What Is Developmental Editing?

Developmental editing focuses on the structure of your work and the quality of its foundation. Here’s some of what you might expect to get out of this form of editing:

  • The organization of complex outlines, timelines, and/or other planning materials
  • Guidance on major stylistic decisions (e.g., perspective, tense, etc.)
  • Advice on which scenes or sections should be expanded, moved, or cut altogether
  • Help “fleshing out” characters so they’re believable, complex, and interesting—and advice on when to cut them
  • Ways to patch up an existing plot hole
  • Structural direction to strengthen story and character arcs

In many ways, developmental editing has more in common with a manuscript analysis than it does with copy editing or proofreading. If you’re especially concerned about how you’re presenting your ideas, you should consider developmental editing. If you’re generally comfortable with your presentation already, choose copy editing or proofreading.

Do I need a developmental editor?

Developmental editing makes a lot of sense for nonfiction—for fiction, less so. Usually.

Most fiction follows one familiar story arc or another and is not terribly difficult to organize. The hardest part about getting from Point A to Point B in most stories is the writing itself.

That’s not to say there aren’t cases where developmental editing makes sense for fiction. If your narrative is especially complex—e.g., requires you to juggle many points of view, go forward or backward frequently in the timeline, or manage a large, difficult world—developmental editing is a good way to take control of the story. Plots that range across several books may also become unwieldy and benefit from structural aid.

Are developmental editing and substantive editing the same thing?

Strictly speaking, substantive editing focuses on structure, while developmental editing focuses on the creation of the story, meaning these are technically two different types of editing. However, many editors—myself included—feel there is considerable overlap in the editorial concepts. From my perspective, the foundation of a story and its structure are too entwined, especially in fiction, to look at them separately.

That said, different editors approach developmental editing differently. Some will work with you when your novel is in its fledgling stage, perhaps before you’ve finished it. A few will even provide scene or chapter ghostwriting—i.e., they literally develop content. Others expect you to have written your work in its entirety (or close to it), but perhaps not to have figured out how to flesh out key concepts or structure them. I consider myself part of the latter group.

What’s the difference between copy editing and developmental editing?

Copy editing and proofreading correct and improve upon the content you’ve written, but often do not address major structural or foundational concerns. Developmental editing is to building a house, while copy editing and proofreading are to washing and painting it.

Also, please note that, though I provide copy editing during the developmental editing process, this type of editing often results in major changes, sometimes whole other drafts, most of which need further editorial attention. When significant structural or stylistic changes are made, it’s best to follow them with another round of editing.

Do you provide ghostwriting?

Not really. I might write and suggest different words, phrases, or sentences, but I do not ghostwrite entire sections.

How much does developmental editing cost?

There are two ways I charge for developmental editing:

  1. If you need developmental editing for an entire manuscript, I charge 3.0 to 3.5 cents per word. Calculated hourly, this is in line with standard editorial rates.
  2. Sometimes you need developmental help on a much smaller scale—for example, during the outlining stage or for a particular section of a book. When this is the case, I am open to charging hourly at $40.00 an hour or charging a smaller flat rate for general notes and advice. Coupled with copy editing, this can be a powerful and more affordable way to approach developmental editing.

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How do I pay for developmental editing?

Most developmental editing work exceeds $200.00, so I require a 50 percent deposit upfront. I send a second invoice for the other 50 percent when I deliver the edited manuscript.

Payments can be made via PayPal, bank transfer, or check.

How long does developmental editing take?

The length of time needed to provide developmental support varies. In general, though, expect it to take as long as a month. With this type of editing, lots of communication may be required, which can slow down the process.