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Before You Hire a Developmental Editor: What You Need to Know

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  • February 5, 2024
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  • 7 min read


A developmental editor is an essential partner for authors seeking to refine and elevate their manuscripts before publication. Unlike copy editors who focus on grammar, spelling, and consistency, developmental editors provide a high-level, content-focused review. They analyze the overall structure, flow, and vision of your work.

The primary role of these editors is to help you strengthen your manuscript by identifying any major flaws and opportunities for improvement. This can involve analysis of your storyline, characters, pacing, themes, research, and more.

Engaging them will allow you to gain valuable objective feedback to refine your manuscript before it reaches your target readership. They help assess if your writing achieves your intended intentions and resonates with readers.

Since they are important for your book writing journey, you must be careful when hiring them. This guide will tell you things you need to consider when hiring a developmental editor.

1. Deciding If You Need a Developmental Editor

Many authors can benefit from working with a developmental editor before submitting their manuscripts to publishers. Developmental editing involves a comprehensive review and revision of an entire manuscript to improve the overall structure, content, and marketability.

Here are some signs your manuscript may need developmental editing:

  • The plot or storyline feels disjointed or confusing. There are inconsistencies, holes, or elements that need better development.
  • The pacing feels off, with sections dragging, rushed, or needing more chapter breaks.
  • The point of view is inconsistent or head-hopping without clear transitions.
  • The characters lack depth, motivation, or development throughout the story.
  • There is excessive backstory or info-dumping disrupting the narrative flow.
  • The setting and worldbuilding lack vivid details to immerse the reader.
  • The themes and motifs are not coming through clearly for the reader.
  • The tone, voice, or style is inconsistent throughout the manuscript.
  • The beginning (hook) and ending (resolution) need a stronger impact to satisfy readers.
  • The plot has structural issues, such as no clear arc or sequential events.
  • The genre conventions are not being properly followed.
  • The manuscript requires substantial cuts and additions to align with typical word count expectations.

If you feel your manuscript could benefit in several of these areas, then working with a developmental editor may significantly improve your story. They provide the big-picture perspective needed to elevate your manuscript.

2. Understanding the Developmental Editing Process

The editors provide a comprehensive review and revision of your manuscript to strengthen the vision, structure, characters, plot, pacing, and more. Their book editing services typically follow these stages:

· Initial manuscript review:

The editor will read your entire manuscript to understand your vision, assess strengths and weaknesses, and identify areas for improvement.

. Developmental edit letter:

The editor will provide a detailed editorial letter summarizing their feedback on the big picture elements like themes, structure, characters, plot, pacing, etc., as well as suggestions for strengthening the manuscript.

· Manuscript revision:

You will revise your manuscript based on the developmental edit letter. The editor can guide revisions if needed.

· Revised manuscript review:

The editor will read the revised manuscript, assess how well you addressed the feedback, identify any remaining issues, and suggest further improvements.

· Additional revisions:

More revision cycles may occur to get the manuscript in shape before moving to the line edit or copyedit stage.

· Final review:

The editor will read the manuscript and confirm that all major development issues have been addressed.

The typical developmental edit timeline can range from 4-12 weeks, depending on manuscript length and the amount of rewriting required. Most editors will provide an estimated timeline and update you if any changes occur. Allowing enough time for thoughtful revisions is key to getting the most value from the process.

3. Finding the Right Developmental Editor

When looking for the right editor, there are certain credentials and qualities you’ll want them to have. Here are some tips on where to find qualified candidates:

  1. Ask for referrals from other authors, especially those in your genre. Personal recommendations can help you find an editor familiar with your type of writing.
  2. Search online marketplaces like Reedsy, Upwork, and Fiverr. To assess their skills, you can view editor profiles, reviews, and sample edits.
  3. Look for editors with experience in your genre and the type of book you’ve written (fiction, nonfiction, memoir, etc). They’ll better understand relevant conventions.
  4. Seek editors with training and certification in developmental editing. Programs like UC San Diego provide instruction on content shaping and story craft.
  5. Evaluate their educational background. Many have advanced writing, literature, or journalism degrees, indicating strong reading and editing skills.
  6. Assess their portfolio and client list. Published authors and major book publishing services providers on their roster suggest extensive experience.
  7. See if they have edited books similar to yours, such as length, target audience, or subject matter. Related experience allows deeper, more valuable feedback.

4. Questions to Ask Prospective Developmental Editors

When interviewing potential editors, you’ll want to ask questions to assess their experience, expertise, services, and pricing. Here are some key questions to consider:


  • How long have you been a developmental editor?
  • What is your background and training in developmental editing?
  • What types of books have you edited (fiction, nonfiction, academic, etc.)?
  • May I have a list of some authors you’ve worked with?


  • What is your process for developmental editing?
  • What issues do you look for in a manuscript (plot, pacing, characterization, etc.)?
  • Are you familiar with my genre and have experience editing similar books?
  • How do you handle working with authors who have different writing styles?


  • What’s included in your developmental edit (manuscript evaluation, editing letter, line edits, etc.)?
  • Do you offer follow-up edits after I’ve revised the manuscript?
  • Are you open to ongoing communication during the editing process?
  • How many rounds of edits are typical for you?


  • What is your fee structure (flat fee, hourly rate, etc.)
  • Is there a difference in your rate based on word count or project complexity?
  • Do you provide sample edits or free sample pages?
  • Are there other charges beyond your editing fee (admin fees, etc.)?

Asking the right questions upfront will help you find an editor who fits your needs and budget best. Be sure to understand their experience, skills, process, and pricing before committing. Many independent editing companies, like the Book Writing Founders, Scribendi, and Editor World, can provide your editing services.

5. Developmental Editing Costs

The cost of developmental editing can vary widely depending on the editor’s experience, the manuscript’s length and complexity, and much more.

Here are some factors that influence pricing:

Editor’s experience level:

More experienced editors with proven track records command higher fees. Budget editors may charge $30-$50 per hour, midrange editors $50-$80 per hour, and high-end developmental editors $80-$150+ per hour.

Manuscript length:

Longer manuscripts take more time to edit, so they increase overall costs. A 100-page manuscript may cost $1,500-$3,000. A 300-page book could cost $4,500-$10,000+. Per-word rates around $0.01-$0.03 per word are common.

Complexity and work required:

More complex manuscripts or those needing significant restructuring will require more billable hours. A highly polished manuscript will cost less than one needing major developmental editing.

Turnaround time:

Rushed deadlines often command 25-100% rush fees to account for an editor rearranging their schedule or working overtime.


Hiring a developmental editor is important in preparing your manuscript for publication. Their expert input can effectively shape your narrative, ensuring it’s engaging and well-structured.

However, ensure your work is self-edited to the best of your ability, set clear goals, and hire someone experienced with your genre. With the right preparation and clear communication, working with a developmental editor can be valuable to your writing process.

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