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  • Kevin Breen

What Authors Can Expect From a Developmental Edit

Updated: Sep 16

Deciding when to enlist an editor’s help can be a tough call. Many authors must determine when feedback will be most impactful, especially when they are paying for professional support. This article will demystify the developmental editing process by describing what developmental editors (DEs) focus on, when authors can benefit from a developmental edit, and what outcomes they should expect.

What is the focus of a developmental edit?

Developmental edits focus on the “bones” of a manuscript, or the essential and foundation elements of storytelling. That means developmental editors are attentive to things like narrative arcs, long lines of tension, character development, tone, pacing, and structure. A developmental editor may consider whether the manuscript’s narrative approach—like first-person or third-person omniscient—aids or hinders the overall story. They can identify places where the manuscript’s pace accelerates too quickly and skims over important scenes. They may also point out underdeveloped characters, or even minor characters who get more “airtime” than they should. Ultimately, developmental editing encourages consistency, depth of storytelling, and often results in extensive rewriting.

When do authors benefit most from developmental editing?

Because developmental edits often result in extensive rewriting and revision, it is best to go through a developmental edit before more granular editing, such as line editing or copyediting. A developmental edit is usually conducted at the completion of a manuscript, though “completion” means different things to different authors. Some authors may want professional feedback right after clicking “save” on their first full, book-length draft. Many writers will revise their book-length manuscript first, then seek out a developmental edit once they’ve taken it as far as they can. Still other authors have a network of beta readers—from their writing group, book club, or graduate program—who are willing to read and provide suggestions before a DE gets involved. No matter which kind of writer you are, it is important to advance your draft—in quality and thought—as far as possible. That way, you aren’t paying for suggestions you could’ve simply identified during a careful re-read.

What should authors expect from a developmental edit?

Most often, developmental editors provide authors with an editorial letter once they’ve completed the developmental edit. Editorial letters at this stage often identify the strengths of the manuscript, as well as habitual issues within the writing. DEs will also propose remedies to these issues. For example, if a developmental editor identifies a novel’s minor plot line that seems purely anecdotal, they may suggest ways to increase its relevance, or encourage the author to cut it altogether. For a memoir, DEs might point out places where the narrative lags, then suggest ways to remedy that.

Authors can expect the editorial letter to be ambitious, but also realistic and achievable. A murder-mystery author may not aspire to write like Shakespeare; their DE, then should not encourage them to rewrite their manuscript in iambic pentameter. An editorial letter’s suggestions should correspond to the author’s goals for their project. While this stage can result in a long to-do list, editorial letters should ultimately leave the author feeling heartened and excited about the prospect of revising.

Sometimes DEs will also include line comments as a means of pointing out developmental issues within the manuscript. But even if DEs do not offer line comments, editorial letters should be specific and include examples; that way, the author is clear on the issue being identified as well as the proposed remedy for it.

No matter your project—be it a genre novel, a collection of essays, or a work of literary fiction—developmental editors can help you see the bigger picture. It can be hard to see the proverbial forest through the trees after months and years of writing (and rewriting). Your developmental editor, then, can help clarify what’s most important to your book, and suggest deft strategies for realizing your literary goals as you head into revision.


If you think your book might be ready for a developmental edit, then please contact our team at editor@latahbooks.com and share a bit about your project. Latah Books is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to helping authors publish meaningful, well-crafted books.

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