You’ve finished your manuscript, and now you’re ready to start revising and moving toward your ultimate publishing goal. Hooray!
But you’re really not sure what to expect or how the process goes. How does a developmental edit work, anyway?
The authors I edit for always want to know what to expect (rightfully so!), so I decided to put together a quick Q&A post that answers some of the most common questions I get.
When should I get a developmental edit and how do I know I’m ready?
The developmental edit is usually the very first type of edit you need when embarking on your revision and editing journey. It looks at the manuscript from a macro level, evaluating each of the different story or narrative elements and considering how to make the story more immersive (in fiction) or the information flow logical and engaging (in nonfiction).
Because the developmental edit is intended to evaluate the project as a whole, I usually prefer to work with authors after they have finished their manuscript and have had a chance to go through it again by themselves at least once. It’s amazing how much rewriting and revising you can do if you give yourself a little vacation and then go back to look at it with fresh eyes!
Sometimes authors do want or need more support in building out their initial concept and completing their first draft. If this is the case, some developmental editors (also known as book coaches) will work with authors through the entire writing process—giving feedback on a few chapters at a time.
I tend to prefer the “finish your draft first and then revise” approach, not only because I want writers to get the entire project out of their heads and on paper before someone else influences it, but because I frequently see writers get caught in an endless revision loop and never finish the entire story. Or worse yet, they quit writing altogether after getting feedback on their work.
How do I find the right developmental editor for my book?
A lot of the usual recommendations for finding an editor apply here: look for someone with the right skill set and with some familiarity with your subject matter and/or genre.
In my opinion, one often-overlooked element is compatible working styles. Are you someone who likes to check in over the phone or a virtual meeting, or would you prefer to never talk at all and rely on emails?
Some editors are happy to do short discovery calls before starting a project and will happily talk on the phone or have meetings mid-project. Others prefer to rely on emails and questionnaires to get the information they need. There’s no right or wrong answer here because everyone has different working styles and compatibility, but thinking about what you need to make this a successful working relationship will help you select an editor who is right for you.
Do you do developmental sample edits?
Editors will frequently do a sample edit as a way to evaluate the state of the writing and how long it will take to do a full edit. But this method works much better for line or copy editing because these changes are concrete and are at the sentence level.
It is harder to do a developmental sample edit because developmental suggestions are more conceptual and are usually made with the context of the entire manuscript. I am happy to evaluate a few chapters and respond with some general notes about the things I notice and what I might suggest for changes, but I always add the caveat that after reading the entire book, my opinion might change.
Before taking on a developmental project, I like to use the combination of looking at a few chapters and talking with the author about their story, goals, and working style.
Why is a developmental edit beneficial to my story?
Have you ever read a book where you got to the middle and had to force yourself to push through it? Or maybe one of the characters changed their personality halfway through without any discernible reason? Or perhaps the events of the book just seemed off for some reason, and you couldn’t quite put your finger on why.
Each of these issues could have been identified during a developmental edit.
The developmental edit evaluates the structure and elements of a manuscript to see what is working well and what is not. With that feedback, an author can revise their story to eliminate things like sagging middles, inconsistent characters, and unbelievable plot elements. The whole point is to make your book an engaging journey for your readers from the beginning to end and keep them coming back for more!
How do you give me feedback in a developmental edit?
I use comments and tracked changes in the manuscript and a separate editorial letter to give you in depth feedback and analysis of your manuscript. I point out specific instances where things are working, where they might be further developed, make small editorial suggestions, and summarize what I see overall in the letter.
Editorial letters run anywhere from 10 to 30 pages and analyze each relevant element of your manuscript. And once an author has had a chance to absorb everything in the letter, I also like to offer a follow up virtual meeting to answer questions and be a sounding board for the author to explore solutions for sticky spots.
How long does a developmental edit take and how much does it cost?
Every project is different, so the best way to get a specific answer is to reach out for a quote! But generally speaking, once I start an editing project, it takes about three to six weeks to do the edit and write up the editorial letter.
I normally quote for and schedule just one round of developmental editing at a time. (A “round” means the manuscript comes to me, I complete the editing, and then send it back to you for review. Some types of editing projects are best done with multiple rounds.) Because developmental edits can result in substantial revisions, I prefer not to hold authors to a strict timeline. I am always happy to do a second evaluation and either move on into the next stage of line and copy editing, or do another round of developmental edits if necessary.
The cost and overall timeline can vary quite a bit depending on the length and complexity of the project. My rates are in line with the Editorial Freelancers Association’s posted averages.
Are you ready to get your project edited? I’d love to chat with you about your vision and needs.