Developmental Editing: What is it?
Developmental editing is big picture editing. It combines all the other types of editing, and then goes further. It looks at structure and theme and content, at understanding what your whole book is going to look like and working to ensure that every element is consistent, makes sense, and is moving the manuscript forward toward that final book. Developmental editing involves much more coaching, walking authors through what’s successful and not successful with the manuscript.
Developmental editing offer specific suggestions about the core goals of the book, the overall premise, the story, character development, use of dialogue and description, narrative voice, pacing, style, language – the craft and literary polish of the book.
If developmental editing starts early on in the process, this work will involved taking a really rough first draft and beginning to actually shape content on the page. This can be long process, involving a lot of rewriting and refining. If developmental editing starts later in the process, with an entire manuscript, the process, while having the same goal. is a little different in that it can involve a complete overhaul. Every book will benefit from the line by line detailed attention and thorough read that only a developmental edit provides.
Developmental editing includes: In-depth, comprehensive, substantive editing, everything from the nuts and bolts of organization and structure, of plotting and pacing, of characterization, of voice and tone, to all of the stylistic elements and overall substance that go into creating a great read.
Are the characters real, flesh-and-bone people? What are their histories? Their relationships? Does the reader really know them as story develops? Are their interactions believable, or are they overwritten or acting out of character? What motivates their actions? What are their desires or their fears? As Robert Olen Butler asks: What do they yearn for? How does this translate into motivated action as they are faced with the obstacles and opportunities for growth and change that underpins good plot?
Does the language fit the story? Is it consistently engaging? Is the writer telling the story, or showing?
How is the pacing? Does the pacing fit the story? How is the structure? Will the overall story and tension benefit from rethinking organization? Does one chapter move fluidly into the next, building your reader toward a truly satisfying ending? Is it the story a whole– having a cohesive beginning, middle, and end? What ultimately do you want the reader to come away with at the end of the read?
Developmental editing requires a partnership in support of your book. It is YOUR story, but because a developmental editor works at a remove from the story you’ve spent so much time and effort on, he/she can see things that you may not be able to because you’re too close to the story. They may be able to see the work going in a direction you have not, or see aspects of your characters—these people you’ve worked so hard to create—that you may not. Ultimately, the choices are yours as the writer, but a good developmental editor who studies and reads your work closely enough so as to have a real and invested opinion in the work and who may occasionally push back a little when writers—and all of us do it 🙂 –resist a little.
How do we do this?
How it works will depend on where you are in your writing project.
Just getting started?
If you are just getting started on a new book project, and you do well with feedback and partnership, I will read along as you write, a minimum of 3 hours per month, dedicated time to close reading your work as you produce it. I will also ask that you create a chapter summary document that we can use as a road map in the process of completing your book. This will save both time and money as we will be able to collaborate to catch inconsistencies as they arise. We will work together to design a reading and monthly response schedule that will work with your writing schedule.
Early Process Developmental Editing: $50 per hour
(3 hour monthly minimum, Minimum 1 month’s contract)
Already have a manuscript?
If you already have a drafted manuscript, I will make an overall assessment of the manuscript you have already written, identifying areas requiring attention. I will complete three close reads of the entire manuscript. First, I will read as a new eyes reader, noting my own initial responses to the content, making light notes. In the second pass, having an idea of the book”s feel as a whole, I will margin-edit through the entire manuscript, section by section, focusing on characterization, plot moves, some structure, and asking questions of the writer in areas where the read is unclear. In the third and final pass, I will add more line-editing, tightening up my content edits, making more suggestions for any needed broad edits concerning flow, coherence, characters, clarity, and action. In this way, I will provide a systematic evaluation and holistic suggestions for reworking the manuscript as a whole.
After this initial assessment, we can discuss the recommended changes and actions, and together, we’ll work to establish goals and to determine a plan to move the book forward. If you’re interested in continuing reads after this initial thorough assessment, the above hourly rate will apply, and we will need to establish a monthly read and response schedule under a separate contract.
Full Manuscript Developmental Edit (maximum 125, 000 words): $500-$1500
(Note: Price contingent on length and depth of edit determined by submitted writing sample of first three chapters.)
Developmental Editing Correspondence
In doing a developmental edit, I will return to you by regular mail the original manuscript with all of my margin and line edits, and you’ll receive a separate document that addresses the particular needs of your manuscript: things like plot holes, gaps in structure, timeline issues, pacing issues, inconsistencies in plot or character development, choreography and blocking problems, and opportunities for theme development. While I know many editors provide this electronically, for the depth of involvement with your book that I hope to have in a developmental edit, I’m old-school, and will only provide return work and comments in hard copy.
Trying It On Before Diving In:
Many authors find it helpful to see an edit of a few chapters before committing to an edit of their full manuscript. A partial edit lets you see what type of editing I do and determine whether it’s a good match for your work.
Partial edits cost 2 cents per word, with a minimum range of 4,000–10,000 words.