Do I Need Developmental Editing?

Do I Need Developmental Editing?

Given that I edit for a living, you might expect my answer to the question “Do I need developmental editing?” to always be “Yes.” But I’ve had clients who didn’t need it, and I’ve advised others that it probably isn’t the best use of their time and money. All manuscripts benefit from developmental editing. But some of them benefit more than others. In this article I’ll run through a few questions I ask when determining whether to recommend developmental editing.

How Far Along is the Project?

Developmental editing typically provides the most benefit late in the life of a novel. If you’ve just finished your first draft, it’s probably too soon for you to contact an editor. Instead, I recommend you go back through the manuscript yourself at least once. Chances are you’ll spot a lot of problems, and be able to fix them, on your own. Once that’s done, find three or more trusted beta readers to go over your manuscript and tell you their thoughts. Then go back and revise again. Once you’ve made the manuscript as good as you can possibly make it? Once you don’t see any problems or can’t fix the ones you see? That’s the time to contact a developmental editor.

How Good Are Your Story Instincts?

Some writers have preternatural talent when it comes to story but weakness at the line level. I’ve come across projects with nearly perfect structure, compelling characters, glorious settings, fascinating themes, and borderline incomprehensible prose. Stories like that still benefit from developmental editing. But if you’re choosing between a developmental edit to take you from 95 to 100 (on a 100-point scale of “How close is this story to its ultimate potential?”) and a line edit to take you from 20 to 85, you should pick the line edit. This case is rare—it’s only happened a handful of times in the more than 100 novels I’ve edited—but it’s still important to keep in mind.

Will You Trust the Feedback?

The best developmental editing in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t use it. Many writers, after being kicked around by critique partners, agents and editors, college professors, and friends and family, develop serious resistance to letting anyone else influence their story. Their novels would still benefit from developmental editing. They as writers would certainly benefit from seeing good feedback. But if you’re truly committed to going it alone and seeing what happens, then developmental editing isn’t for you.

Next we’ll talk about Evaluating Genre. Or you can return to our developmental editing resources.

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