Developmental Editing (Part Two of a Two-Part Series)

When Is Developmental Editing Necessary?

developmental editing

If you’ve read Part One of this series, you already have a good idea about the developmental editing process. However, there’s more to cover as you research potential editors, hire your finalist, and embark on the editing journey.

First, developmental editing can make or break your manuscript, especially if you are a first-time author. Even seasoned authors hire developmental editors if they are stuck, weary, or can’t quite pinpoint the flaws in their manuscripts. Veteran authors and repeat clients have emailed their manuscripts to me and said, “Fix this, please.”  They know I’ll read and analyze the story, take care of plot gaps, remove scenarios that ramble on and lead nowhere, address conflicting tone, improve sensory description, and elevate the narrative voice.

Many authors have learned hard lessons by launching not-ready-for-prime time books. From rejection letters to negative reviews, they realize after the fact that their books should have been fully edited and ultimately worthy of the hard-earned money that readers will spend at the book store or on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Timeline and Deliverables

What can you expect from your developmental editor? Before the project starts, there should be discussions about non-disclosure agreements, contracts, price, deadlines, and communication.

Expect your developmental editor to also discuss your goals and expectations. Expect your edits to be clear, understandable, and reasonable. If you are curious, ask your developmental editor to explain the reason for the changes. Expect solutions to the issues within your manuscript. Expect your novel to be elevated, polished, and the best it can be. Expect your editor to add elements of creativity, new ideas, fresh approaches, and transformation. Expect your editor to help you become a better writer and wordsmith.

Beta Readers

Most authors have a group of supporters who read the book before it goes to editing, often referred to as “beta readers.” This can be extremely helpful (if they’re honest), for they can call out grammar and punctuation erro

rs, as well as problems within the story. They may feel something is missing. They may not like a character or a string of dialogue. They may say you’ve put the horse before the cart, or not left enough breadcrumbs to lead them from one scenario to the next.

But remember, beta readers are not editors. They are supporters—family, friends, and co-workers. Once you’ve accepted or rejected their input, your book is ready for serious developmental editing from a professional. It can make all the different once you approach literary agents with query letters, or self-publish and read the reviews.

Substantive Editing and Ghostwriting

As I mentioned in Part One of this series, not all developmental editors handle the proofreading aspects of a manuscript and focus solely on the overall “big picture.” I, however, do focus on grammar and punctuation in addition to the developmental aspects. In fact, I might substantially edit the content, which requires rewriting and overhauling your sentences, paragraphs, and even whole chapters. I may add content where it is needed, basically “ghostwriting” part of your manuscript.

Once I agree to a project, I take into account all of these aspects in order to do a thorough edit. Therefore, I am able to quote a fair price once I’ve seen the entire manuscript and identify what’s right and wrong with the plot, setting, characterization, dialogue, mood, and tone.

Developmental Editing: Respecting Your Voice

Well-written literature is a joy for readers, and I keep this in mind when I edit a manuscript. I also thoughtfully edit so that your voice remains strong and clear throughout. In other words, I don’t want the book to sound like me … I want it to sound like the best version of you. This requires personal attention and the “instinct” I mentioned in Part One of this series.

I usually edit in a Word document with the tracker enabled, so that changes are colored coded. Once I send a few chapters back, authors can accept or reject the edits, and their work will appear in a different color when they send the document back to me. It’s a wonderful way to collaborate and stay on the same page. In fact, developmental editing is usually highly collaborative.

I’m usually on the phone with authors weekly as the manuscript develops, and these conversations also help me edit in their voice. Yes, a good developmental editor not only writes in the author voice, but edits in the author’s voice. Again, that’s a skill that develops over the years, and one I’ve gained after working in the world of words for decades.


Often, a manuscript is as precious as a child. You gave birth to it, and it can be difficult to hear that it’s not perfect. I encourage authors to keep an open mind, respect the rules of English and industry standards, and most importantly, trust that whatever I tweak is done for a reason. When authors hire me, they can expect direct, honest feedback. This feedback is never harsh or critical … quite the opposite! I simply suggest, in a constructive manner, a better way to relay the contents—perhaps an adjustment to the story arc or further developing a character, or addressing content that appears unwieldy or gratuitous. That being said, the editing process requires collaboration, and the authoralways has the final say.

Once your novel has been revised or even re-imagined, then we move to second and third round editing to address proofreading, where we’ll catch all those sneaky little punctuation and grammar issues that slipped through during the developmental process.

Before or During the Writing Process

As a final point, I’ve been hired by authors before their books where even written. These projects are less common, but nonetheless delightful. There is nothing more gratifying than working with an author to brainstorm, blueprint, develop characters, envision a story arc, and construct the plot and setting. The planning can involve projected timeline and deliverables, as well.