What Does Developmental Editing Involve?

In traditional realms, a developmental editor is the ‘big picture’ professional to help with your book and its structure. The pay-off of their work is better connection to an audience, improved and complete structure, and sticking to the agreed theme. Here is a typical editor’s process for this editing work:

The editor will assess the subject or time continuity and see if it is jumping around. She will make notes on how something could be developed further, perhaps parts that can be moved to a better location in the manuscript, or if a certain area needs more material. 

A developmental editor may also give you notes on the strength of your structure. It’s empowering to find out exactly what you are doing right, as well as wrong. 

After note-taking stage, the editor may create a developmental plan that outlines:

  • Content Summary. The content summary is a brief re-wording of what we perceive your book to be about. One paragraph.
  • Problem Summary. In a constructive way, the editor outlines the areas she feels could use some improving. This is generally short at this stage.
  • Vision Statement. An outline of the theme, purpose, and how the editor feels it will be received by your target audience.
  • Reader Profile. If author has not done this, the editor will summarise the key characteristics of an author’s target audience, plus give her own ideas for which other groups may be attracted to the book.
  • Working Title. If your title/subtitle needs some work, the editor will suggest ideas for a stronger title and give recommendations for you to consider.
  • Contents. This is a longer summary of the book that’s broken down by each chapter. If there aren’t any chapter titles assigned in the manuscript, the editor will suggest names for the chapters, which are merely placeholders for you to create your chapter names. They might reflect a sort of parallel nature. You have the final say over all the aspects of your book. If there needs to be any additional chapters or appendix sections, they go in here.
  • Summary. The editor might then summarise the most important choices that are meaningful for your audience, goals of writing your book, and your feelings about your finished book.

You will usually have a phone call or meeting to discuss any questions or concerns the author might have about this developmental plan. 

Depending on the contract of work (which might include further reviews), and once you are satisfied you know what to do with the manuscript, the developmental work phase is then complete.

You will work on making any development changes that makes sense to you.

Typical Dev/Comprehensive Editing Charges

Some typical charges for full developmental work on a non-fiction book (not including copy editing) follow – though it varies from place to place.

Around 4 cents per word (Australian), roughly:

$750 – $1,200 for 25,000 words (cost depends on experience)

$1,550 – $2,000 for 50,000 words

$2,700 – $3,000 for 75,000 words

$3,600 – $4,000 for 100,000 words

There is the timeline to consider as well, a shorter timeline (jumping the queue) may necessitate a slightly higher fee.

Hire an editor by getting a feel of their writing and then ask for a test edit. This test edit helps you to realise what kind of suggestions they will make, and if that’s what you need. It might be paid and refunded later, if chosen, or free. An editor who also writes or shepherds books knows more of the publishing process than one just out of editing school, so that is something to consider as well.

Editing Budget

The editing is important, though. Some editors offer a nice depth of line editing, which includes some rearrangement of sentence structure. Australian-trained editors often call this copy editing, but whatever they call it, just ensure it is the level your particular manuscript needs.

Comprehensive editing (substantive editing) would include advice on order of chapters and lengths of sentences and paragraphs; use of references; whether to include an index and bibliography/references section. This could cost these types of prices:

Rough Budget

Comprehensive edit of non-fiction book (two rounds) – 30,000 words:
$1,000 – $1,500

Copy edit of non-fiction book (one round/check of your changes) – $900 – $1,050

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