Developmental Editing Resources
Want to learn more about developmental editing? Check out the links and books below for a firsthand look at the process.
From Block of Clay to Finished Product
The Role of the Developmental Editor
Here at Independent Publisher, we strongly believe that all books should undergo professional editing at some stage in the writing process. The Big Six publishing houses run their manuscripts through several rounds of editing, meaning it is just as important (if not more so) for indie and self-pubbed authors to do the same.
One of the biggest criticisms of self-published books is the lack of editing, and unfortunately that stereotype is often true. Authors rely on spell check, their spouse, and maybe a former English teacher to clean up grammar, spelling, and punctuation (all jobs better done by a copyeditor). These methods leave a lot of errors in their wake. Even the few that succeed in cleaning up the nitty-gritty lack something that traditionally published books have: a developmental editor.
What is that?
If you’re publishing your book through a traditional publishing house, the developmental editor (sometimes called a content editor) is often the acquisitions editor, and they are one of the first people to work on the manuscript (check out a general publishing workflow here). They look at the big picture: organization, plot, character growth, presentation of ideas, and so forth. This type of editing is for manuscripts in need of restructuring, redevelopment, or content addition or deletion.
Developmental edits are different from copyedits and proofreads, as the latter two pay closer attention to the details, assuming that the higher-level issues like organization are already taken care of. Instead of focusing on the proper use of the semicolon, the developmental editor makes sure that the book reads well, makes sense, and flows from point to point or scene to scene. (Of course, any glaring or distracting lower-level issues will be addressed.)
Developmental editors can enhance your project in many ways, and you should think of them not only as professional editors but also as professional readers. Professional developmental editors have often worked for publishing houses or in other realms of the industry and have an strong grasp on what makes books work. They will point out places where the manuscript is lacking in structure or clarity. They can help you rewrite passages and provide new language for weak wording. They can explain how to tweak the book to make it more competitive in your marketplace. Most importantly, they can find flaws in plot, logic, etc. that could be confusing to your other readers.
When do I use a developmental editor?
If your manuscript seems a bit confused, with big chunks missing or sections that don’t quite fit together, you’ll want a developmental editor. Or maybe you’ve been writing your book over the past several years or you want to convert a series of journals into a book. Think of your book as one of those giant thousand-piece puzzles. If you dump out all the pieces at once, it’s impossible for anyone (except an editor!) to make heads or tails of that mess. The editor takes the pieces and makes them fit together; he or she will smooth transitions, rewrite bits and pieces, and organize your writing so it has structure and flow.
If you're planning to use multiple editors on your project, there is a general order to follow. First comes the developmental editor to clean up the big issues, second is the copyeditor, and third is the proofreader. All three have different functions and can ensure that your book will be as clear, clean, and polished as possible.
What does it cost?
Developmental editors usually charge about $30–$60 per hour for their services, though some are less expensive and others will charge per page. The editor will give your book a higher-level look, so you will still want to employ a copyeditor and proofreader later on.
What do I need to do?
This kind of editorial work is built in for many publishing houses, but if you're working with a teeny tiny press or self-publishing, you may not have access to such resources. The good news is many professional freelancers also work as developmental editors. I suggest finding an editor with experience in your field or genre for the strongest editorial results.
Before you hire a developmental editor, you can use the aforementioned spouse or English teacher to do a first read on your book. Go through the entire manuscript yourself and flag places where you think the writing or structure could use some work. Then ask your peers or colleagues to confirm/deny your suspicions. This process will not only give you useful feedback but also provide you with specific examples to take to your editor. Saying "I know my world-building could use some work" or "Can you help me restructure chapter seven" is helpful for the editor and will benefit you in the long run.
You can learn more about developmental editors in the Independent Publisher articles below, or in the resources listed in the sidebar.
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Jillian Bergsma Manning is a contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English. She welcomes any questions or comments on her articles at jbergsma (at) bookpublishing.com. Follow her at @LillianJaine.