What is developmental editing?
A developmental edit is a thorough and in-depth edit of your entire manuscript. It is an examination of all the elements of your writing, from single words and the phrasing of individual sentences, to overall structure and style. It can address plot holes or gaps, problematic characterization and all other existing material. After a round of developmental editing — also called structural or substantive editing — a manuscript can change substantially; for inexperienced writers, accepting direct and honest feedback can be a difficult experience. Much of what you have spent many weeks, months or even years writing can be cut, shaped, moved or heavily criticised. Good developmental editing will also bear in mind your target audience and will judge your work in relation to professional industry standards and expectations. Only once your manuscript has been cut, reshaped, revised, and developed will it be ready for a copy edit and proofread. But where can you find a developmental editor with the right experience to take your story to the next level?
What to consider when choosing your developmental editor
An editor-author relationship is creative and necessarily relies on personality, mutual respect and honest feedback. It is essential that you find an editor you can work with, who offers openness, honesty, and supportive critique. Not only should you look for an editor who is skilled and experienced in your genre, you should also look for someone who matches your communication style, and who you know you won’t mind receiving positive criticism from on a daily basis. An editor’s honest critical feedback can only be successful if an author is open to critique and revision. Developmental editing is subjective, and each editor works a little differently, but the bottom line is that no writer works alone: books are collaborative creations, regardless of how you publish or how experienced you are.
The case for starting with an editorial assessment
Authors often ask us whether they should start with a developmental edit or an editorial assessment. The main difference is that an editorial assessment evaluates big-picture issues like characterization, plot, structure and style by way of a separate document: the edit letter. Think of it as a professional, super-in-depth book report. A developmental edit means the editor will be working in your document with you, so in addition to the big-picture items addressed, he or she can also point out line-level issues. Developmental editing is more labor intensive than producing an editorial assessment, and therefore more expensive. If your manuscript is still in an early draft phase, the editorial assessment is likely a good first step in developing your content to a professional standard. Developmental editing should begin when you have a polished draft in hand.
What is the difference between developmental editing and copy editing?
Whilst all types of editing clearly have some overlap, there are crucial differences between developmental editing and copy editing. Copy editors are technicians of language. They look at a manuscript from the perspective of grammar, punctuation and diction (aka, word choice). Developmental editing is obviously also concerned with these detailed aspects of writing, but tends to consider all these elements under one umbrella. The copy editing that follows a developmental edit reviews the manuscript with a more single-minded approach, looking at grammar, inconsistencies and substituting weak words and phrases for more powerful alternatives.