It can be difficult for newer writers to understand the various types of editing, how they differ and how any one kind of editing might benefit their work. This is further complicated by the fact that editors sometimes combine editorial functions, which may make them appear to be creating their own definition. In order to prevent any potential confusion or misunderstanding about what I do and how I work, the below is my take on developmental editing.
Developmental editing—also known as big-picture editing—evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of how a story is crafted. This takes into consideration your unique voice and writing style and works within it. I will not rewrite your work, but make specific suggestions as to how you can strengthen all aspects of your story to reflect what you’re trying to say in the most compelling way.
Examples of what is covered by developmental editing:
- Plot inconsistencies
- Characters who may be underdeveloped or whose actions aren’t quite believable
- Structural weaknesses (narrative arc)
- Inconsistent point of view
- Inconsistent story details
- Pacing that’s not quite working for the story
- Ineffective use of tension
- Theme, and how effectively (or ineffectively) it’s conveyed
And so much more!
In other words, developmental editing is a general critique of what’s working and what isn’t. It is not copy-editing or proofreading , but an overall view of the writing.
Developmental editing usually takes place when you’ve reached the point where you can no longer do anything more with the story on your own. This is often when the story is in its second or third draft, but may come later, depending on your writing process.
Often, authors will decide to implement big changes as the result of a developmental edit: chapters may move around, characters may change, and so on. Because of this, developmental editing is carried out prior to line edits (designed to polish the prose on a line-by-line and paragraph-by-paragraph level), copyediting (a check for grammar, spelling, punctuation and style consistency) and proofreading (formatting and a final check of the work).
Who I work with
Developmental editing is for anyone looking for professional feedback on their writing.
I specialise in working with self-publishing writers of genre fiction and memoir. Some of my favourite genres include: historical fiction, including historical fantasy and romantic historical fiction (not to mention romantic fantasy fiction set against a historical backdrop, either “real” or imaginary); mysteries (especially quirky ones or mysteries with a psychological bent); historical mysteries; “women’s fiction” or stories that feature women as the main character and that explore the female perspective on life; coming-of-age stories; stories that explore themes of societal injustice or that challenge readers’ expectations; magical realism; travel memoir.
However, as an editor, I’m happy working in many genres, so if you’re not sure if your work will be a good fit then please don’t hesitate to contact me and we can discuss it.
My working process
I generally make two “passes” at a manuscript (also known as editing rounds or read-throughs).
On my first pass I read through the material and make notes on structure, plot and character development/motivation issues, etc.
Next, I take time to actively reflect on my reading experience. This involves making more notes about the story and my observations of it. Once I feel I’ve got a good grasp of what’s not quite working with the story, I begin examining it in more detail. It’s during this stage that I begin to really get under the surface of the story, analysing what I think might be happening with the writing. This involves figuring out where you, the writer, might be going off track and why, as well as how you might go about getting back on track in order to strengthen your story. This usually involves brainstorming solutions that might help you to more effectively convey the story I think you’re trying to tell.
On my second pass (or read-through), I use Microsoft Word’s “track changes” and comments functions to show you where the weaknesses are in your story, explaining why I believe they’re weaknesses, what might be leading to them and giving you potential solutions (where I can). In other words, this stage of the work involves raising specific suggestions with regards to structure, plot, setting, pace, characterisation and any other areas of concern.
After both passes are complete, I prepare a letter to guide you in your revision. This letter summarises my overall developmental concerns, tying my comments together and providing advice on how you might go about strengthening the overall story. I then return the edited manuscript with my revision letter.
In some cases, it may be beneficial to undergo more than one round of developmental editing.
My advice on digesting editorial feedback and what to do after you receive your edit
After you receive the edit, it’s important to take the time to read through everything—the edit itself, the revision letter and any accompanying notes or articles you may have received, such as a book/chapter map . While many authors are keen to start redrafting right away, in my experience, taking the time to digest feedback often results in a stronger and more considered revision. Also, for some authors, editing can feel invasive—“who is this person to tell me about my characters!” This is a natural reaction as creative writing is close to an author’s heart (and for good reason!). However, if this is something that you can relate to, it’s even more important to take the time to process and consider feedback before redrafting. Of course, this is not to say that the editor is always right (far from it!), but only to say that when authors make carefully considered decisions about their stories, the stories nearly always benefit. It is up to you to decide whether or not to make any or all of the suggested changes. If you do, you then go back and rework those sections of the manuscript, accepting or rejecting changes as you see fit.
Most of my edits include a complimentary consultation to discuss your revision. During this consultation you should feel free to ask any questions you might have about my edit and your writing going forward.
If, after rewriting, you’d like me to read the manuscript again, then I’d be happy to do so. This would either be charged as a second round of developmental editing or I can provide a “Reader’s Report” and give you a broad overview of the strengths and weaknesses of your rewrite. I’m also happy to continue working with you as a manuscript coach, if that’s something you would find helpful. So, for example, if you wanted regular brainstorming sessions while redrafting, then this could be arranged.
For developmental editing, I quote on each project individually, based on my assessment of the full manuscript. This gives me a realistic idea as to what the manuscript may require in terms of my time and editorial input.
For brainstorming sessions, mentoring and/or coaching, my rate is £20/$25 an hour.
The initial consultation—where we discuss your project’s requirements and whether or not I can meet your preferred time frame—is free and with no obligation.
How long any particular edit will take depends on what is required and will be discussed at the consultation stage. In general, a full developmental edit of a 90,000 word novel will take me approximately four weeks to complete.
Why you might like to work with me
Every editor has a slightly different approach. Editing—especially developmental editing—is subjective to an extent, much as reading and writing is. As someone who’s been published, I understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of feedback. I always try to put myself in your shoes and to work within your style, spending time getting to know the qualities of your writing, and discovering how best to strengthen your work in a way that allows your unique voice to shine through. There’s nothing I enjoy more than getting “under the skin” of a piece of writing, in order to figure out what’s not quite working, why and how you, the author, might strengthen it. I’m passionate about pushing the authors I work with to put their very best work forward. In return, I promise to do my very best work for them.
In terms of my qualifications and experience, I hold an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. I’ve also taken courses in the craft of developmental editing through the Editorial Freelancers Association, of which I’m a member (see my Continuing Professional Development page for details of courses I’ve taken). As of August 2019, I’ve edited more than 25 manuscripts, as well as having done beta reading. Of the books I’ve edited, which have been published, at least two of them have gone on to become Amazon bestsellers in their chosen genres (Laying Ghosts by Virginia King and Blue Ice, White Powder by Jack Moscrop). Of course, as the editor, I can’t claim any responsibility for this as the creative work belongs solely to the author. However, I like to think that my guidance and input may have played some small role in their success.
Arranging an edit
It’s usually best to organise editing when the manuscript is ready to be edited, or nearly ready. This is because a manuscript assessment* of the full manuscript will need to be carried out in order to determine how much time and editorial input might be required. If you’re still writing the story when editing is arranged then the assessment could be incorrect and this would then result in an inaccurate quote. A new quote would then be required.
*A manuscript assessment involves reading a chapter or two from the beginning, middle and end of a manuscript, in order to get an idea of the overall shape a story/memoir is in.
Booking the service
You can contact me by email in the first instance: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit Get a Quote to access my editing questionnaire.
Please note that this service is subject to availability.