Developmental editing is different from proofreading, copy editing and content editing
In another post, I wrote about proofreading and editing—both copy editing and content editing, but I did not write about developmental editing. Every memoir, during its preparation stage, needs to have the three first functions—proofing, copy editing and content editing—filled by an appropriate professional. No book ought to go out into the world without having these three tasks addressed seriously.
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Developmental editing is somewhat different in that it may or may not be necessary.
What is developmental editing?
Developmental editing has to do, as the name implies, with developing a manuscript to its full potential. 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.) 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.
- writing your memoir by ghostwriting it for you. S/he can ghostwrite parts or the whole.
What is the difference between content editing and developmental editing?
Here is a brief comparison of the content editor and the developmental editor functions.
- 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. Developmental editing will make suggestions about how to round them out. 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 usually 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. In that sense, a developmental editor works with you as would a coach.
When do you hire for developmental editing?
At some point, perhaps many different writers can benefit from 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.
- 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 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 for an excellent proofreader for your memoir. That she has never written a book is not essential. 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 proof reader does this, s/he is working at the copy editor level.
- Content editors need to know how to do proofreading and copy editing, and they often do these tasks but they do them as 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 how to create 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.
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 will do significant rewriting of your text, and you need to have a sense that s/he can write well and write in your voice. So, when you hire, look for someone who has written books. The developmental editor (and here we go again with fluid, permeable boundaries) will even work as your ghostwriter. 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.
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Has this post helped you to understand what a developmental editor is? Please leave a comment below.