Do You Need a Developmental Editor?

I work as a developmental editor. I also do line editing, sometimes also called copy editing. The latter involves cleaning up your grammar and punctuation and strengthening your sentences. However, today I want to talk about the former: developmental editing.

You see, one of my manuscripts currently is being edited by a developmental editor. Yes, even the editor gets her work edited. All writers, even editors, need their work edited. However, many people don’t understand what developmental editors do or why they might need one. By taking a look at what my editor has already done for me and my manuscript, you’ll better understand a developmental editor’s valuable role. (And this way I won’t just be tooting my own horn, although I do for my clients exactly what this woman, Karen Stone, is doing for me.)

A developmental editor’s job involves looking at the big picture of your manuscript. These editors evaluate if an idea is carried through from start to finish, if pieces of a book are missing, if everything is in place, if the writer needs to do anything to strengthen the book as a whole. A development editor will offer writers feedback on how to improve their manuscripts (meaning their books) with additions, reorganizations, cuts, rewrites, more research,  a different voice, etc. A developmental editor also may make these changes to the manuscript.

A good developmental editor also will offer information on how the writer can improve the actual writing, such as by ridding the text of passive sentences, changing how quotation marks are used or eliminating overuse of clauses and exclamation points. (If writers take these last comments to heart and improve the actual writing in the manuscript, the cost of line or copy editing–phase II of the editing process–can be reduced dramatically.)

It’s important to choose a developmental editor who either has experience in your genre, has experience working with a variety of different types of books or who has specialized knowledge that makes him or her particularly suited to edited your book.

I chose Karen to edit my manuscript because she is not only a good editor, she is a life coach, has a masters in social work and designs curriculums for life coaching schools. She hasn’t edited many books, but I know her work; plus, she constitutes my market–my reader. She brings to my project an enormous amount of insight. This particular manuscript needed someone like her as a developmental editor because it provides a curriculum that helps people live their lives more fully. (It is not about writing but about self-improvement.)

A little history on the manuscript: It was created as a year-long program. Once the 12 assignments had been written, I realized I had the makings of a book. So, I didn’t set out to write a book I “accidentally” created a manuscript. I knew it might need a bit of work even though I had edited it twice already.

Karen read the manuscript and immediately suggested it be changed to a 12-week program, not a year-long program. She then rearranged the assignments, which I had made into chapters, so they would be in an order that seemed to have more of a flow. The program involves other assignments in addition to the major ones; she altered these as well to make them more digestible to the reader. She also broke the chapters into sections that corresponded with the new format, asked me to add more information to create more depth to the chapters, changed out the introductions to the chapters so they would correspond with the new chapter order, and interspersed some of the small repeated exercises into the chapters. Plus, she asked me to come up with quotations to add into the chapters so readers could use them in conjunction with exercises.

As you can see, having a developmental editor look at the big picture of my book has changed how it will look and read when it is complete. And that’s a good thing. As a writer, however, I have to be willing to allow my editor to have a fair amount of freedom–I have to to be unattached to my words or to the form of my manuscript. I have to only be attached to creating the best book possible.

As you finish up your manuscript, ask yourself if you need a developmental editor. Your answer should be quick in coming. Yes.

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