Developmental editing

Now you’ve completed your draft manuscript, before you embark on a line and copy edit you want to be sure that the big-picture elements work successfully. Is your plot plausible and compelling? Are your characters believable? Does your story drag at times and zip by too fast at others? Will your readers feel satisfied by the ending?

Developmental editing, also known as structural or substantive editing, addresses the big-picture storytelling issues such as:

  • structure
  • theme
  • audience and genre expectations
  • plot
  • characterisation
  • narrative distance
  • point of view
  • tension, pacing, and narrative shape
  • opening and closing chapters
  • timelines and settings
  • dialogue
  • voice and tone
  • language and style
Black and white photo of editor Nicky Taylor looking between the fanned pages of a book

A developmental edit is likely to benefit less experienced writers who are struggling to put writing theory into practice. Perhaps you’ve written yourself into a corner and you can’t see how to fix it? Or you’ve reached a point where you can no longer tell if the various elements of your story are working? A full developmental edit can help you deconstruct and rebuild your book.

Alternatively, you may be a more experienced writer, and confident about your manuscript in general, but are concerned that something isn’t quite working as you’d like. Maybe you can’t put your finger on what it is exactly, or you know your book could be even better but can’t see how to achieve this. Perhaps you’ve simply looked at your manuscript too many times. 

There are two facets to a developmental edit. An editorial report, also known as a manuscript critique, is an unbiased and honest in-depth assessment of your work. It provides an overview and constructive feedback on your book’s strengths and weaknesses, and suggestions for development and improvement. It will also address any specific concerns you may have. An editorial report will also delve into relevant areas of creative writing theory – point of view and psychic distance, for example – and give accessible and clear explanations.

To complement the broader observations outlined in the report and enable you to see how they can be applied in practice, I’ll also make comments and suggestions throughout the manuscript. For example, this may include structural suggestions, such as reordering parts of the text and modifying chapter and scene breaks, and highlighting sections to indicate point-of-view shifts. 

‘In 2020 I completed the final draft of my memoir and had the great fortune of being introduced to Nicky Taylor. Within two months, I received a thorough, brilliantly composed editorial report that highlighted the strengths of the book and detailed areas of improvement. I used portions of this report to finalize my manuscript, to query literary agents and finally, to recently land a six-figure book deal with a major American publisher, Avid Reader Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. I could not be more thrilled, and I credit that early work with Nicky for helping to get me here today!

What's included?

  • an editorial report of 8–15 pages
  • detailed comments and suggestions throughout the manuscript 
  • feedback on initial revisions made following my comments and suggestions (subsequent rounds at an agreed price)
  • recommended resources such as articles, books or website links tailored to your individual needs
  • help and support throughout the process

As part of a developmental or structural edit, a lot of time is spent on creative thinking. I’m fully immersed in your manuscript, your characters are constantly on my mind, and I’m trying to figure out how certain structural or plot elements could be enhanced or why they aren’t quite hitting the mark. Reflection is a valuable use of time, as is research, and sometimes it takes a few days for things to slot into place, or for it to become clear why a particular aspect isn’t working quite as it should, or if something’s missing. This is another example of the behind-the-scenes work that plays a big role in both a developmental edit and a line and copy edit.  

‘I chose Nicky to do a developmental edit of my manuscript on the basis of her qualifications and clear website. As this is my first novel, I was unsure about what to expect. I shouldn’t have been worried. Nicky went the extra mile to thoroughly read my nearly 100K novel. She picked apart my work, breaking it down to see how the elements worked, and then brought them back together to assess the whole. The process and outcome were extremely informative: she had spot-on observations and comments, summarised themes and storylines so clearly, and more than that, she suggested something central about the story which had not occurred to me. This was an investment I’m glad I made and I would engage Nicky’s services again without hesitation.’

How does it work?

To begin with, I’ll send you a questionnaire which will provide you with the opportunity to tell me about your writing background, what your intentions are, your personal and publishing goals, and any concerns you may have, enabling me to best focus my feedback. 

The first round of a full developmental edit involves three passes of the manuscript and takes around six to eight weeks to complete. I will then send you the annotated manuscript and editorial report. Once you’ve gone through the manuscript and made revisions, send it back to me so I can check any changes you’ve made. Subsequent rounds will be at an agreed price. 

The end result will be a final draft that is ready for line and copy editing.

‘Nicky stepped in as my developmental editor in the middle of my mystery series. If I weren’t already committed to my other editor, I would definitely hire Nicky for the rest of the series. She juggled the big-picture story and red-herring details with skill and grace. Her comments were precise, constructive, and encouraging. Nicky’s insights into my characters were so spot on that I laughed out loud when I read her memos! I recommend her without hesitation to anyone who wants a full manuscript assessment and edit.’

How much does it cost?

Professional editing is a significant investment, but remember: you’re not just investing in this manuscript, you’re investing in your future writing. I aim to help you become a better writer through the editing process by showing you how to improve your skills and build confidence in your writing ability.

No two manuscripts are the same, and the time involved depends on the type of editing, complexity of the individual manuscript, and the level of editorial input. There are other considerations too, such as your own writing experience, how many drafts you’ve done, and whether you’ve already had (and implemented) feedback from beta readers, critique groups, or another developmental editor. Once I’ve seen your manuscript and you’ve provided me with some background information, I can give you an accurate quote, with no hidden costs. 

My rates are in line with industry standards and are based on recommendations by the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP, UK), of which I am an Advanced Professional Member, the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA, US), and the Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers of Ireland (AFEPI, Ireland). As a general guide, for developmental editing you can expect to budget €40–50 per 1,000 words.

Prices are in euros. You can see more information about payment methods, deposits, and cancellation policy in my terms and conditions. And of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

When should I contact you?

If you’re interested in working together on your manuscript, please drop me a line sooner rather than later! My calendar is usually full three to six months in advance. However, I recognise the need for flexibility, and manuscripts can take longer to write than planned – plus we all know that life has a habit of getting in the way. So, it’s always worth getting in touch to see what’s possible.