When It’s Time for A Developmental Editor

Editing comes in several forms, but it starts with the writer. Once they have taken a piece outside their head onto the page, revised, rewritten, cleaned it up, and brought it as far as they can, it’s time to reach out for help.

A Developmental Editor offers a big-picture look at a work in progress. They aim to help writers create the best result by reviewing short stories, articles, essays, and books with fresh eyes and providing honest feedback. Their primary focus is structure, flow, and style, including:

  • Plot holes
  • Characters
  • Voice, tone, and style
  • Dialog
  • Pacing
  • Setting
  • Opening

At any stage in their careers, writers can benefit from a Developmental Editor reviewing their work. Most offer a variety of services, such as first chapters, book coaching, query letters, and sensitivity feedback.

While an editorial letter is standard for giving feedback, some provide a phone or virtual meeting. It’s important to communicate which format is most comfortable and valuable.

How to prepare for a Developmental Editor

  • Remember, they are not the same as Copy Editors. Copy Editors are most effective in the final stage to ensure the writing, including grammar and spelling, is as clean as possible.
  • Do not send a first draft. A Developmental Editor is most effective after work has been proofread and revised. Make it easy for them to see beyond the typos.
  • Shop around for a good fit. Review their website for specialization, such as memoir, romance, literary, or fantasy. Many offer sample edits for a small fee. This allows the Developmental Editor and the writers to see if they’re a good match.
  • Hire them with plenty of time. Don’t wait until the night before something is due. Give them space to read and provide thoughtful feedback. Most Developmental Editors state their timeframe on their website or once they communicate with a client.
  • If a writer knows they will wrap up a polished draft in a few months, they can usually schedule a developmental edit ahead of time.
  • Carefully review their guidelines. For example, if they want the document sent in Word, do not send it as a PDF or a Google Doc.
  • Be prepared for feedback. The role of a Developmental Editor is to point out holes and structural issues. Those comments can be challenging to take in when so much time and energy has gone into creating the work. However, highlighting those issues allows writers to address them before submission or publication.
  • A writer may disagree with a Developmental Editor’s comments. That’s okay. A Developmental Editor is sharing their experience and their insight. It can be incorporated or ignored. It might be that they aren’t seeing the vision or maybe the wrong fit for the writer. The feedback might also take time to process.
  • Let them know the goal for the work so they can offer the most poignant and thoughtful feedback toward reaching that goal.
  • There is no official certification or governing body for developmental editing. Some places offer training and classes, but there is no standardization.

 Like so much of life, finding a Developmental Editor is about fit. It’s a partnership. Take time searching, asking questions, and finding the right match. Happy writing!


About the Writer:

Christy O’Callaghan is a writer and Developmental Editor with an MA in English from SUNY Albany and is the Editor in Chief for Barzakh Literary Magazine. She spent twenty-two years in community organizing and education. Christy is the 2023 Thayer Arts Fellowship finalist for writing. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Great Weather for Media, Splash! with Haunted Waters Press, Flyway Journal, Trolley Journal, Sonder Review, Chestnut Review, and more. For information about her editing services and a complete list of her publications, visit christyflutterby.com.


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