When asking the question, what is developmental editing, you can expect the answer to be complicated and nuanced.

In short, developmental editing is a process by which a book is prepared for publication, but the process is both complex and time-consuming. 

In the article, we will answer the question, what is developmental editing? You will learn how developmental editors approach a book edit, and you'll discover why developmental editing is an essential part of the publishing process.

What is Developmental Editing?

Developmental editing is known by several different names. In addition to developmental editing, it is called content editing, structural editing, story editing, substantive editing, comprehensive editing, macro editing, or even heavy editing.

But they are all the same.

The role of the book editor is to ensure that a book is of a publishable standard.

Wikipedia describes development editing as "significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscript's discourse".

In reality, editing is a much more involved process. The 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 structure. Some 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 copyediting, 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 book editor's skill is critical. 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?

When is a Developmental Edit Required?

In this article, I outlined the different types 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 copyediting. 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, a third round of editing is required; this is called proofreading.



Final Thoughts

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. 

Developmental editing will stimulate some level or rewriting, and the book may undergo several revisions before it is ready for the next stage. 

Developmental editing may be a complex and time-consuming process, but it remains an essential part of the publication process. 


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