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what is developmental editing

What Is Developmental Editing and Why You Need It for Your Self-Published Memoir

What is developmental editing and do you need it? If the big New York publishing houses NEVER publish a manuscript without extensive editing, why would you as a self-publisher?

A professional memoir editor can quickly and effectively help you tweak your lifestory so that you get to say more clearly and dynamically what you have been trying to say. You can’t write your best memoir without developmental editing—it’s game-changing.

Editors come in many stripes: some are copy editors, others are content editors while still another kind is a developmental editor.

In this post, I want to focus on developmental editing and how it will help you write a memoir you can be proud to send into the world.

What is developmental editing?

Developmental editing contributes, as the name implies, to developing a manuscript to its full potential.

We writers get attached to our text and believe it to say what we hope it is saying. A memoir editor can see the difference between hope and realization and help you bridge the difference. A developmental editor will not shy away from pitching in and helping you to create more and better text.

You can hire a developmental editor to help you with:

  • articulating your project and planning how it will be executed. (This function is also called coaching. The boundaries are permeable.) A developmental editor may work with you in this coaching function on only a section of the memoir or chapter after chapter until the entire book has been written—or rewritten. Unlike a copy or content editor (see below), a developmental editor might work with you through the whole writing process — if that is what you want.
  • re-writing your memoir by ghostwriting parts of it for you. This is different from pure ghostwriting because the developmental editor is working with written text — your text.

What is the difference between content editing and developmental editing?

Here is a brief comparison of the content editor and the developmental editor functions. Remember that the distinctions are clearly distinct in this post but not always so when you are actually working with an editor.

  • Content editing looks at whether or not your content is clear and coherent, concise and complete — in short whether the content is well presented and stylistically polished and ready to go out into the world. This is a task that is undertaken as your manuscript reaches its end-stage. Developmental editing, however, often works best at an earlier stage. Developmental editing comes on the scene when you have written yourself out and sense deeply that the manuscript is not yet what it needs to be.
  • Content editing looks at your characters to see if they are consistently and dramatically portrayed and tells you if there’s a problem. Developmental editing will make suggestions about how to correct problems. As mentioned above, a developmental editor may even take on some of the tasks of a ghostwriter and help you to write text to portray the characters that are giving you trouble. Content editors do not do this.
  • Content editing looks at your story and aligns it chronologically while developmental editing might reveal where something is missing and work with you to flesh out the missing material. Again, in that sense, a developmental editor works with you as would a coach.

When do you hire for developmental editing?

At some point, many writers ought to be working with a development editor.

  • A newbie who is not sure how to write and who wants his/her ideas out in the world perhaps more than s/he wants to learn to write may use a developmental editor to take a rudimentary text and flesh it out, round it out. Perhaps the developmental editor is knowledgeable with the material or s/he interviews the memoirist / writer-expert to gather the necessary material and uses his/her skills to create a text that the reader will enjoy reading. This service overlaps with ghostwriting.
  • An experienced writer may have come to a point of burnout and require someone to take over parts of the manuscript. Or, the writer may have grown too involved with the manuscript and can no longer see what it needs.

What a developmental editor is not

To answer this question, let’s review the several functions that you can (and perhaps ought to) hire as you write your memoir and ready it for self-publication.

  • Proofreaders need to be knowledgeable about grammar, and punctuation: they do not need to be writers. Your sister-in-law, the high-school English teacher, might make an excellent proofreader for your memoir. That she has never written a book is not important. What is important is that she knows her periods and commas.
  • Copy editors need to have a strong sense of writing at the sentence and paragraph level. They do proofreading work and more. They actually read the text to find errors. Do you have introductory phrases that wrongly modify the subject (“As a child, my mother saw to it that I went to school.” Uh? How old was your mother when she had you?) or relative phrases that are misplaced (“I threw the hat over the fence that I was wearing.” Uh? Was that when you were part of the Easter parade?) Copy editors are reading at this level. If your proofreader does this, s/he is working at the copy editor level. Copy editors do not mess around with meaning. In many publishing companies, copy editing and proofreading are considered identical.
  • Content editors need to know how to do proofreading and copy editing, and they often do these tasks but they do them asides. It is not what they are focused on. What they are focused on is more sophisticated elements such as pacing and story arcs and evaluating dialog. They will critique these and many other elements in your manuscript. Sometimes the content editor will slip into developmental editing when s/he offers rewriting suggestions but what distinguishes the two editors is that the content editor has not come to your manuscript to grow it with/for you. S/he is looking to tweak it, not create it. (In comparing content and developmental editors, we are often dealing with fluid, permeable boundaries — going from one to the other.)
  • Ghostwriters start with no text and via interviews develop a book. Developmental editors usually start with written text that needs to be developed. In practice, however, a developmental editor can easily be hired to serve as a ghostwriter. The boundaries are permeable.

How is a good developmental editor different from other writing professionals?

  • The developmental editor, of the four editing professionals mentioned in this post, needs not only solid English major credentials but also has to be skilled at writing. The developmental editor (and here we go again with fluid, permeable boundaries) will even work at times as your ghostwriter — if you request it. The developmental editor may contribute to significant rewriting of your text, and so you need to ascertain that s/he can write well and write in your voice. So, when you hire, look for someone who has written books. What you call this writing professional is not as important as getting the service you need to get your manuscript ready to go out into the world.

We hope to have answered “what is developmental editing?” If you still have questions, give us a call between 9 AM / ET and 5 PM / ET at 207-353-5454.

Good luck with your writing and remember to write a bit on your memoir today.

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