Why You Need A Personal Developmental Editor

Jun 14

Written by:
6/14/2015 5:18 PM  RssIcon

I believe that in the past the network of agents and publishers created a high barrier of entry for a writer. The process went like this:

  1. Writer – Writes the work
  2. Agent (most writers never made it past this step) – Agrees to represent writer and tries to get a publisher for the work
  3. Publisher – Provides developmental editing/copy editing/layout/marketing
  4. Reader – This is the point of any writing, to have the work read

In some ways this was good because it filtered out a lot of bad material. However, there is now room for everyone when you have electronic books and you don't have the prohibitive cost of printing.

Now the system goes like this:

  1. Writer
  2. Reader

However, now the quality is severely lacking. There is a lot of horrible self-published work out there. I read a lot of independent books on my Amazon Kindle and I usually have to go through three or more books before I find one that is good enough for me to finish. However, like a diamond in the rough, it is worth it.

What is a "good author" to do? The editorial services the publisher provides are essential to a good product. However, a author can obtain these services themselves.

The new system that many of us now use looks like this:

  1. Writer
  2. Developmental Editing
  3. Copy Editing
  4. Layout
  5. Marketing
  6. Self-Publishing (using a service such as CreateSpace.com)
  7. Reader

Why Do I Care?

Let’s look at the “old system” again. The biggest problem with that system is that you are waiting for someone to validate your work. You need your work edited and polished, you don’t need it validated. If you decide to write something and want it published, it should be published.

The other issue is compensation. Assuming you make it all the way through the publishing process you are lucky if you get 10%-15% royalties. If you publish with Kindle Direct Publishing (kdp.amazon.com) you get 35%-70%.

Simply, if you self-publish you are guaranteed to get your work out there. Having my work read is the only reason I write. Fielding rejection letters, to me, is not writing, and it does not help me become a better writer.

Developmental Editing

It is probably helpful to discuss what “developmental editing” is not:

  • It is not “just feedback” – Yes it is a “type of feedback”, but “just feedback” in this context is generally meant to indicate receiving the opinion of someone other than the writer in order to provide the writer some perspective on the work. I get my initial feedback from sites like Scribophile.com and writers critique groups that I find on sites like Meetup.com. This is an important part of the process, but it is not the line by line thorough editing that a professional developmental editor provides.
  • It is not copy editing – If your developmental editor is like mine, someone who cannot resist fixing your commas and spelling, you may get a bit of copy editing thrown in. However, you still have to have copy editing as the last step before publishing your work.

What Does Developmental Editing Look Like?


You can download the edit that my editor Andrea Grimm Dickinson at Quality Book Services did for me recently here: http://silverlight.adefwebserver.com/Files/DeathWatch_1stEdit.docx.

The first thing you will note is a lot of changes, noted in red, and a lot of comments. This is what you’re paying for. My first bit of advice:

  • First draft – For your eyes only. Don’t waste anyone else's time with this. I look at my first draft a week later and create my second draft.
  • Second draft – I really wouldn’t waste anyone else’s time with this one either. I may post a second draft to Scribophile.com but usually not.
  • Third draft – I will consider posting this to Scribophile.com. I will not submit it to my writing critique group. I did that once and it was a waste of an opportunity to get valuable in person feedback. My rule is that I only want feedback on something I think is actually good… and then I discover the truth…
  • Fourth draft – This is what I send to my writing critique group. I really think that this is ‘Tha Bomb’. At best it is declared “good” with a lot of issues to be addressed.
  • Fifth draft – This is what I send to my developmental editor. Some parts did not go though my critique group, but it is still my Fifth (or later) draft.

My point is that you do not want to waste your money sending a developmental editor a rough draft. 


You have sent your work to your developmental editor. You wait 2-3 weeks (this stuff takes time). You get it back.

Now, this is just me, but the first thing I do is open the document in Microsoft Word (oh yes you will need Microsoft Word as it is the standard tool for professional editing) and select Accept All Changes in Document. My reason for doing this is that when I re-read through the document I can change anything back that doesn’t feel right to me.

If you find yourself changing a lot of stuff, find another developmental editor. I have had Andrea edit a 400 page book and I kept 99% of her edits.


Now I have to address the comments. A section that I felt had important information about the characters turns out to be a pace and flow destroying backstory dump. I couldn’t see it. The feedback I received before was on the content not the question of what this travesty was doing in the middle of the story in the first place.

Simply, feedback is not an edit. You need a professional editor to produce a professional edit. There are no shortcuts to the process.

Another example is below. This section really is not that bad, I even spelled all the words correctly. However, when you take a fine toothed comb to it, you realize there is a lot of work to be done before it is publication ready:


What is nice is that I get two passes for a single fee. After I made the corrections in this pass I got a second pass where she concentrated on my word repetition. Writers tend to use certain words and phrases a lot. It is almost impossible for a writer to “see” this themselves but the reader will quickly pick up on this and become annoyed.

My last step is copy editing and then publication.

However, I won’t release this work until part 2 is complete because I will offer part 2 as a free download at the end of this work.

I am still on the first draft of part 2…


Big Publishing is the Problem

A Publisher’s Perspective on Profits: ebooks vs print

Where Do We Go From Here?