Development Editing: Getting Your Book Moved in and Settled

Do I need a developmental editor?Once you’ve finished your book manuscript, you might want to hire a professional editor. This is a necessary step if you plan on self-publishing and want your book to meet the same standards as a traditionally published book. However, many writers hire professional editors prior to submitting work to agents and publishers to increase the likelihood of acceptance.  I get asked quite often about the different types of editing, so I asked two of my best editors to write about them. Today, Melissa Anne Wuske, an editor who works with me at and who also edited my book, How to Blog a Book, while she was a developmental editor  (sometimes called developmental editor) at Writer’s Digest Books, gives you her perspective on developmental editing. NA

The writing process creates a new home for your ideas. Like moving into a new home, it’s a process with several parts. (I’ve recently moved, so be gracious as I expand—and maybe even stretch—this metaphor.)

Drafting is hauling the boxes from the truck, up the stairs, and into your new home. You try your hardest to put them where they belong, but the “oh, just set it down somewhere and we’ll move it later” logic prevails sooner or later. At the end of the process, you have a draft: a beautiful, messy, all-my-ideas-in-one-document draft.

Line editing is making your new home fit for company. It’s hanging the pictures, arranging the knickknacks, perfecting the distance between the dining room table and the bookshelf—even organizing the closets and cleaning up any mess you make along the way. At the end of the process, you have a piece you’re confident inviting others to read; it’s finished, and you don’t feel like you have to explain messy or missing parts—and you’re nearly certain the typos are all gone.

What happens in between is development. It the unpacking boxes and arranging (and rearranging) furniture; it’s installing shelves, and working (however slowly) toward getting everything in just the right spot. Development is small things, like deciding which door the mirror should hang on; big things, like switching which wall the couch sits against; and huge things, like deciding the dining room and the living room should switch places. This is where you realize what’s been lost or broken in the moving process and what additional items you need for your new home; you’re definitely going to make a few Home Depot runs during the development phase.

In a practical sense, development editing is often the longest part of the editing process.

It involves:

  • reevaluating the order of chapters, sections, paragraphs, and sentences.
  • figuring out what information is missing—of all shapes and sizes from sentences and paragraphs to sidebars and chapters.
  • ensuring the content and the way it’s presented are oriented toward the desired style and audience—this will be perfect in the line editing phase. Often in development editing, you decide for sure who your audience is and what stylistic elements your book will have.
  • maintaining consistency on a grand scale of tense, tone, and theme—again this element is fine tuned later.

Many authors do part of this editing on their own. How much outside help you want or need depends on your skill, the type of book, how overwhelmed you are, and how serious you are about the end result. No matter what, an outside perspective can help you get out of your own mind and help you see from a reader’s perspective.

In development editing, the relationship between editor and author is intense and there’s a lot of back and forth. Strong communication is vital. You’ll both ask questions and suggest ideas for edits, and you’ve got to trust each other through the trial and error. As an author, you should trust the experience of your editor, and the editor should trust your knowledge as the author. It can be a stressful process, especially if you’re a new author or you’re particularly close to your work, but there won’t be even a hint of coercion, only open-minded reason. The editor isn’t trying to usurp you as owner of your book and your ideas; they’re a caretaker, an organizer, a sort of interior designer.

An accomplished development editor also will have your publishing future in mind as they edit, making your book easier to market to readers and publishers. They not only know what readers want, but they know the red flags that publishers and agents shy away from. They can help you begin to craft a marketing hook for your book.

Just like unpacking after a move, development editing can be a wearisome process. You’ll likely be plagued with self-conscious second-guessing. You’ll try new ways to organize your content, and some just won’t work. But through it all, your book will take shape. You’ll have brilliant realizations and feel more and more confident in your work. As development nears completion, you should feel an overarching sense that your message is complete and hitting its mark. It starts to feel like home.

About the Author

Melissa Anne Wuske is a freelance writer and editor who has experience at every stage of the writing, editing, and publishing process—but gets downright excited about helping authors reach their highest goals for their work though development editing. You can contact Melissa directly or through Nina Amir at Melissa edited for three and a half years at Writer’s Digest Books and currently writes and edits for Thomas Nelson, Standard Publishing, Kirkus Reviews, ForeWord Reviews, Claims Magazine, independent authors, Ph.D. students, and more. She’s also the communications director for Stop Traffick Fashion where she writes about human trafficking.


  1. […] Is Line Editing? As mentioned in yesterday’s post, no matter how you publish your book, you may need an editor. But do you need a developmental, […]

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