What Is a Developmental Editor?

A developmental editor (sometimes called a content editor or substantive editor) is someone you can hire to help you create a 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.