How to Tell if Your Book Needs Developmental Editing

Posted by Kristen Hamilton on April 20, 2019 at 11:10 PM

As a fiction book editor for self-publishing authors, I'm constantly interacting with authors who are brand new to the world of book editing and publishing. And while I'm always doing free sample edits to help determine what type of editing your manuscript needs, it's not always easy to diagnose a need for developmental editing.

Developmental editing looks at the book as a whole and focuses on improving character development, overall story structure (including fixing loose ends), pacing, perspective, narrative style, and your story’s organization. During the developmental editing process, I add material (enough, but not so much as to compromise your writing) to fill in the holes as necessary, and delete material (this varies from sentences to paragraphs to large chunks of text, depending on the content and whether that material is relevant to the overall story). While other editing services (line editing and proofreading) will get you a beautifully written book, only developmental editing will get you a properly developed storyline—which will appeal to your readers.

Developmental editing focuses on:

    • Momentum and pacing
    • Plot consistency
    • Overall structure/structural choices
    • Story organization
    • Tying up loose ends
    • Tone and voice
    • Tense issues
    • Point of view and narrative perspective
    • “Showing” versus “telling”
    • Deleting superfluous material
    • Adding material where necessary (setting description, character development, dialogue)

Most of developmental editing focuses on these big-picture issues, which aren’t always visible in a small 1,000-word sample edit. Therefore, to diagnose a need for a developmental edit, I ask authors the following questions:

    • Are you happy with your book's level of character development? Are your book's characters fully developed and feel like real people?

    • Does your book's overall plot start early in the book, and is clear all the way through? Do you have any concerns with your book's plot development?

    • Are there any slow or boring chapters in your book?

    • Does your book's overall message come across clearly?

If you have the interest and funds to pursue a developmental edit (or, to save some money, a manuscript critique—as long as you’re willing to do some hands-on work to offset the cost), it absolutely wouldn’t hurt to include. And, besides, every pass over the manuscript is an improvement.

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Book editor Kristen Hamilton is the owner and sole employee of

Kristen Corrects, Inc., where she provides manuscript editing

services for traditionally and self-publishing authors. Several

authors whose books she has edited have won awards and have

topped Amazon's best sellers lists.

Reading is Kristen's passion, so when the workday is over, she

can usually be found curled up with a good book alongside her

four cats. She loves watching cat videos and scary movies,

eating pizza, teaching herself French, and traveling, and she is

likely planning her next vacation. She lives outside of Boise, ID.

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