When Do You Hire a Developmental Editor?

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

If you’ve read my previous three posts, you’ve learned the types of book editing and what kind of book editing you may need. Most of my nonfiction book editing and coaching clients retain me for developmental editing, which I described here.

Perhaps you’ve realized you need a developmental editor to help you start, finish, or improve your book. When do you hire her (me)?

When to Hire a Developmental Editor (a.k.a. Content Editor)

Some writers engage an editor after drafting a complete manuscript. In many cases, the author may sense or know that their work needs significant retooling–a stronger outline or a different structure, for example, or the insertion of new chapters.

Others are at the beginning. They have a specific deadline and like to retain a developmental editor to work with them at set intervals as they write. For example, I’ve worked with authors who handed me fresh chapters about once every 4 to 8 weeks for up to a year. In that sense, the editing resembles a coaching relationship. The independent editor can nudge the writer for more work when new chapters become delinquent. Some people like and appreciate this combination of creative coach and deadline-driven accountability partner.

A content or developmental editor can be helpful at all phases, as a sounding board and a second set of eyes to look over what you have–and what you may need to bridge the gap between the work-in-progress and the finished product.

So the short answer to “When should I hire you to edit my book?” is “Any time.” If you feel stuck, need coaching, or know something in your manuscript needs fixing (even if you’re not sure what), a developmental editor can help you. Contact me to find out how.

What Is a Developmental Editor?

Photo by Romain Vignes on Unsplash

Photo by Romain Vignes on Unsplash

A developmental editor (sometimes called a content editor or substantive editor) is someone you can hire to help you create a focused, well-organized, structurally sound, compelling, and engaging first draft of a book or document.

This person isn’t a ghostwriter; she edits only, and will not do any rewriting of your original work. But what she will do is guide you in your process, with a focus on pushing you to clarify your content so the meaning is clear to the reader. (This is a particularly important part of the job for nonfiction book editors.)

How Does a Developmental Editor Improve Your Book?

By clarifying your meaning. The goal of a developmental edit or content edit is to elevate the quality of your book on a fundamental level by asking a few key questions of your material:

1. Does it make sense?

2. Are you making your point as clearly as possible?

3. Is this book fulfilling your goal or mission? (Other ways to say this in other professional fields might be, “Is the content supporting the thesis?” or “Is the document executing on the brief?”)

If the answer to any of these questions is no:

  • What needs to be changed to make the book flow better?
  • Is there anything missing that would make your project clearer or more comprehensive?
  • Are your chapters in the right order, and do you have enough of them?
  • Are parts, chapters, and sections balanced for length?
  • Have you backed up your claims with research or case studies?
  • Are you connecting the dots for the reader?
  • Does this book have a sales hook that will make the reader say, “I need to own this”? (Hint: exercises, takeaways, and a useful Appendix and other back matter all help to sell nonfiction books.)

These are the types of big picture questions a nonfiction developmental book editor would ask herself while reading your manuscript.

How I Work

When editing a client’s book, I create margin notes in the document as I read. I also provide a summary overview letter to accompany these Track Changes. My client can refer to the letter as she or he combs through the manuscript in search of issues to fix.

Does your nonfiction book need a manuscript critique or developmental edit (content edit)? Contact me to discuss your goals.

What Kind of Editing Does My Book Need?

Man in bookstore, with cat, thinking about editing.

Editing is a single word that encompasses so many meanings. Which level of editing does your project need?

If you’ve come to my website through a Google search, the odds are pretty good that you’re a new nonfiction book author in search of an editor. Maybe you’ve written a business book, a self-help book, or a how-to book (my niches). Perhaps your agent has suggested you hire an outside editor to help improve your manuscript before she submits it to publishers.

Or maybe your publisher is smaller, and has limited time and budget to devote to your manuscript. The publisher would like your book to get a round of edits–on your dime–before its editors begin to work on it in-house to prep it for publication.

Perhaps you’re self-publishing, and you know you need the help of a professional editor to make your book as polished and high-quality as possible.

Whatever the reason you’re looking for a freelance book editor, you’re likely to be asking yourself: What kind of edit do I need?

My answer? It depends.

When to Get a Freelance Book Editor (and for What Level of Editing)

First: Where are you in your writing process?

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

What kind of editing you need depends on where you are in your writing process and publishing pipeline. Have you just started writing your book, or do you have a full first (or second, or third) draft that’s as good as you think you can make it on your own?

If you’re not quite done with a draft of your book yet . . .you need a content edit or developmental edit.

If you’ve labored over your book for months or years and you believe it’s finished and needs a final polish. . .you probably need a line edit or copy edit. (For definitions, see my previous post on the types of book editing.)

Second: Who’s waiting on your book to be finished?

What type of edit you need also depends on who wants your manuscript right now. Is there someone waiting for it so they can work on it (either selling it or editing it)? Or are you on your own as far as the timetable is concerned?

If someone’s waiting on your book at this precise moment . . . chances are that person will tell you what they think you need. Ask that person before looking for an editor. If you’re on your own, self-publishing or just many miles out from contact agents or editors–keep reading this post!

man and woman discussing website content outside coffee shop

Finally: What are your writing strengths and weaknesses?

What kind of edit your book needs depends on your manuscript and how it reads right now. What needs attention to make your book as strong as possible?

Do you already have a set of notes about what needs editing–for example, from a publisher who rejected the book or an agent who thinks the manuscript is almost there (but not quite)? Or are you coming to this process completely cold, with no idea what you need?

If someone has told you that you have structural or storytelling issues, or that you’re almost done but need to write some more content . . . you likely need a developmental editor or content editor–someone to help you with organization and big picture thinking.

If your content is great but you have sentence-level issues with grammar, voice, style, or punctuation . . .you probably need a line editor.

As you can see, what kind of editing you’ll be needing depends on where you are in your writing process, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and who’s involved in guiding your project toward completion.

For explanations of the different types of freelance book editors, click here to read my previous post. If you’re still not certain as to what level of editing you need, you can get in touch with me by contacting me to discuss your work.