Updated: Aug 5, 2022
Hey guys! Today I wanted to talk about what a developmental edit is and why you should get one. A lot of people (including most of my friends and family) have no idea what I actually do. This post is to give a bit of insight into why getting a developmental edit is important and how it works.
Different types of Edits
There are different kinds of edits to assess different parts of a novel. There are:
Developmental editing should be the first step in your editing journey. This edit assesses the big picture. I'll get into more specifics later in this post, but this edit addresses the big stuff. Line edits typically come next. Line edits assess each word in the manuscript for tone, flow, and narrative flow. It's more about checking for style rather than correctness. Copy editing focuses on correctness. It addresses glaring typos and mechanical issues. Proofreaders make smaller changes to the text. They also review all writing on the book including the acknowledgments and synopsis on the back. If you want to read more about copy editors and proofreaders, check out the links above.
What is a Developmental Edit?
So, you've finished your manuscript, self-edited, maybe gotten a beta read or two, now what? A great place to start is a developmental edit. When you're writing your first draft, it's bound to have a lot missing. That's 100% okay. No first draft is perfect and that's what a developmental edit is for. When you're writing, you're letting the words flow and your characters run wild. That's what creates an interesting narrative and allows the creative juices to flow. Even though that's an important step, it usually produces a first draft riddled with inconsistent plot holes and one side character with 5 different names. In a developmental edit, the editor takes care of all these things by ensuring the narrative makes sense and the characters are compelling, among other things. They assess general strengths and weaknesses, tone, pacing, worldbuilding, and structure.
Another big job of a developmental editor is fact-checking. There is a line between fictional and unbelievable, and an author needs to be careful. It's important for the fiction to feel real. For example, if your story is set in Maine, you can't talk about your character traveling down Route 66 to get to work. Developmental editors fact-check things like that to be sure there are believable truths that make the story feel real, no matter how fictional it is.
The last major job of a developmental editor is to assess the story based on reader expectations. It's important for an editor to be up on the trends in the market and be aware of what readers want. That's why most developmental editors work within certain genre constraints. If it's a standalone rom-com, readers will expect funny twists and turns, some type of very quirky side character, and a happy ending. These things are important for readers, and that's who you're marketing to. Ensuring your book meets those standards is a really important part of the edit.
On top of addressing these issues, developmental editors provide possible solutions to all of these problems. For example, maybe in a work-rival romance, there isn't enough build-up to the relationship. The sparks just aren't flying, and by the end, the reader isn't convinced the couple should end up together. An editor might suggest adding a few more dating scenes that really amp up the passion, or add to the ones that are already there to ensure the reader is rooting for the couple. Maybe the issue actually stems from a stunted character arc of one of the main characters, and an editor would suggest adding some moments where you see their personality really shine through. An editor would go deeper into detail in their letter, but these are just some surface-level examples of ways editors work to fix certain problems in the manuscript to really bring the story together.
Developmental edits typically come with a letter overviewing major problems in the manuscript as well as notes in the manuscript assessing more specific problems. They will also typically offer follow-up communication to help work through some of their comments and ideas for fixes. This can also happen in multiple rounds. Most of the time, when you change one area of the manuscript, another has to be changed now to match that, so multiple drafts are common. Most editors will have specifics on how they do edits and how many drafts they do, as well as information on how they conduct follow-up communication.
Why Should You Get a Developmental Edit First?
Developmental edits are about the big picture, things tend to get moved and changed frequently. Sometimes entire chapters need to be moved, reworked, or cut completely. Because of this, getting another edit first wouldn't make much sense. If you pay to do a line edit to perfect your language flow and then have to re-write half the manuscript, the line edit would have been for nothing. And most likely have to be done again.
I hope this short guide to developmental editing helps! It's an important step in the process of getting your book published. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below and be sure to follow this blog for weekly bookish posts and publishing tips!