As an editor, I’m often asked what development editing is – especially by self-publishing authors embarking on their first book, who are perhaps unfamiliar with the task.
Some think of development as ‘structure’ – which is true, but it works on so much more.
Sometimes, inexperienced writers produce a draft, become caught up in the euphoria of having hit full stop, and go straight to a request for proofreading so they can upload to ebook and get their content out there ASAP.
That’s an admirable wish: to publish! But an important thing to bear in mind is quality. If a book isn’t quite in the best shape, it detracts from the reading experience, risks poor reviews, and can represent the author in a negative light.
Books which have been rushed out without being worked on properly can suffer from glaring typos, bad formatting, plot holes, underdeveloped or missing content, inconsistent presentation, logic breaks… the list goes on.
You’ll know only too well from your own reading experience when this has happened – and how dissatisfying it can be as a consumer to have paid good money for a product that isn’t up to scratch!
Even for experienced writers, the script is still worthy of a good copy-edit – just to ensure any stray typos, grammar and syntax, flow of the text, stylistic consistency and legals are all covered.
A copy-edit also tags and prepares the Word file for the designer to format into ebook and print: it’s a technical process.
(A brief word on legals: this can be a serious matter for both author and script, not only because of copyright and intellectual property law, but also privacy, libel, defamation and inclusivity. Editors can’t resolve legals, but they can highlight issues needing further attention and/or investigation by a rights specialist or qualified legal adviser.)
Proofreading is the last stage after your designer has typeset the text, it’s only intended for final, basic checks on the copy and layout – nothing more involved.
Sometimes, a script will go out to an editor for a copy-editing or proofreading estimate, and the editor finds they need to have a chat with the author because their review has revealed it isn’t quite ready for sentence-level work. It looks like it needs higher-level input to pull it into shape.
At this point, what they’ll usually recommend is an editorial assessment. This provides an overview of the text to identify any issues, with a report suggesting what can be addressed (known as an ‘editorial letter’; some editors provide example comments in the script as well).
This can be a great way for authors to get expert advice in the first instance, cost-effectively.
It’s worth clarifying that assessment is a diagnostic tool that doesn’t actively go in and resolve the issues in a script; instead, it simply identifies them, and recommends pathways and solutions for the author to take away and consider. From there, to work on these themselves.
For more involved input, a development edit can really help. A 360-degree analysis, it examines:
- Language and style
- Voice, tone and address for audience reception, clarity and engagement
- Salience and structural repetition
- Narrative flow, pacing and paragraphing
- Content: thesis and execution (i.e. does the current form meet the book’s intention/purpose)
- Overall structure, including chapter length and balance, logical progression
- Presentation, including visuals, for the genre and market
- Referencing system, citation/bibliography
- Legals (any initial standouts such as libel and copyright; NB: this is usually covered in more detail during a copy-edit)
Every script is unique, as is its author, and every text presents different issues – so the advice that development delivers is tailored specially to that project.
It’s an overall, big-picture analysis of the book, with detailed notes and feedback on each draft. It can be (and often is) an iterative process.
It’s also active, involving direct interaction between author and editor on how the writing is going. It can include meetings and one-to-one discussion.
The thing about copy-editing and proofreading is that neither are the right stage to be looking at more complex factors, such as how an author expresses themselves, publication purposes, audience reception and market. By that stage, it’s assumed these have already been thought about and decided. These processes are really finessing at a more granular level.
Development editing is an investment of time, energy and finance. It would be wrong of any editor to claim that writing a book is a breeze!
But with expert guidance and the practical, actionable advice and guidance that development delivers, it can be a much more focused, reassuring process, delivering a quality result to be really proud of.