What is a developmental edit and how do I know I’m ready for it?

I think of a developmental edit as the deepest edit. It’s what I do to try and help make the novel that you wrote as close as possible to the novel you meant to write. Sometimes called a content edit or a line edit, the focus of a developmental edit is on plot, characterization, pacing, storytelling, marketability-big picture items.

My goal is to support your strengths and shore up your weaknesses, whether your goal is traditional publication or self publication. When I do a developmental edit, the author gets a number of comments and in-line corrections in the manuscript using Microsoft Word’s Track Changes, a long editorial letter, and a follow up call or two.

Manuscripts that benefit most from a developmental edit are complete but don’t feel fully cooked. The edit may focus on language to some extent, but the heart of a developmental edit is on the story itself.

How strong are the characters? How tight is the pacing? How engaging is the plot? How marketable is the concept? What opportunities are being missed?

These are the questions that drive a good developmental edit. Authors who want a developmental edit know that their work needs something more than corrections on spelling and grammar, although they might not know what exactly the manuscript needs.

How much should I expect to pay?

This will vary from editor to editor. A project rate, rather than an hourly rate, will allow you to predict and control your costs. Anywhere between 2-10 cents per manuscript word can be standard for a developmental edit.

Editors with more experience and skill may charge on the higher end, and project fees may include mentoring, rewriting, or other special services, or these may be available at the editor’s hourly rate. Editors may charge by the page or by the hour.

How long will a developmental edit take?

Each editor’s schedule will vary, and the needs of each manuscript also vary. A reasonable expectation for a novel of 100,000 words would be one to three months, possibly less if your editor has an opening in his or her schedule, and possibly six months or more if your chosen editor has a number of projects scheduled already.

How do I choose the right editor?

This is often best answered by the gut feeling you have about each editor. Of the sample edits you got, which was most useful? Which editor(s) felt like they really understood what you were trying to do? Of the profiles you saw and blog posts you read, did anything stand out as the right person for your work?

If you’re not sure, ask if the editor(s) will edit a few chapters at their regular rate, since it can be hard to decide based on a brief sample edit.

Amelia Beamer
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