Developmental Editor (Part One of a Two-Part Series)

What is a Developmental Editor?Developmental Editor

I’m often asked about my role as a developmental editor—what I do, why it matters, and if this service includes other forms of editing such as proofreading and line editing, or even substantive editing. This two-part series on the role of a developmental editor will answer these questions and more!

What I Do

An author once asked me (and I quote) about my “language professional editing credentials” and explained that he found the words “language professional” on Wikipedia. I had never heard of editing described in quite that manner, but it’s true that a developmental editor is an expert in English. That’s a basic requirement for anyone who edits books. A background in the conventions of English and extensive experience in editing are qualities that all authors deserve and should expect. I earned a bachelor of Arts in English and later certified as an English teacher knowing that my career in the world of words required this level of expertise. I segued into journalism and have interviewed hundreds of people on a variety of subjects, which heightened my own writing skills. Now I’m a part-time contributing editor for five magazines, while focusing the majority of my time on book editing and ghost writing, and pursuing a master’s degree in digital media because so many of my author clients are self-publishing.

Much of my work involves analysis and a “big picture” overview. No one—I repeat—no one should ever quote a price for developmental editing without first seeing the manuscript. How else can a developmental editor determine the amount of editing needed? For instance, and book may need only partial developmental editing, with the remainder requiring line editing and proofreading. This should adjust the price downward, as developmental editing is the more expensive of the three. By the way, sharing a manuscript often involves a non-disclosure agreement, which I recommend because it protects your copyright and intellectual property.

Your story arc and flow are studied strategically and tweaked accordingly. The chronology of events may be straight forward or have twists and turns, but it must make sense to the reader without feeling like “work.” In other words, most of your audience is reading for pleasure rather than a challenge. They don’t want to become lost, confused and frustrated. Therefore, I help authors make the best use of plot and setting. If you have plot gaps, I will find and fill them. I attend to the flow and pacing, which may require removing or adding to content, or even moving sentences, paragraphs or chapters to another section of the book. Characterization and dialogue are also addressed, as well as achieving mood through diction and tone. One resource I point authors to is, which is a great primer for taking your writing from hum-drum to riveting.

I also attend to your front matter, which includes your acknowledgements, dedication, and table of contents. I work with you to determine chapter titles, headings, and subheads—or perhaps even the book title itself.  If you need help with your bio, back cover blurb and Amazon page verbiage, I include that as part of the project.

Why It Matters

After several decades of working with authors, I’ve developed instincts about how a book should flow. Instinct is a hallmark of the developmental editor and is what developmental editing is all about. Your editor’s instincts elevate the structure of the book and address what he or she knows a literary agent will want to see, and what your audience will want to read. You see, proofreading and line editing follow style guides and the rules of English, whereas a developmental editor focuses on the the structure of the content, relying on experience and judgment.

What Other Types of Editing Does a Developmental Editor Do?

Every developmental editor has their own system. Some strictly develop the novel and send it back to you to be proofread by someone else.

Others, like me, develop the novel by collaborating with the author. We go through several intense rounds until the manuscript flows precisely as it should. Then subsequent rounds cover proofreading (also known as copyediting), as well as line editing. This addresses the sneaky little grammar, punctuation, and spelling issues that aren’t caught in the first rounds, such as subject-verb agreement, tense, and hyphenation.

How to Find a Developmental Editor Who’s Right for You

I mentioned previously that developmental editing is the most advanced and expensive type of editing, with the exception of substantive editing and ghostwriting (we’ll cover that in Part Two of this series). Therefore, it is imperative that you find a developmental editor who you like and trust. This requires more than an email asking for pricing. Authors should read the editor’s website, identify qualifications, look at testimonials, and view the covers of published books. Once you are satisfied that an editor is highly qualified, send an email and request a phone consultation. During the phone call, you’ll know if you have chemistry with the author.

Questions to ask include how long the editor has been in business, how many books he or she has developmentally edited, favorite genres, and favorite projects. You might also discuss timeline and deliverables, non-disclosure agreements, contracts, etc. Again, a professional developmental editor should NOT quote you a price before seeing the manuscript. Too often this results in over-pricing. For instance, if you have already carefully self-edited your grammar and punctuation, this can reduce the quote. If one third of your book is already beautifully structured, that should reduce the quote. Authors should NOT have to pay full developmental pricing for a book that doesn’t require a full developmental edit.

See Part Two of the Series

Do you want to learn more about developmental editing? Click here to see Part Two, and discover more about the complexities.