Developmental editing (also known as content editing) is the very highest level of editing. This service helps you develop every aspect of a book – areas like structure, characterisation, plot and pace.
Depending on the client’s preference, I either work hands-on, diving in and developing the book myself, or I make suggestions to guide the author in developing the book him- or herself.
Whichever style of edit I carry out, I leave no stone unturned and give you the full benefit of my experience and expertise. When an editor looks so intensively at your writing, it’s a recipe for a book you’ll be proud of.
Why work with a developmental editor?
Developmental editing is for authors who want a publisher-level edit – who want to be challenged in the way that an in-house publishing editor challenges. It’s ideal for authors who are keen to develop their writing skills and publish the best possible book.
When you work with a developmental editor, you’re working with a very experienced and knowledgeable publishing professional. There are plenty of proofreaders and copy editors for hire, but far fewer developmental editors – it’s a specialist service that requires years of learning. So when you commission a developmental edit, you work side by side with someone who really knows how to write a great book. For authors, that proves to be reassuring, educative and, best of all, inspiring.
Of course, this level of editing is not for the faint of heart: it’s a very detailed and invasive service that results in many revisions to the book. The end result, though, is well worth the journey.
My developmental editing service
In the edit, I go through the book sentence by sentence, looking to develop all aspects of the work. Here are just some of the aspects I examine:
- Plot (fiction): Does it make sense? Are there holes or inconsistencies? Is it interesting, compelling and believable?
- Content (non-fiction): Is the selection of content appropriate? Are there any omissions? Is all content adequately explained?
- Characterisation: Are characters fleshed out? Is there (just enough) backstory? Is characterisation even throughout the book? Are characters believable, and do they create an emotional reaction in the reader? Is the cast of characters suitable for the story? Are there too many or too few characters?
- Structure and length: Is the book too long or short? Are chapters too long or short? Do chapters work as cohesive wholes? Do chapter endings have impact? Are fiction time shifts and point-of-view shifts handled well? Can the reader easily navigate through the book? For non-fiction, is content organised in a sensible and logical way?
- Pace: Does the pace lag in places? Does it gallop too quickly at times? Is the overarching rhythm of the book working?
- Writing style: Is the author voice even and suitable for the genre? Is the tone too formal or too informal? Is there a tendency to be wordy and long-winded? Is the author overwriting? Does the author come across as bossy or curt? Could the author potentially offend the reader?
- Marketability: How will this book sit against the competition on the market? Does this book fit into its genre? Does it follow genre norms? Is it sufficiently original? Is anything hindering its potential?
How exactly I edit is the author’s choice. Proofreading and copy-editing are services with clear scopes, but developmental editing is a little different. Some publishing houses expect a developmental editor to guide the author through developing the book. Others expect the editor to dive in and rigorously rework – and in places rewrite – the book. I think editing should be whatever best suits the client, and so my service is bespoke, tailored to each client’s individual needs.
Depending on the client’s requirements, my developmental edit can provide:
- Suggestions-only guidance: I place detailed comments throughout the manuscript, and I write a ‘big picture’ report to inform the author’s development of the book (the book critique).
- Hands-on editing: I pitch in and make developmental changes to the book myself. If you want me to go deep, I go deep. If you want a light hand, I delicately tweak. I use the Track Changes feature of Microsoft Word as I edit, which allows you to accept or reject my changes as preferred, thereby keeping complete control of the manuscript.
With the hands-on option, the work can creep into the realm of ghostwriting, and that’s fine by me. Over the years I’ve written a lot of content for authors’ books. Some of my clients say, ‘Charlie, do whatever you want to the book; I trust your judgement.’ They know that by giving me creative freedom they get the full benefit of my skill as a writer and my experience as a publishing professional.
Whatever style of editing you prefer, the result will be a book that does not just live up to your initial vision but surpasses it. The clients for whom I edit at this level are often those who sign contracts with agents and publishers (who, incidentally, don’t need to know that I exist; I’m a ghostly member of Team Author).