What is a Developmental Edit and Why Do I Need One?

What is a developmental edit?

Whenever I tell someone I’m an editor, nine out of ten times the reaction I get is, “Ugh, grammar.” And when I explain my developmental editing focus, it is quickly followed by a “Huh?”

For those not familiar with the publishing process, the concept of a developmental edit can seem foreign — most people are used to thinking of editing only in the copyediting sense, but that is only one facet of the total process. As a developmental editor, I get to dive into the heart of your novel and help you clarify your vision for readers. Best. Job. Ever.

For a more formal definition, a developmental edit is an in-depth look at all the parts of your story (plot, characters, scenes), both individually and as a whole, to make sure they work together seamlessly to deliver an enjoyable experience to your fans, no matter the genre.

For a less technical, more visual way to explain it, check out the YouTube web series How It Should Have Ended.

If you aren’t familiar, HISHE takes popular movies or TV shows and makes parody videos pointing out the flaws in their endings. It is hilarious and a great example of what developmental editors do.

Take one of my favorite episodes – "How Jurassic World Should Have Ended” (woo, Chris Pratt!). You might recall the reception to this Jurassic Park reboot was overwhelmingly positive, except for one loud complaint – how could you possibly expect the heroine to run from a T-Rex in heels?!

HISHE highlights this and a few other entertaining oversights in their video:

These are the types of comments and questions that developmental editors ask to help you think about the problems that exist and how to fix them.

How does a developmental edit work?

All editors work a bit differently, but the focus of a developmental edit is not to tell you what is right or wrong, but to clarify your vision. You call all the shots. Maybe you did want the heroine to run from a T-Rex in heels (please, no), but you are going to need some logic to back that up.

My job is to make note of anything that might be unclear or unrealistic and help you to consider different options that could take your novel to the next level. In addition to in-manuscript comments, you will also receive an edit letter explaining those ideas in more detail, as well as a follow up call to discuss.

Editors (for the most part) are not authors, but we do still write with an audience in mind – you! And it is just as daunting to make sure we’re clear in our meanings, so there are several points of contact built into the process to confirm that you have a strong understanding of the edits and a clear idea of how you want to move forward with revisions.

 

Why do I need one?

Developmental edits can be expensive and you must copyedit the book as well. Do you really need both? After all, you know this story backwards and forwards and your betas loved it. You should be good, right?

No.

As an author, you have labored over your story of love for months, years, possibly even decades. Because of this, you can’t edit yourself. You are too close. That would be like telling you to evaluate one of your children. Sure, you might be able to pick out some legitimate flaws, but you love them and they are obviously better than Johnny next door because of X, Y, and Z…

A developmental edit is vital because it is an in-depth evaluation by an impartial third party.

And, no, beta readers don’t count. Beta readers are fabulous and you should invest in a core group that you trust. They can have a great eye for developmental edits, but beta readers suffer from the same issue as authors – they are too close. The majority of the time, beta readers sign up because they adore your writing and your stories. And they are the most likely candidate to notice that Joe had blue eyes in book one, but now suddenly has brown eyes in book four – seriously, betas are the best -- but they love your stuff. They are going to have a hard time telling you if your book needs work, if your characters aren’t making sense, or if you need a major overhaul. Or they might not see it at all because they loved it anyway.

 

Find someone with an experienced background in developmental editing. If you aren’t sure where to start, check out the copyright page of some of your favorite independent authors. There are a variety of options out there for every genre, budget, and personality. Ask them to do a free edit sample, make sure you have the same vision for your book, and dive in.

You’ll love the results and so will your readers.

How does a developmental edit work?

 

All editors work a bit differently, but I work my way through developmental edits by adding comments throughout the manuscript asking the tough questions. The goal is not to tell you what is right or wrong, but to clarify your vision. You call all the shots. Maybe you did want the heroine to run from a T-Rex in heels (please, no), but you are going to need some logic to back that up.

 

My job is to help you think about different possibilities, make note of anything that might be unclear or unrealistic, and help you to consider different options that could take your novel to the next level.

 

In addition to in-manuscript comments, you will also receive an edit letter explaining those ideas a bit further, as well as a follow up call to discuss. Editors, for the most part, aren’t authors but we do still write with an audience in mind – you! And it is just as daunting to make sure we’re clear in our meanings, so there are several points of contact built in to confirm that you have a strong understanding of the edits and a clear idea of how you want to move forward with revisions.

 

Why do I need one?

 

Developmental edits are expensive and you must copyedit the book as well. Do you really need both? After all, you know this story backwards and forwards and your betas loved it. You should be good, right?

 

No.

 

As an author, you have labored over your story of love for months, years, possibly even decades. Because of this, you can’t edit yourself. You are too close. That would be like telling you to evaluate one of your children. Sure, you might be able to pick out some legitimate flaws, but you love them and they are obviously better than Johnny next door because of X, Y, and Z…

 

A developmental edit is vital because it is an in-depth evaluation by an impartial third party.

 

And, no, beta readers don’t count. Beta readers are fabulous and you should invest in a core group that you trust. They can have a great eye for developmental edits, but beta readers suffer from the same issue as authors – they are too close. The majority of the time, beta readers sign up because the adore your writing and your stories. And they are the most likely candidate to notice that Joe had blue eyes in book one, but now suddenly has brown eyes in book four – seriously, betas are the best -- but they love your stuff. They are going to have a hard time telling you if your book needs work, if your characters aren’t working, or if you need a major overhaul. Or they might not see it at all because they loved it anyway.

 

Find someone with an experienced background in developmental editing. If you aren’t sure where to start, check out the copyright page of some of your favorite independent authors. There are a variety of options out there for every genre, budget, and personality. Ask them to do a free edit sample, make sure you have the same vision for your book, and dive in.

 

You won’t regret the results and neither will your readers.

Have publishing questions? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment or email me at susan@susanbarnesediting.com

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