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When asking the question, 'what is developmental editing?', you can expect the answer to be complicated and nuanced. It requires an understanding of manuscript editing, the role of developmental editors, and an insight into the developmental editing process as a whole. However, the basic concept is simple.
In short, this type of editing is a process by which a developmental editor helps prepare a book for publication, either traditional or self-publishing. It is sometimes described as 'big picture editing,' and this is a good way to think about the process.
This said, the editing process is both complex and time-consuming and requires an understanding of what editing options are available to you, and what is best for you and your current book.
In the article, we look closely at the role of the developmental edit and its impact on your book. We answer the question, 'what is developmental editing?' You will learn how developmental editors approach a book edit, and you'll discover why this type of editing is an essential part of the publishing process.
What is Developmental Editing?
Developmental editing is known by several names, including content editing, structural editing, story editing, comprehensive editing, macro editing, or even heavy editing. However, the most common alternative is called substantive editing.
But they are all the same.
The role of the developmental editor, and the resultant developmental edit, is to ensure that a book is of a publishable standard.
Wikipedia describes developmental editing as "significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscript's discourse".
In reality, editing is a much more involved process. The professional editor will examine the entire manuscript in the process, considering all aspects of the book, including its narrative and structure. They will also consider readability, plot, and flow. Some freelance developmental editors will also look out for line-level problems, such as sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation. The better editors will assess a book's suitability for the marketplace. They may also help you to pinpoint the book's genre correctly.
Developmental Editing Questions
Unlike copy editing, which follows a rigid manual of style, developmental editing is very much about an editor's education, experience, and 'gut feeling'.
This means that the developmental editor's skill is critical if they are to deliver a high-quality developmental edit. During the editorial process, the editor will continuously hold several open-ended questions in their mind. They will apply these questions as they read.
Here are some examples of these questions (there are more, but they are often genre-specific):
- 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?
It is worth noting that line editing is not part of the developmental editorial process. However, at BubbleCow we include line editing as part of the service.
You can discover more about developmental editing, and how this can make you a better writer.
When is a Developmental Edit Required?
In this article, I outlined the different forms of editing and when each should be applied to a book.
In essence, a traditionally published book will go through three types of editing.
The first task of editing is to identify any significant issues with the book and outline the changes that need to be made.
The next is copy editing. This is where typos are fixed, and consistency is applied to the manuscript.
The book will then be prepared for paper and digital publishing. This process means the text must be laid out and converted to different formats. This process can add errors. Therefore, the third round of editing is required; this is called proofreading.
How to find a Developmental Editor
Developmental editing can be a complex and nuanced process that requires a certain level of expertise. Finding a developmental editor can be hard, so if you are considering hiring a developmental book editor, there are a few key factors to keep in mind.
Look for an editor with extensive experience in developmental editing. This may include experience in a specific genre, such as fiction or non-fiction, or experience working with a particular audience, such as children or young adults. Check the editor's portfolio or list of past clients to see if they have experience in your area of interest.
2. Education and Training
While there is no formal education required to become a developmental editor, there are courses and training programs available that can provide valuable skills and knowledge. Look for an editor who has completed courses or training in editing, writing, or a related field.
3. Communication Skills
Good communication is key in any editor-author relationship, but it is especially important in developmental editing. Look for an editor who is able to clearly communicate feedback and suggestions in a way that is constructive and helpful. They should be able to provide specific examples and explanations for their suggestions, and be open to discussing any questions or concerns you may have.
4. Understanding of Genre and Audience
A good developmental editor should have a deep understanding of the genre and audience for your book. They should be able to provide guidance on how to make your book appeal to your target audience, and have knowledge of the conventions and expectations of your genre.
5. Attention to Detail
While developmental editing is focused on the big picture, it still requires attention to detail. Look for an editor who is able to catch inconsistencies, plot holes, and other issues that may impact the overall structure and flow of your book.
By keeping these factors in mind, you can find a developmental book editor who is a good match for your project and can help take your manuscript to the next level.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some frequently asked questions that will provide you with more information.
What does a developmental editor do?
A developmental editor will provide detailed editorial feedback (developmental edit) for an author's book. They will assess the structure, flow and readability of the book. They may also provide feedback on genre suitability, market fit, and, occasionally, line level problems.
What does a developmental editor do?
The difference between developmental editing and copy editing is that while developmental editors focus on the big picture, structure, readability, market potential, and feedback for issues that could be fixed, copy editing is more focused on sentence-level issues such as typos and grammatical errors.
What is the difference between developmental editing and copyediting?
Developmental editing focuses on the big picture of a manuscript, such as plot, characterization, structure, and style. Copyediting, on the other hand, focuses on the technical details of the writing, such as grammar, spelling, punctuation, and consistency. While both are important, developmental editing comes before copyediting in the editing process, as it helps to ensure that the story is solid before polishing the prose.
What types of writing benefit from developmental editing?
Developmental editing is particularly useful for long-form writing, such as novels, memoirs, and non-fiction books, but it can also be helpful for shorter works, such as articles or essays. Any writing that requires a coherent and engaging narrative can benefit from developmental editing, as it helps to ensure that the story is compelling and flows well.
How do I find a developmental editor?
There are many ways to find a developmental editor. You can search online for editorial services or check with professional organizations such as the Editorial Freelancers Association or the American Society of Journalists and Authors. You can also ask for recommendations from other writers or consult with literary agents or publishers who may be able to refer you to reputable editors. It's important to do your research and choose an editor who has experience in your genre and whose editing style and personality are a good fit for you.
If you're interested in learning more about the craft of writing and the editing process, here are three non-fiction books that you may find useful:
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
In this memoir and writing guide, bestselling author Stephen King shares his insights on the craft of writing, as well as his personal experiences as a writer. He covers topics such as finding inspiration, developing characters, and the importance of revision. Whether you're a fan of Stephen King's work or not, this book is a valuable resource for writers of all levels.
- The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
In this witty and engaging book, linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker offers practical advice for improving your writing style. He explains the principles of good writing and offers examples of both effective and ineffective writing. Whether you're a professional writer or just someone who wants to improve your communication skills, this book is a must-read.
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
In this humorous and heartfelt book, writer Anne Lamott shares her insights on the writing process and offers advice on how to overcome writer's block and other obstacles. She encourages writers to embrace their imperfections and to write with honesty and vulnerability. This book is both practical and inspiring, and is a great read for anyone who is struggling to find their voice as a writer.
Final Thoughts on Developmental Editing
Developmental editing is an essential part of the publishing process. It occurs once a book is deemed 'ready' and is often the first time the writer has received critical feedback, or worked with a developmental editor. This type of editing will stimulate some level of rewriting, and the book may undergo several revisions before it is ready for the next stage.
If you want to learn more about editing, then Scott Norton wrote a great book called Developmental Editing A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers.
However, finding a professional developmental editor can be hard and developmental editing may be a complex and time-consuming process, but it remains an essential part of the publication process.