Developmental editing is a complex and time-consuming process designed to lift a book from its current draft 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, they 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 a 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?

How long does a developmental edit take?


The process of providing a developmental edit for a novel is a complicated and time-consuming task. On the surface, it may seem that providing an edit should be something that takes an equivalent time to reading a novel, but this is simply not the case.
 
Reading is a very different experience from editing. 

In many ways, reading is a passive and inactive activity, in which the reader looks to become lost in the world created by the writer. For an editor, the process is almost the opposite. Editing a book is an active process in which the editor is looking to engage with every element of the book as it unfolds. An editor cannot afford to become lost in a world, they must always be questioning the words on the page from a critical angle. The editor is always looking at what is written and seeking ways to improve and change the prose to create a better reading experience.
 
This means that developmental editing is a stop and start affair, which takes time. 

An editor is constantly stopping and writing notes, correcting sentences and challenging the words that have been presented on the page. It is not unusual for an editor to have to reread a section or chapter. It is also far from uncommon for an editor to have to go back and reread sections from previous chapters. Add to this, fact-checking and line editing, and you can see how the editing process can quickly become complex and time-consuming.
 
Every novel is different, and each comes with its own level of complexity and depth of problems. Though many novels will often share similar issues, how these challenges are addressed and solved will vary with each writer and each novel. The fact that each novel brings with it its own problems means that the developmental editing process can be further slowed as the editor seeks to discover which problems are the most pressing and how these can be solved with the least amount of work.
 
At BubbleCow, we offer line editing alongside developmental editing, which means the editorial process is further delayed as the editor corrects sentence-level issues. Many consistent problems can indeed be fixed with careful find and replace, but this is only a fraction of the alterations that need to be made; it is not uncommon for a manuscript to have hundreds, if not thousands, of small line level alterations once an edit is complete.
 
Finally, an editor will be creating an editor’s report alongside any comments and alterations made to the manuscript. This report is not uncommon to be many pages in length, which means it is both complex and time-consuming to create. It is important for an editor to identify potential problems with a novel and offer the writer at least one viable solution to resolve these problems. 

It may also be the case that a novel contains a more complex issue that requires a detailed and thoughtful examination. If this is the situation, it can often take several pages of the report to resolve and even need at least one additional conversation with the writer before the novel can progress to the next level.
 
This brings us to the question of just how long a novel will take to edit.
 
There is no simple answer to this question, but over the years at BubleCow we have come to understand that an experienced editor working with a well-written novel can expect to edit between 5 and 10,000 words per day.
 
This means that for a novel of 60,000 words will take somewhere between one and two weeks to complete.
 
There is one more consideration to take into account. Experienced editors are always busy. If you come across an editor that he's not busy, they should ring alarm bells. Therefore, whilst it may take two weeks for a novel to be edited, you may be waiting for several weeks for your novel to rise up the queue of manuscripts.
 
At BubbleCow, we aim to return all manuscripts within twenty-eight business days of being submitted.

 




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.