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Developmental Editing

Not for the faint-hearted

What is Developmental Editing?

No term in editing is more misunderstood, and that’s because, at its core, “developmental editing” is a misnomer.

Why? A developmental editor doesn’t actually change your words…at least not directly. The goal of a developmental edit is to provide pointed advice and a detailed critique. So how can it even be considered editing? We agree—it probably shouldn’t. But hey, we didn’t invent the term.

That’s not to suggest that a developmental edit is unnecessary or unimportant. This may be the single most important step you take before publishing. No other level of editing will affect the final product, reader enjoyment, or book sales as dramatically as a developmental edit. As a bonus, correcting structural issues now can save you time and editing costs later.

The longer you’ve been working on your book, the more you need a developmental edit. Think of it as a reality check. If you’re too deep in your own world, it’s useful to have someone from the outside tell you you’re not crazy.

What Do We Look for in a Developmental Edit?

Some authors shy away from getting a developmental edit because they’re worried about losing their voice and style, but this fear is unfounded. The goal of a developmental edit is to point out issues with the book so that you can address them yourself.

We will pay attention to:






Plot Holes

Character Motivation



Character Development

Story Arcs

Reader Expectation

Use of Dialogue



Your developmental edit will cover the book from three perspectives: an overall view (the manuscript critique), a segmented view (the chapter-by-chapter summary), and a detailed view (the in-document comments).

In-Document Comments

As we go through the book, we’ll leave notes in the margins throughout—some supportive, some critical. We’ll mark passages we like and flag segments that are problematic. If a character behaves irrationally, for example, we’ll highlight the text and leave a comment for you right where the problem is, making it easy for you to go through our comments and make changes.

The Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

As we go through the book, we’ll also summarize each chapter, focusing on the most memorable elements. Each chapter will be shortened to a single paragraph. When writing, it’s easy to focus too much on individual elements and forget the narrative as a whole. We’ll provide our thoughts—good and bad—about each chapter, indicating what we see as the most important elements and the biggest issues.

The Manuscript Critique

The manuscript critique will look at the book as a whole. If we recommend large-scale changes—such as removing characters entirely, adding new ones, or altering the plot significantly—this is where we’ll do it. Think of this as an overview of all the issues we found, woven together to give you general guidance on how to proceed. We’ll also point out any systemic grammar errors so that you can polish those up yourself, saving yourself editing costs in the future.

When Should You Get a Developmental Edit?

Developmental editing should be the first step in the editing process. Some authors hire a developmental editor when they’ve taken the book as far as they can go, after going through the book multiple times. Others will send it over after they’ve thrown down a rough first draft so that the editor’s comments can guide them through their subsequent drafts. Some authors send us their projects when all they have is an overall synopsis and outline of what they plan to write so we can help guide them through the process.

What Do We Need from You?

In any level of editing, but especially in developmental editing, the editor is really working for the reader. As such, you need to give your editor some context for the piece. Who is your audience? Do you want to be (no guarantees!) as famous as J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown? Or are you aiming for a niche market? Is this a legacy piece for friends and family? Or an independent artsy piece? Maybe you don’t know who your audience is—or even your genre—you just know you’ve got something good. That’s fine too. We can help you figure out where your work belongs.

What Comes Next?

Armed with our developmental edit and manuscript critique, you can get to work tweaking, adding, moving, and removing material. If you have any questions about our suggestions, just ask and we’ll help you find a way forward.

When you’ve finalized the content and feel like any issues are resolved, you can send it in for another round of editing.

  • If you’ve done a thorough job of self-editing, using the advice we gave in our manuscript critique, a copy edit may be all that is necessary, especially if you’re an experienced author and don’t want any input on style.
  • If you’d like us to help improve your writing style, a line edit will allow us to make more substantial changes to improve reader enjoyment.

Regardless, some amount of editing is necessary after a developmental edit to catch any errors and to improve readability. If you’re not sure what level of editing you need next, contact your editor for advice.

Free Sample Editing

While we will happily provide you with a sample developmental edit, it is hard to portray its full purpose in only a few pages. Developmental editing focuses on the big picture—and that won’t happen in 1,000 words. If you send your document in for a sample developmental edit, we’ll focus on 1,000 words or so and give you as much pointed advice as we can.

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