Developmental editing (may also be called structural or content) – looks at the book’s big picture and overall structure in nonfiction or plot and characters in fiction. Developmental editors may assess a book idea, outline, or early draft to tell authors what works and what could be better. The big picture questions need to be answered first before an editor ensures your words are polished and used correctly.

As one person who “woke up and decided since I’m published and an English major, I should be an editor,” I can see your point of being only one type of editor. I’m not a good copyeditor at all and don’t offer my services for that situation. It’s funny that you would say a traditionally published type editor would be better than the independently published editor. I found this to be totally untrue since I have worked with both. My traditional editors from St. Martins Press and Bantam books working a total of 35 years in the industry, was the worst editor of all. My independently published editor/book coach, is the most knowledgeable. So there is a bit of a disparage. It’s not an absolute science, editing.
Unlike most other basic “proofreading” packages, ours includes copy-editing where needed, light revision, rewriting and improved word choice, as well as a one page summary of some big picture issues that can be improved. If we see something that looks bad, we’ll fix it – but we won’t wrack our brains trying to solve bigger issues like plotting, character motivation, story architecture, etc.
Moreover, the casual distinction between a (developmental) “editor” and a “copyeditor” can be a bit simplistic, particularly in a self-publication or even vanity-publishing context. A self-published author may barely have the budget to hire one editor, so that editor needs to be able and willing to blur the lines between developmental editing and copyediting. The editor must also be accustomed to working with authors of a variety of strengths and weaknesses, including many whose work would not, in fact, have been accepted by a commercial publishing house in its current form. I have come to take great satisfaction in taking a new or newish author by the hand and helping them find ways of making their work the best it can be. Of necessity, this must include line-by-line correction of grammar and style (often a surprisingly great amount of such correction), but can rarely be limited to that.

This is basically like the “Quick Kill” service – or proofreading on steroids, and again we’ll hack, slash, rewrite, fix, tweak and improve anything we can, but this time we won’t comment on the bigger picture, and we’ll really hone down on the little details, eliminate repetition, trim the writing, and make sure everything is as good as it can be.
What an editor does is discover your characters, your situations, and your images without seeing any of the creative process that brought them to life. Where you might see all the crossings-out and labors, all the accidents and decisions, the editor sees only a page. This is the clarity you need, and you can never achieve it for your own writing, simply because you envisioned it first. The editor will tell you what an attentive, an educated, and, most importantly, a new reader will experience while reading your book.
When you get that email, particularly if it's your first book, make sure you are well-rested and in a positive frame of mind before you open it. If it’s your first book, the editing process will be hard on your ego, but remember, the editor’s job is to make your book better and help you learn the craft. You are paying for them to give you critical feedback, not to pat you on the back and say ‘good job.'
Join an organization, such as the National Association of Independent Editors and Writers (NAIEW) or ACES: The Society for Editing, to connect with others in the field. Publishing Professionals Network (PPN) lists jobs as well as other membership organizations. You can also subscribe to Editors Only newsletter to receive a directory of professional associations for editors, as well as current job openings.
Call or write to the publishing company the editor works for to see if you can talk to them. You may be able to reach an editor directly by asking to speak with them at work. Send a formal letter or place a friendly call asking to speak with the editor. Ensure that you’re able to articulate why you want to speak with them ahead of time by practicing the conversation.[10]

Once you have narrowed your options down to a few editors, five or less for example, set up some initial contact with each of the children’s book editors. Start by contacting them and see if they can answer your core questions via email. Find out if they are willing to chat with you by phone or skype about your project when you are ready to make a decision. Ask for them to specifically identify what children’s book editorial services they will be able to provide.


If an editor’s rates seem skeptically low, send an editing test, ask for references or a sample, place a hidden message in your post, and see if they understand the different types of editing. If an editor passes all of these tests, even if she’s a newbie, give her a try. This could save you hundreds of dollars and help you find a skilled editor who is competent and affordable.
There are different levels of editing—developmental, copyediting, and proofreading. I’ve found that authors are often willing to pay good money for a developmental editor, someone who walks by their side and helps to shape the book, but when it comes to copyediting and proofreading, especially if and when an author has had a developmental editor, suspicion arises as to the value or merit of these more drilled-down types of edits. Don’t let this be a blind spot; they’re important—on par with a developmental edit for sure.
Amazing post, Dave, and definitely an important topic. My first book I used one of the larger “editorial agencies” you mentioned. The quality wasn’t bad but there was no direct contact with the editor. Just ship it to them and they ship it back. I’ve tried out several editors now and found a very good one who did a great job on my list book. Once you find a good editor, stick with him/her and build a relationship if you can. Thanks for the list provided and this editors test is a great addition.

ROUND TWO: an in-depth, comprehensive, line-edit that includes rewriting sentences, improving word choice, organization, plotting and pacing. We’ll make the dialogue stronger and more believable, the action more tense and nail-biting, and the emotional peaks less melodramatic and cheesy. For non-fiction, we’ll strengthen your argument and make the writing more engaging.
For editors who are charging pennies for what should be hours and hours and hours worth of work: I am saddened that you would ruin the market for those who have the expertise and ability to charge what it’s worth. You see, an author whose book needs a whole lot of help will see your rock-bottom prices and think that’s the norm. But the reality? That’s not normal. It’s not normal to charge sweat shop rates for something that requires top-notch quality.
Hi Jay. Ironically, most editors lament our meagre earnings in comparison to the skills, qualifications, ongoing professional development and expertise required to do our job well. Most of us earn a lot less than tradies! We also tend to hesitate when providing a quote, knocking the price down as we fear the prospective client will think it’s too expensive. I advise writers to start putting money aside well before they are ready to hire an editor, and to hire the best editor they can afford. If cashflow is a problem, I allow clients to pay by instalment rather than in lump sums. I also give discounts to students and NFPs. Try to hire the best editor you can afford – hiring a cheap, inexperienced editor whose first language might not even be English is basically money down the drain. There are plenty of editors out there, so make sure you select carefully. You want someone who will make your writing shine, and help you to become a better writer – which should pay dividends in the long run.

Anyone wishing to pay someone 500 bucks to read their book just so they can be given a short and unhelpful overview is arguably getting what they paid for. Naturally, self publishers and the like can’t really justify the amount they’d have to spend on a real editor of story structure, but it still baffles me that these so called developmental editors exist. That is, unless they have a follow up service after the fact that is actually worth it.


Thanks, Jessi. Everything you say is true, but for anyone reading this and feeling anxious about the EFA, I’d like to put in a good word for the organization. Established in 1970, they’ve been around for much longer than the current self-pub/e-book revolution (so: not a fly-by-night company), plus they exhibit at major events (BEA, AWP, etc), where you can meet some of the editors in person. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with their members and recommend them on my resources page.
ROUND TWO: an in-depth, comprehensive, line-edit that includes rewriting sentences, improving word choice, organization, plotting and pacing. We’ll make the dialogue stronger and more believable, the action more tense and nail-biting, and the emotional peaks less melodramatic and cheesy. For non-fiction, we’ll strengthen your argument and make the writing more engaging.
I was recently directed to your excellent article from almost a year ago by a colleague at SouthWest Writers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a freelance literary editor of memoir, poetry, and novels, I offer authors guidance and support similar what you describe, but of course I cannot handle editing every genre. I was gratified to know that I’m doing the right thing by sticking to my specialties. By coincidence, someone who reached out to me last week on LinkedIn was looking for a children’s book editor and one of your readers in this conversation recommended one. That reminds me… Read more »

Use the media press kit on an editor’s or publisher’s website. A media press kit is a prepackaged group of marketing materials that provides commonly-sought information to reporters, other writers, and members of the general public. Look on a publisher or editor’s website for a tab that says “media” or “press” and review their press kit for information on how to contact an editor.[11]
For editors who are charging pennies for what should be hours and hours and hours worth of work: I am saddened that you would ruin the market for those who have the expertise and ability to charge what it’s worth. You see, an author whose book needs a whole lot of help will see your rock-bottom prices and think that’s the norm. But the reality? That’s not normal. It’s not normal to charge sweat shop rates for something that requires top-notch quality.
ROUND TWO: an in-depth, comprehensive, line-edit that includes rewriting sentences, improving word choice, organization, plotting and pacing. We’ll make the dialogue stronger and more believable, the action more tense and nail-biting, and the emotional peaks less melodramatic and cheesy. For non-fiction, we’ll strengthen your argument and make the writing more engaging.

Even if a book is well-written, and even if it’s been edited professionally, success isn’t guaranteed. Publishing success is partly about branding and design, partly about getting in front of readers so they can start reading, and mainly about whether you satisfy their expectations and over-deliver on genre conventions. We want to do more than simply editing or proofreading your book. We want to help you make sure readers love it. But the sad truth is, most submissions we receive are nowhere near ready to publish, and are suffering from common but easily avoidable first-time author mistakes. How does YOUR book measure up?
A good editor is invaluable when starting out. Later on it perhaps depends on how complex the story or writing is. Editors can be looking for similarity not originality. The final script a poor representation of the original story or article. An article of mine, which was picked up by Wikipedia for its originality and informative ideas was given forty edits from around the world! It was like a mechanical invention rather than an interesting article in the end!

Reach out through an editor’s professional website. Many professional editors offer their services on a freelance basis or use their website to advertise their press’s opportunities. Perform a simple search online using the editor’s name and look for a professional or personal webpage. There will be information about contacting an editor on their website.[9]
The key historical factor that enabled the U.S. to become a world economic and military power after WWII was government leadership in funding high-risk research and development (R&D) and the education of generations of scientists and engineers. Since 1967 the Federal government has steadily reduced funding in these areas and now is a relatively small player in our national R&D enterprise. This puts our future prosperity at risk. The book goes into great depth as to the factors that have caused this change in government policy.
Working with a professional editor can be one of the most rewarding experiences in an author’s life. You’ll probably learn more about the craft of writing — plot, characterization, dialogue, worldbuilding… — than if you took an creative writing course. However, as is always the case in creative endeavours, critique can be hard to accept. This is why you should seek an editor who’s not only experienced in their field, but whom you’d feel comfortable receiving feedback from. In the words of one of our Reedsy editors:
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment of editors is expected to have little change up to 2026, as print media continues to face strong pressure from online publications. Editors who have adapted to online media and are comfortable writing for and working with a variety of electronic and digital tools will have an advantage in finding work. 
If you know you are sensitive to changes, or that you only want edits that correct what’s wrong (and not subjective edits beyond that), tell the editor so. This kind of information is invaluable, and will prevent frustrations and misunderstandings. That said, don’t suggest this if you’re open to your work being better. Editors will bring your work to a whole other level if you’re able to loosen your grip on any notion that your creative expression is under attack when an editor makes changes to your work. The most successful authors are edited multiple times over.

Preparing a manuscript for publication or for your dissertation committee is a challenge that all academics must face. But who really wants to spend hours aligning page numbers or putting a reference list in the correct style? Make life easier with formatting services from an experienced scientist that understands the challenges of academic writing!
×