Developmental editing is a complex and time-consuming process designed to lift a book from its current draught to a publishable standard.
 
The process involves several steps, including reading the book, making detailed notes, completing an editor's report, fact-checking, and possibly additional read-throughs once an editorial perspective has been established.
 
It should take approximately one calendar month for an average-sized novel to be edited. However, several factors must be considered when working out the final turn around time for a developmental edit.
 

Factors to Consider

Writers are often under pressure to publish their books within a set timescale, but it is not uncommon for them to underestimate the time it takes to edit a book.
 
This means you may find yourself in a situation where you are looking to reduce the time an edit takes. However, cutting corners is a dangerous business. However, one thing that can help is to ensure that you have completed as much self-editing as possible. 
 
Good developmental editors are challenging to find and are, therefore, in high demand. If you find a developmental editor available to start working on your book immediately, then alarm bells should be ringing. All good developmental editors will have a backlog of books, and the chances are your book will have to fit into this queue of work before they can begin your edit.
 
It is also essential to understand that developmental editing is not just reading a book. It includes several additional steps — these range from additional line editing to writing detailed multi-page editorial reports.
 
This said good editors would be aware of the time constraints that writers are under and should be willing to work within your time frame.
 
It is not unreasonable to ask a developmental editor to give a firm return date before the editing begins. This way, you will be able to adjust your publishing process to fit the editorial calendar.
 

What is involved?

The process of developmental editing involves several steps.
 
An editor will methodically read through a book. However, hey may find themselves moving backward and forwards through the book to reread sections as the structure of the book unfolds. It is not uncommon for a developmental editor to revisit sections multiple times as they grapple with suggestions to improve the flow and readability.
 
The editing process also includes making detailed notes. An editor will often start by making rough notes that have their thoughts and improvements, only developing these notes into a more readable format once the edit is complete. It is not uncommon for an editor to consider one approach only to change their mind as the novel's structure and plot unfold.
 
The developmental editor will also create a detailed multi-page editors report. This will include all aspects of their feedback, both good and bad. It will consist of an outline of where they feel the problems lie, the reasons they feel these sections are presenting issues and at least one viable solution that can be applied by the writer.
 
It is not unusual for an editor to carry out multiple read-throughs of a book. This is most common when a book presents more than one issue, and the editor needs to ensure that their advice is both correct and applicable by the writer.
 
Some novels and books will call for extensive fact-checking. This can be a lengthy and time-consuming process. It will often start with a simple Google search but can quickly develop into more lengthy research and question-asking. Fact-checking could range from simple problems, such as understanding if a particular technology was used within the novel's time frame, to more complex issues, such as historical fact-checking and cultural issues.
 
A good developmental editor will approach a book with several unspoken questions. These vary and will often be specific to each project. However, below is a list of common questions that editors will ask while editing a book or novel.
 
  • Does the structure of the book make sense?
  • Is the presentation logical?
  • Is there a wider story arc that engages the reader and pulls them through the narrative?
  • Has a coherent viewpoint been applied? Is it consistent? Does it make sense for the story?
  • Does the chapter structure make sense? Does the writer understand scene structure?
  • Have narrative techniques been correctly applied?
  • Does each scene contain sufficient description?
  • Is each new character sufficiently described?
  • Is the tense consistent? 
  • Is the characterization believable and consistent?
  • Are the characters sufficiently developed?
  • Are there any obvious plot holes?
  • If the novel is set in the past, are there any inconsistencies in the use of objects etc.?
  • Does the book's voice, style and format match the genre expectations?
  • Is the writer telling, when they should be showing?
  • Are the facts accurate?
  • Does the book's word count meet the genre expectations? If it is too short, how can it be extended? If too long, what approach should be taken?
  • Has the writer correctly formatted paragraphs? Will shorter or longer paragraphs better suit the style or genre of the book?
  • If a prologue is used, does it match the genre and make sense to the wider narrative?
  • Does the book need an introduction?
  • Does the book need additional end material, such as bibliography or epilogue?
  • Should the writer include information about themselves?
  • If relevant, is the book correctly referenced?
  • If images, tables and diagrams have been used, has the copyright been correctly attributed?
  • If included, are all footnotes or endnotes correctly presented and formatted?
 

Things to think about

When considering the correct developmental editor for your book, a few additional issues should be considered.
 
Regarding the time frame, be aware that developmental editing cannot be rushed. An editor may be able to move you forward in their queue, which might buy some time. However, the actual editorial process is difficult to shorten. As has been detailed, editing is far more than merely reading a book.
 
One other thing to consider is that all good developmental edits will stimulate some level of rewriting post-edit. If you are trying to determine an accurate publishing timeline, you should be allowing sufficient rewriting time. It might be worth talking to your developmental editor to assess the amount of work they feel will be needed post-edit.
 
One element worthy of consideration is that most writers do not know what they do not know. The editorial process can often throw up problems that writers had never even considered to be an issue. For example, if you were unaware that you were telling when you should be showing, it will be a surprise post-edit when your editor suggests a large amount of rewriting. This should all be considered when determining your publishing timeline.

The final thing to take into account is that developmental editing is not the end of the process. Your book will have to undergo at least one additional round of editing before publication. You can find more details in this article.

Editing Types
 

Final Thoughts

Developmental book editing is a complicated and time-consuming process. However, it is an essential part of ensuring that your book is reaching a publishable standard.
 
It would be best to allow at least one calendar month for the developmental edit and then additional time for any rewrites and research that might be required. You will also want to include additional time for all the pre-publishing activities such as copyediting, design, typesetting, and proofreading.