Contents of this page:

1.1: What is developmental editing?
1.2: How do you find a great developmental editor?
1.3: What does a developmental editing workflow look like?
1.4: My developmental editing services and rates

1.1: What is developmental editing?

Developmental editing may be called a few things by other publishing industry professionals:

  • Developmental Editing
  • Content Editing
  • Substantive Editing
  • Structural Editing

The simplest definition is that a developmental editor is primarily concerned with the structure and development of your ideas. They look at your manuscript as a whole, making notes along the way to analyze how the manuscript and ideas are put together. If you think you need a developmental editor, this should be your first editing phase because this is the phase where your narrative will change the most if drastic changes are needed.

In a non-fiction manuscript, I make notes on the subjects and/or timelines whenever I sense a direction shift. Then I come back to these notes later to decide if the author is on topic throughout the entire manuscript or if they are skipping around too much. As I’m reading through the manuscript, I also make notes on how something could be developed further, moved to a more appropriate location in the manuscript, or if a certain area needs more (or less) material. It’s also important to note that a developmental editor should also give you notes on the strength of your structure. As an author, you need to not only know what could be improved upon, but you also need to know what exactly you are doing right.

After I’ve analyzed everything and made all the appropriate notes within the manuscript, I create a developmental plan (depending on the service an author hires me for) that outlines several things:

  • Content Summary. The content summary is a brief re-wording of what I perceive your book to be about. It is typically one paragraph.
  • Diagnostics. This exactly what it sounds like. In a constructive way, I outline the areas I see could use some improving. This is generally limited to one paragraph because later in the plan I will outline precisely the changes I am proposing.
  • Vision Statement. This gets to the heart of your book–the theme, purpose, and how I feel it will affect your targeted audience.
  • Readership Profile. In one paragraph, I summarize the characteristics of an author’s targeted audience, and I also give my own ideas as to what other groups will be attracted to the book.
  • Working Title. If your title needs some work, I will suggest my ideas for a stronger title and give my recommendations on my favorites.
  • Contents. This is a longer summary of the book that’s broken down by each chapter. If there aren’t any chapter titles assigned in the manuscript, I will name the chapters, which are more often than not merely placeholders for you to create your chapter names. I merely offer these as suggestions because I feel like you should have complete control and freedom over all the aspects of your final book. If there needs to be any additional chapters or appendix sections, I will suggest them here.
  • In Sum. The last section merely serves as a reminder that when all is said and done, I want you to remember that this is your book. I stress here how important it is for you to make choices that are meaningful for your audience, goals, and your feelings about your finished book.

1.2: How do you find a great developmental editor?

The best way to accomplish this is to do your research. Find three or more editors who are willing to give you a sample edit along with a quote for their services. Pick the one that works best with your budget and the quality you’ll receive by hiring them. And, when you do your research, be sure to look for editors who specialize in your format or genre. I specialize in working with nonfiction authors, but I also work with cozy mystery authors on the fiction side.

When you’re considering the quote–whether it’s too high or too low–try to find a reasonable balance between quality and price. Finding a developmental editor who will only charge $100 sounds like a steal, but you won’t get top quality with a $100 developmental edit. You want to hire someone who knows their value and charges appropriately.

Top 10 Qualities of a Great Developmental Editor

One: Experience

While there is no one road to building the expertise to become a quality editor, you must be sure that their experience will complement your work and your writing goals.

Two: Portfolio

Check out the work they’ve published. Do you feel like you belong there? It’s important that you feel you can be confident when you finally choose your editor.

Three: Nature of Feedback

When you’re looking for an editor, many editors will give you a free sample edit that will allow you to get a picture of how your relationship as writer and editor will work out. Pay close attention to the kind of feedback they give you so that you can make the best decision.

Four: Schedule

Do they have time to work on your project and get it done in an acceptable time frame? Remember that the deadlines you have with yourself are important too. But if your perfect editor has to adjust your timeline, consider the value of waiting for them. You don’t want to regret settling for the wrong editor!

Five: Contracts

When you sign the contract, does it answer all of your questions? Obviously, you won’t sign a contract while you’re deciding which editor to hire, but ask them to see a sample contract to get an accurate picture of the conditions of the contract.

Six: Personality

If you’ve gone far enough to read a sample edit, it’s likely you’ve gotten at least a basic idea of what their personality is. Can you work with that personality for next month or so? This should heavily inform your final decision.

Seven: Communication

Do they respond to your emails in an acceptable amount of time? How they communicate in the beginning will carry through to the remainder of your relationship together. Your work is important to you, and it should be important to your editor if the relationship is going to work.

Eight: Website

A professional editor should have a website that represents their work, including portfolios, advice, and information about their editing and/or writing services they offer their clients. If you can’t find the information you’re looking for on their website before you contact them, look for an editor who understands the importance of how they represent themselves online.

Nine: Community

How involved are they in their local and global writing community? You need to know that your editor is as invested in the publishing community as you are. Do they have any memberships with any editing associations? While this doesn’t always prove they are the right editor for you, it does give you confidence that they care about their career as an editor.

Ten: Passion

If you’re passionate about your writing, shouldn’t your editor also be passionate about how they can help you support that passion? If they aren’t passionate about their work with you, how do you think that will affect the end result of your work together?

1.3: What does a developmental editing workflow look like?

[Some of this content was originally published in my Medium article I published in 2020.]

Note: nonfiction and fiction developmental editing vary in the things we look for; however, the foundational process is the same. And, yes, we do work with both fiction and nonfiction authors!

Step One: The Sample Edit

When I do a developmental edit for one of my nonfiction authors, it all starts with the introduction to my services they get through the sample edit. When I first get a lead for a developmental edit, I write up a proposal that includes:

  • The cost estimate of the project
  • An introduction to who I am as an author and editor
  • An explanation of what they will receive
  • Deadline for the project
  • How I can help them by performing a developmental edit
  • My honest thoughts about the manuscript and its potential

Sample edits for a potential developmental editing project are completely different—simply because it’s challenging to get a full picture of the entire narrative only through one small look at the author’s manuscript. However, if they can provide me with a basic outline of their manuscript, that helps give me a picture of how they’ve structured their narrative. If they’ve created a book proposal, that also allows me to dive deeper into their target audience, their vision for the book, and how they intend to market it once it’s published.

When the author receives their sample edit back, they’ll also see some suggestions or notes in the margin of their manuscript, and I will have included some extra notes in the proposal to how I feel a developmental edit will improve their narrative—along with how I specifically plan to help them do that.

Step Two: The First Read

Once the author has hired me, and we’ve both signed the contract that outlines our relationship, I start by reading through the manuscript for the first time. I keep four documents open:

  • The full manuscript
  • Author’s nonfiction book proposal
  • Outline of the book
  • A new document with my notes

As I’m reading through the full manuscript, I make notes in the margin, and I’m also making detailed notes in the full document that keep track of every topic in each part, section, and/or chapter of the manuscript. I’ll go back to the other two documents at regular intervals to compare and contrast with how the actual manuscript is written. If anything doesn’t line up, I’ll make notes of that wherever it’s appropriate.

Step Three: The Developmental Plan (Optional)

Not every developmental editor provides one for their clients, but this is something that I think is extremely valuable for the author because of all the information it includes (not all of my clients opt for one, so I don’t always provide them):

  1. An introduction that includes my thoughts on their narrative, how I connected to it, and how I think readers will respond to the book once it’s published. It’s normally two to three paragraphs and reads like a personal yet professionally worded letter to the author.
  2. The Content Summary. This is a lengthy description of the manuscript in its original state. It helps the author by showing them what an outsiders and a professional’s perspective of their narrative is. They will be able to take clues from that if something is represented in a way they didn’t intend. It also helps me as an editor to re-connect with what I’ve read by condensing my notes into a detailed summary.
  3. Diagnostics. In this section, I outline the major issues in the manuscript. I also give them my reason behind suggesting these changes and how it can help improve their manuscript. In the past, I’ve outlined sections that could use more material, ideas for supporting outside references, balancing out the parts of the book with an equal number of chapters, suggestions on length, etc. This part of the plan would obviously be different for each developmental edit.
  4. Strengths Summary. To show the author what they are doing that’s strong in their narrative, I’ll also highlight the particular strengths of their book. I think this also helps show them they are on the right track and instills in them that they are making the right choices about their narrative—as well as their decision to become a successful author. Praising an author in an edit is as important as showing them where they can improve. It also helps create a more positive editor-author relationship.
  5. Vision Statement. While the author may have their own ideas about their own vision statement, this one is not about that. This vision statement is about what I perceive after reading their manuscript. If I see something they don’t, that is a tremendous help to the author in either polishing their manuscript further or framing their narrative and writing goals in a different way that they didn’t originally envision.
  6. Readership Profile. In this section, I talk about the author’s target audience and how I think their book fits in with that audience. I also give more thoughts on what other types of readers will be attracted to the author’s narrative. In the past, it’s shown some of my authors more opportunities for business ideas related to their book and other possibilities that may come down the line after they’ve published their books.
  7. Working Title. If an author needs help generating new titles, I’ll list some of my suggestions for creative and appropriate titles for their book. However, if they already have a strong or cemented title, I’ll give my thoughts on their already chosen title and subtitle for their books.
  8. Contents. This is a lengthy and more-detailed section that expands upon the Content Summary. If any adjustments need to be made with the structure of their book, I’ll detail those notes in this section. I also give them some feedback on the strengths of each part of the manuscript there. If I’ve suggested additional chapters or sections at the back of the book, I’ll highlight them in yellow to signal to them that these are merely suggestions on how they can provide more value to their readers.
  9. In Sum. This is a conclusion section of the developmental plan that sums up how I feel my suggested changes can help improve their narrative. It also serves to remind them that they are under no obligation to accept all of my changes. I think this section is important because it gives the power back to the author and tells him or her that at the end of the day, this book belongs to them, and they need to follow their instincts as to what choices will work best for their manuscript.

Step Four: Video Consultation (Optional)

Once I’ve returned their manuscript and the developmental plan to the author, I schedule a series of video calls that allow the author to work through all the changes I’ve suggested, if they’ve purchased an editing package that includes this consultation. It’s really a collaboration session for both the author and myself to understand exactly what the author’s next steps in the revision process are. These sessions tend to last between thirty minutes to an hour, and I normally include a certain number of hours within my original quote for certain types of edits. Any additional sessions they need can be billed after the project is finished.

Step Five: It’s in the Author’s Hands Now

Because a developmental edit works with the overall structure of the manuscript, changes after this editing phase can take at least one to two months, on average. It all depends on how quickly the author works or if they have a set deadline they’d like to meet. Normally, whenever I do a developmental edit, I’m also doing the full package, which would include later passes for line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. So, in those cases, I’m waiting for the author to complete their revisions so the next editing phase can begin.

However, if I’m only doing a developmental edit, the process stops there unless the author has any further questions about what they need to do. They may send the manuscript to me for a final review so that I can see what they did with my suggestions, and I’m always happy to give that second look at what they’ve done.

Developmental editing is an intense and creative process, and for that reason, it is one of the most expensive editing services out there. But if you need some guidance on how to better structure your narrative before you do any further editing, it is well worth the investment. And that’s how I view editing: an investment in your future success as an author.

1.4: My developmental editing services and rates

Every project is completely unique, so it’s hard to give one straight for every project. However, you can use the calculator below to get an estimate of what your editing fees might be. Please keep in mind that this calculator errs on the high side. So, my actual quote might be less.

How much does developmental editing cost?
Move the word count slider to get an approximate quote.

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