Development editing

When does a development edit happen?
When an author completes a first draft (congratulations!) it’s inevitably still a long way from the finished novel.
Before polishing further it’s sensible to see how a first-time reader relates to the story and the characters, whether there are consistency or plausibility issues that puncture the the construct or lose engagement, and to identify, assess and understand any bits that stick. In short, get a very detailed answer to the question “how can this manuscript move forwards to become a better novel?”
Therefore, book this edit stage in for when the whole story is written out but before it’s become too revised and set in stone.
Note: please be aware that I’m typically booked some 4-6 months in advance, so it’s necessary to reserve a slot…which can also make a helpful deadline.

What does a development edit look like?
The actual text is rarely altered at this stage because (1) I’d get too bogged down in detail and miss the broader pictures, and (2) much of the text will change so there’s no point polishing it now. The only exception I habitually make to this is correcting clear single-word errors such as misspellings, wrong name uses, etc. – it’s always the right time to eradicate such things so it makes sense for this edit read-through to double up as error proofing.
What the bulk of the development edit consists of is issues identified in embedded comments linked to highlighted sections of text in the manuscript. Also, at least with my editing, these comments include suggestions for how to address these issues.
I also sometimes (it depends on whether I think it would be helpful) include a separate overview feedback document to deal with wider scope issues such as writing style, character arcs and plot progression.

What comes next?
Following a development edit it’s normal that the author does a significant amount of revising. Sometimes just alterations, sometimes cutting, and sometimes adding additional details to make the plot or a character work better. In fact it’s typically all of the above.
Only when this has been done (with editor support if needed, eg. for knotty plot issues) does the updated manuscript come back for copy/line editing.
Typically the author would work for 3-9 months on revisions before the manuscript is ready for copy/line edit.

Do I really need this stage? If I’m happy with my plot, characters etc. can’t I just get the copy/line edit?
Of the two standard editing stages I consider the development stage to be the more valuable, and if you only have budget for one stage then that’s the stage I would advise choosing. I think the point to make is that by the time any author has completed a first draft manuscript they are unable to see the wood for the trees. What got left off the page? What is the first-time reader experience? Does the novel hook, flow and engage? These are all fundamental questions that no author can really expect to be able to answer anymore – you’re simply too enmeshed in it all. If you want proof, consider that every major publishing house will bring in a development editor at this stage for every novel they put out.
There are two additional things to point out whilst on this question:
(1) If your novel does hook, flow and engage then most agents won’t be put off by the kind of rough edges that a copy/line edit would fix. Conversely, whilst a first-three-chapters submission that’s been polished with copy editing may well get a full manuscript request from an agent, if the whole novel doesn’t work then it’s ultimately going to the bin anyway. Both editing stages is best, but if you have to choose only one then development makes more sense.
(2) I never say never, but in most cases I won’t accept a copy editing job for a manuscript I haven’t development edited. Why? Because I start working through fixing the text and then very soon I’m aware there are all kinds of major issues blighting the novel that are beyond the scope of a copy/line edit – I’ve put myself in that situation (trying to polish something with fundamental flaws) a few times before, and I prefer not to do it again.

How do I book a development edit with you?
Get in touch with me using the contact page. Tell me what genre of novel, approximate word count, and what your timescales and deadlines are. I’ll then let you know what my availability is and what the next steps are by email.