift your emotional attachment from particular characters or scenes to the overall story, focusing on the idea of publishing a great, commercially successful book. Who knows? If you have to eliminate a character or two, maybe you can find a place for them in your next book.

If you’re ready to start working with a developmental editor, check out our big-picture editing services for authors to take the next step in your publishing journey!

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