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The Editing Process: Developmental Editing

Updated: Dec 11, 2022

Introduction - The Point of It All

Not all writers have the means or opportunity to hire an editor. So, in response, writers still need to self-edit from time to time. Don’t get me wrong, we editors are highly valuable. So when you can use us, do it. If you want to tackle editing your book by yourself, whether to prepare it for an editor or publishing, this post is for you.

Editing is the process of changing and improving the text. This means that editing involves correcting grammar, punctuation, and spelling. And when going deeper, a careful analysis of character, plot, and setting come into play as well. That’s the developmental edit of it all.

The “self-edit,” as ominous as it sounds, takes a lot of focus and attention to detail. Without being able to be look at your work objectively, you will be unable to make worthwhile improvements.

If you have questions about the content of this post, feel free to reach out to me. I’m always happy to help.

The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer. - Zadie Smith

Prerequisites - Things You Should Know

After writing your book, it’s always best to take a break. The point of the break is to freshen your eyes and hopefully return as the reader and not the writer. The writer clings to things that don’t belong and the reader sees when scenes should be cut, moved, or changed. Editing requires the eyes of a reader, so put yourself in that mode before moving forward on edits. It may take a few weeks or sometimes months— just don’t dawdle either way.

Beta readers help as well. Before you do your “read” of the book, give it to some friends or family members to receive feedback. Try to find people in your circle who will be honest and somewhat blunt when it comes to your story. You’ll want a critical eye to note some of the necessary changes you’ll need to make to your book during the edit rounds.

Your beta readers will likely find all the silly typos, misspellings, and improper punctuation. Use that feedback to perform self-editing on the document. Whether you are presenting the document to an editor or preparing to do developmental editing yourself, a clean document will prevent distractions from difficult or jarring language. You don’t want to lose focus on the big picture when the small picture is difficult to understand. Clean up the document a bit before you begin going over the big stuff.

Your mindset plays a very important role in how well the developmental edit goes. When diving in, inform yourself that developmental editing may require deletion of scenes, changing of dialogue, or shifting story plot points for coherence. Structure, plot, and characters are analyzed at a deeper level here, so be ready to hear feedback on those things from an editor if you have one. There may also be suggestions to change in pacing, mood, or tone. But, have an open mind. The point in all of this is for your book to shine.

Warm-Up - Before You Dive In

Take a deep breath and remember to think about how important developing your story ultimately is. Also, look at this post concerning line editing. You’ll need it for the editorial phase after developmental editing.

Editing almost feels like sculpting or a form of continuing the writing process. - Sydney Pollack

The Developmental Edit

When You Need One

As mentioned above, you’ll need a developmental editor after you’ve finished the book and a few people have given you their opinions on it. Also, this happens after you have done your own edits to clean up the obvious spelling and grammar mistakes.

The infamous “break” is necessary to clear your mind and to help you understand some of the suggestions your developmental editor may make. Or yourself if you’re doing the editing yourself.

Developmental Issues

Developmental editing is quite different from copy and line editing where the editor reads the document, corrects grammar and spelling. Copy and line editors will not assess “developmental” issues. However the editor may halt work and suggest that developmental edit be performed before continuing line or copy editing if glaring problems arise.

Some of the developmental issues you or your editor will look for consist of plot, characters, content, overwriting (too much), underwriting (not enough), dialogue, and so much more. Remember, developmental editing is about the broader picture. You may tell yourself, or your editor may tell you, “Your book is too long” or “Your book is too short.”

Novel length, genre, audience, and a whole lot of publishing norms are also considered during the developmental editing process. Be prepared to research these things or be told by an editor on which direction would best for your novel.

Read & Mark-up

Just like with a line and copy edit, read your manuscript and markup the document with comments, questions, and suggestions regarding certain scenes, plot points, dialogue, etc. An editor will most likely use the comments feature on Word or Google Docs to share their thinking and help steer you in the right direction. If something isn’t working, this is the stage of editing where you make sure that it works.

The Outline Update

It may be helpful to adjust the outline that you’re currently using to reflect some issues in the story that you’ve noticed during your read. Also, it’s possible that you may have strayed from the outline and need to find your back. Share outlines with your editor if you have one. Oftentimes writers will stray away from the outline in an attempt to feel more natural as a writer. However, a well thought out plan should be maintained if possible.

Rewriting and More

Once you or your editor has identified the issues that need correcting, make a plan that works with your thinking and schedule in order to move forward.

Consider creating a written plan of the things you want and need to change and what you believe is the best solution. If you have an editor, he or she will help you devise that plan going forward. Keep track of all your notes.

Rewriting can be daunting, but don’t despair. You’ve got to kill your darlings when it all boils down to it.

When you’re in the editing process, you try different things and you get creative ideas. - Catherine Hardwicke


At the end of the day, developmental editing is a necessary phase in publishing your book. It happens before you or an editor look at the line-by-line issues. Sometimes writers will look for a manuscript evaluation to help identify the issues as well. It all depends on the depth of the story and what details need to be maintained throughout.

With speculative fiction genres (sci-fi, fantasy, and horror), it always helps to find an editor experienced in those genres, like yours truly. And that’s true of all genres and subgenres. If you can’t find or afford an editor, take a look at the resources below and do it yourself.

I’m always happy to help. You can shoot me an email if you have questions about this blog post, or about the editing process in general. Put a comment down below if you have something you want to say. I’m all ears.


Editing Essentials: What Is Developmental Editing? - The Masterclass Staff outline the basics of developmental editing and highlight five key points to hit when in the editing process.

5 Types of Editing: Which One Do I Need Right Now? - The Reedsy Staff compiled a list of each type of editing and when each one, including developmental, should be done.

What Is Developmental Editing? The Writer's Guide to Developmental Editing - Alice Sudlow breaks down developmental editing so that, as a writer, you don't miss any important parts.

What is a Developmental Editor and What Can You Expect? - Katherine Pickett defines a Developmental Editor and what a writer can expect when working with one.

What is Developmental Editing? - In this blog piece James highlights the main point of each type of editing and how developmental editing is different.

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