Everything You Need to Know About Developmental Editors

I’m so very excited to write this post.

I’m a developmental editor myself, and I absolutely love it! I actually did developmental work for friends for a long time without realizing it, and I’m lucky enough to be able to start freelancing this year (my services page will be up February 5th!).

That aside, I’ve noticed that a lot of writers don’t know exactly what developmental editors do, if they’re necessary, or what they really offer. I believe that every writer could benefit from a structural editor, and that’s why I decided to make this post. It’s information for everyone – whether you’re self-published or going the traditional route.

(I’ve also noticed some confusion between line editors and copyeditors, which is also discussed briefly in this post).


WHAT IS A DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR?


A manuscript can change significantly after a round of developmental editing (also called structural or substantive editing). A developmental editor gives you an in-depth review of your manuscript that focuses on “big picture” edits rather than grammatical correctness. This includes (but is definitely not limited to) characterization, arcs, story structure, world building, how themes are executed, and relationships.

Many DE’s also do line editing. Line editing is not copyediting. Though some of their skills overlap, copyediting reads for clarity and grammatical accuracy. Line editing focuses on how you communicate your story on a paragraph level – are you conveying a precise meaning, or are your paragraphs just filling space? Is your dialogue flowing well? Are they adding to the atmosphere, tone, or emotion? Among other things.

I believe that everyone could use a good DE, whether you’re self-published or going the traditional way.

It’s important to remember that developmental editors are here to develop your style, not impose their own. Any good editor will work with you instead of against you, and keep your goals and creative voice in mind when giving an edit.

Usually before editing or after a first pass editing you’ll have a conversation with you editor about where you want to go, and what you want to convey in your story. That way they can help you achieve your goals. This can be a specific tone that you want, or maybe there’s a certain subplot you’re struggling with.

Very Important: never get a copyedits or line edits before the developmental edit. Typically you write your novel, revise it to your liking, then send it to a developmental editor to give you professional feedback to help. And if you’re getting traditionally published, you’ll never want to get a copyeditor, but might benefit from a developmental or line editor.


HOW DO I CHOOSE A DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR?


Finding editors can sometimes take a little extra digging, but it’s always worth it. Word-of-mouth is how most editors get their business, so asking around the writing community can be an excellent way to start. Fiverr is also a place to search for affordable editors with positive reviews. Other things to consider:

Genre specific vs. general fiction editors. Some editors specialize in certain genres, and certain categories of lit (adult, young adult, etc). Some accept many different kind of genres. There isn’t necessarily a better option – it’s all about what you want. An editor who specializes in a certain genre might have a better idea of the common themes, tropes, and stories on the market, but an editor who works with different genres might have picked up skills. I specialize in fantasy stories because that’s what I’ve read and kept up with for years. I absolutely love the genre, I know the common tropes, themes, and pitfalls in the fantasy community, and that can translate into my editing.

Adult vs. YA. This kind of goes with the above paragraph, but finding an editor who works with your specific age range is important. There’s a lot of people who think that writing YA and writing adult novels are inherently the same thing, but there are fundamental differences. The market, the themes and tropes, and of course the audience is different. Sure there are similar rules to both – but the intricacies between the two are important. So if you’re writing a YA novel, find an agent who has done work on YA manuscripts in the past.

Price. This seems obvious, but you might have to do some digging to find affordable editors. The well-known ones can be upwards of a thousand dollars, and while I’m positive it’s worth it, many can’t afford that kind of price tag. Like I mentioned at the top of this section, Fiverr is a great place to find an affordable editor. A student editor (*slowly raises my hand* like me) might also have more reasonable price.

Reviews. What have other writers said about this particular editor? Are they from writers who wrote a similar genre to yours? The amount of reviews doesn’t necessarily matter, but the quality of the reviews do.

Finding a safe space. I’m hesitant to add this point, as I’ve seen no one else mentioned this yet. But I know that as a queer individual, I would feel more comfortable with an editor who was also apart of the LGBTQ+ community, or who had worked on LGBTQ+ books in the past. Doing a little bit of a deep dive on the types of books in their portfolio could be beneficial.

Some editors just don’t fit. Like I mentioned before, sometimes you just don’t click. This is why most editors will offer a sample edit on the first 100 pages or so. If you don’t like the direction of the edits, or find yourself dismissing most of them, then maybe this isn’t your editor. And that’s okay!


FAQ


These are some of the most common questions I see. If you have any more, feel free to ask! I’ll add more to this post as I come across them.

Do I need a developmental editor?

Not to completely shoot myself in the foot, but you don’t! Obviously, I love what I do and I love working with authors, but DE is some of the most expensive editing. You often see full manuscript edits run $1000+, which is shame because I truly think everyone could use a good developmental editor.

If you’re a self published author, I would strongly recommend getting a developmental editor. Follow your writing instincts my friend.

Will a developmental editor ruin my style? I see a lot of pushback because writers are worried that if they get an editor, their work will no longer be their work. The truth of the matter is that any good editor – be it a developmental editor, copyeditor, or line editor – will work with your voice instead of against it. The goal is to push you to write the best novel that you can, with your own unique touch. This is by far the most common concern from writers. I get it! You don’t want an editor to force you to give up what in your book makes you, you!
What can I expect from a developmental editor? It varies slightly depending on the editor! Everyone offers different packages. Typically an editorial letter and line edits are some of the main things you get out of it, and many editors offer a follow-up call after you’ve looked over the edits to discuss further.
Advice on working with an editor? Firstly Be open to thinking it over. No one says you have to accept what they said. You’re allowed to decide not to follow the editors critiques or suggestions! It’s still your story, and the editor is there to help you to the best of their ability, but maybe you just don’t click with the advice, and that’s fine. Secondly, discuss your direction. If you want to make a fun, lighthearted rom-com, mention that! It helps the editor push you in that direction, and offer more specific edits to help you achieve your goals. And thirdly, Don’t be afriad to ask questions. About anything! I see so many writers who have questions but don’t want to reach out.

Do you have any additional questions? Feel free to ask!

You can comment below, or you can email me or dm me on my socials.

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