Developmental Editing

Developmental editing (sometimes called content editing) is editing that takes into account the entire book. Think of it in terms of "editing the big picture by paying attention to the minute details."

For example, in fiction, characters and plot are the two main areas where developmental editing will have the most impact. With regard to characters, developmental editing looks at their integrity ("would this character do this?"), their dialog (incredibly important!), and their actions and reactions, to name just a few aspects. With regard to plot, developmental editing takes a look at the flow, the essential story (what the plot is really about), plot twists, pace, suspense (every story has suspense on some level--or should--or what's the point of reading it?), and other aspects.

When it comes to nonfiction, developmental editing mostly examines the theme, writing style, and pace of the book. Does the book clearly convey the author's message? Has the author made his point/what is the author trying to say? How appropriate is the author's writing style? Does it need lightening or a more businesslike style? Developmental editing also looks at the book's pace: how much "time" does an author need to spend on a given topic?

Is developmental editing something you can do yourself? In some respects, yes, but only if you know what to look for. However, you can't have an objective opinion of your own writing, because you're too close to it. Everyone needs an editor.

Another aspect to keep in mind is that not every editor is a content editor. There are several different kinds of editors. There are content editors, copy editors, and proofreaders.

Content editors are concerned with the big picture. They're looking at how characters and plot intertwine, they look at the theme of the book, the level of suspense and tension, the writing, dialogue, etc. This type of editing takes a very creative and artistic mind, an ability to look past the book's shortcomings, to see the book not only as it is, but how it can be. If they need to rewrite portions of scenes they must be able to capture the writer's voice so the scene appears seamless.
Copy editors perform a similar function to proofreaders. Usually they don't look at the big picture but are more concerned that the style, grammar, punction, spelling, etc., are all correct and consistent. When most people outside of the publishing or writing world think about editors, they think of this function.
Proofreaders are a very important part of book editing, providing the final check of a book before it goes to press. However, since they are merely checking for typos, widows and orphans, etc., they need to have sharp eyes to catch the tiny errors that inevitably slipped past the copy editors or layout people.

If your publisher is not set up to do developmental/content editing (and most do not have a developmental editor on staff), please have them contact me. If you're still in the process of sending out your book in this flooded market, it needs to be as strong as possible before it even reaches a publisher.

Contact Information

If you have any questions or comments or would like further information, please feel free to contact me by e-mail at: bookdr*
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This website copyright Mark Anderson 1999-2003.