Developmental editing (also known as structural editing or substantive editing) is at the top of the editorial tree. This level of editing comes before copy-editing and it considers the big picture of the book – aspects like structure, plot/content, characterisation and pace.
My developmental editing service is bespoke, tailored to the client’s needs. I may pitch in and make lots of developmental changes myself, or I may guide the author to develop the book through detailed queries and suggestions.
Whichever style of developmental 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, the result is a book that doesn’t just live up to your initial vision but surpasses it.
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.
It’s also a good option for authors who’ve got a bit lost in their writing. Depending on the author’s preference, the developmental editor can be a guiding hand, untangling knots and showing the author the way forward, or the editor can take over and shape up the book.
Of course, this level of editing is not for the faint of heart: it’s a very detailed and invasive service that leads to many revisions. The end result, though, is well worth the journey.
My developmental editing service
In the edit, I go through the book sentence by sentence. 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/argued?
- Characterisation (fiction): 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? Does each chapter work as a cohesive whole? Do chapter endings have impact? Are fiction time shifts and point-of-view shifts handled well? For non-fiction, is content organised in a sensible and logical way? Can the reader easily navigate through the book?
- 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 consistent and suitable for the genre? Is the tone too formal or informal? Is there a tendency to be wordy and long-winded? Is the author overwriting? Does the author come across as bossy or curt?
- Inclusivity: Could the writing potentially offend a reader?
The developmental edit gives the author a lot of editorial input to work through:
- Revisions: Throughout the manuscript, I mark up the text with revisions. For example, I may format a sentence with strikethrough to suggest it be deleted, and I may move a paragraph down the page to improve logical progression. The author can see all my revisions through the Track Changes feature of Microsoft Word and is free to accept or reject them as preferred.
- Queries: The edited manuscript is annotated with plenty of comments. I explain why I’ve made significant changes, and I ask the author to consider specific queries (Why does your character say this? How about moving this chapter break?). I raise overarching queries relating to the big picture of the book in a separate notes file.
How rigorously I edit the manuscript depends on the client’s preference. I can lean towards suggesting changes in my edit, or I can go ahead and make changes myself. If the client wants me to go deep, I go deep. If the client wants a light hand, I delicately tweak.
Sometimes developmental editing 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, rework as you see fit; I trust your judgement.’ They know that by giving me creative freedom they get the full benefit of my skills and experience as an editor and writer.
What comes next?
Developmental editing is followed by copy-editing, to polish the language of the book. If I have performed an intensive hands-on developmental edit that leans into ghostwriting, that can sometimes incorporate copy-editing; usually, though, clients need a copy-edit after a developmental edit.
Following the copy-edit, the book is ready for proofreading – and then publication.