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, 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. It takes into consideration your unique voice and writing style and works within it. I will not rewrite your work, but I will 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 copyediting 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 an advanced draft stage. However, sometimes writers may seek the advice of a developmental editor at an earlier stage of the drafting process. For example, for structural or plot guidance on an outline, or for help developing their ideas (coaching).
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 generally carried out prior to other forms of editing (such as copyediting).
Who I work with
Developmental editing is for anyone looking for professional feedback on their writing.
I specialise in working with independent authors. Some of my favourite genres include: historical fiction, gothic fiction, ghost stories, mystery/thriller/suspense, magical realism, upmarket fiction and 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 at least two ‘passes’ at a manuscript.
On my first pass, I read through the material as a reader would, making notes on structure, plot and character development/motivation issues, etc.
Next, I take time to actively reflect on my reading experience, making more notes about the story and my observations of it. I may also re-read parts of the story and/or create a reverse outline or book map to track certain elements (plot details, for example, or character relationships) through the story.
Once I’ve got a good grasp of what’s not quite working with the story, I begin examining it in more detail. This involves figuring out where the writing might be going off track, why, and how the story might be strengthened. This means brainstorming potential solutions to the weaknesses that are cropping up so that I can give you some ideas for how you might move forward with your revision.
On my next pass I use Microsoft Word’s ‘track changes’ and comments functions to show you where the weaknesses are in your story, raising specific suggestions as to how you might strengthen the structure, plot, setting, pace, characterisation and any other areas of concern.
After all of my editing passes are complete, I prepare a letter to guide you through 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.
Some manuscripts may benefit from undergoing more than one round of developmental editing–it depends on what the writer can achieve in their revision and how many areas of the story need addressing.
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 intentional 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, their stories nearly always benefit. It is up to you to decide whether or not to make 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 critique/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 work. This gives me a realistic idea as to what the story may require in terms of my time and editorial input.
For brainstorming sessions, mentoring and/or coaching, my rate is £25/$30 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 to five 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. 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 helping 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, I hold an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. I’ve also taken courses in the craft of developmental editing (see my Additional Training page for details of courses I’ve taken). I’m an Entry Level member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.
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.
Please note that this service is subject to availability.