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What Is Developmental Editing?

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

So, you’ve finished your manuscript and have done some self editing. That’s great! Most would-be authors never make it to this step. Next, congratulate yourself because you are a part of a very small number of people who actually finish writing a book. Many say they want to write a book. Some will actually attempt. But very few actually finish!

But the road to publication is just getting started. If you’re planning on self-publishing, a developmental edit is a good idea. This type of edit can be confusing for some people to wrap their head around, and it doesn’t help that it’s sometimes called structural or content editing, and the scope of the editor’s job can vary from editor to editor (I work primarily with fiction, so that is what we will be focusing on today).

It can be difficult for authors to have their book babies critiqued, but this is a really important first step in the editing process. As authors, we are too close to our own work. We can’t see the “forest for the trees,” so an outside opinion, especially by an editor, can make a world of difference from taking our stories from good to great.

One important thing to keep in mind is that developmental editors are first and foremost advocates for readers because they are readers themselves. Their job is not to tear your manuscript to pieces and call you a bad writer. Think of them like a coach, on your side whipping you into shape because they believe in you and your writing (some editors even offer coaching services).

A developmental edit is a “big picture” edit. An editor will look at the various aspects of what makes a story… well, a story. Everything from the setting and world building to dialog, pacing, and character development is analyzed. The editor makes comments in the manuscript pointing out specific areas or elements of the story that are confusing or contradictory. An editorial letter or reader report is also provided, which is basically a diagnosis of what is working in your manuscript, where it can be improved, and suggestions on how to make those improvements. Keep in mind, they are only suggestions. You, the author, gets the final say because this is your artistic vision.

Isn’t this just a manuscript critique?

Yes, BUT…

A developmental edit is a little more in-depth, pointing out specific areas where the story falls short, making suggestions on areas to expand or explain more, etc. Resources for further study are also shared, as well as a plan for moving forward for the next draft. Line edits might also accompany this, but sometimes this is left for the copyediting stage (which we will talk about later).

If you are unsure about your manuscript and what editing stage it needs, contact me for a free consultation and a sample edit of 1000 words.

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