When Writers Shouldn’t Work with a Freelance Developmental Editor

Heya, book nerds! Meg here. 

When I formerly worked as a freelance developmental editor, many of the writers who reached out to me about a developmental edit for a full manuscript have said they would like to eventually query literary agents for this manuscript (in other words, they’d like to pursue traditional publishing). While I’m delighted these authors are trusting me with their work—their book babies—I did feel a little concerned that most of the writers wanted to work with a freelance developmental editor before they query.

I’ve said this before, but I think it’s important to restate:

You don’t need to work with a freelance DEVELOPMENETAL editor to be traditionally published. 

If you’d like to work with a freelance editor to improve your craft or get experienced eyes on your manuscript (and you can financially do so) before you query, that’s completely fine! I’d love to work with you. But I think there’s a rather prominent misconception that the only way to get an agent is to work with a freelance editor first. And that’s completely false.


Do You Need to Work with a Freelance DEVELOPMENTAL Editor?

As I stated above, it is not required to work with a freelance developmental editor prior to querying. You can simply work with beta readers and critique partners prior to seeking literary representation. However, you certainly can work with a developmental editor. Many writers who choose to work with editors are often interested in a deep-dive into craft that they might not have gotten with their peers. If you are interested in pursuing self-publication, on the other hand, working with freelance developmental editing is something I highly recommend.

Unlike the traditional-publishing process, self-published authors must write, edit, and launch a book without the support of a publisher (which also means without the support of an editorial team to edit the book). Therefore, in order to make a quality product, it is recommended to work with a freelance editor to polish a manuscript before self-publishing it.


When to Work with a Freelance DEVELOPMENTAL Editor

If you’d like to work with a freelance developmental editor (whether you’re pursuing traditional- or self-publishing), I typically recommend doing so after you have edited your manuscript several times on your own AND worked with beta readers and critique partners (on several more rounds through your manuscript). That way, by the time it gets to a freelance editor, we can work on high-concept concerns to get the book ready for the query trenches or self-publishing (work on character development, pacing of stakes, marketability, etc.).

Working with a freelance developmental editor can be expensive, so I always encourage working with critique partners and/or beta readers to get as many issues addressed first. I go into this in more depth in my video When to Work with a Freelance Developmental Editor on Your Book.

Essentially, most writers want to come out of this (expensive) editorial service with a polished, shelf-ready manuscript, which likely won’t happen if the book needs several rounds of significant edits. Red flags of a writer not having self-edited or worked with critique partners or beta readers prior to reaching out to me include the word count of the manuscript (either too high or too low for the age group/genre), lack of a definable genre, the story starts in the wrong place, etc.



Why I Will Tell a Writer They Shouldn’t Work with Me as a Developmental Editor

As I mentioned above, freelance developmental editing is something I do on the side. Although many writers want to make writing their career, one benefit of an income separate from writing (or freelance editing, in this case) is the freedom to be selective in the creative projects you take on. For me, it also allows me to think of what’s best for prospective clients first. Therefore, I will often suggest to prospective clients that working with me might not be the best option for them at this time.

Here are a few reasons why working with a freelance developmental editor may not be the best choice for a writer (at this time):

  • A writer wants to traditionally-publish the manuscript
  • A writer has a limited budget
  • A writer just finished the first draft of their manuscript
  • A writer hasn’t finished their manuscript
  • A writer hasn’t edited the book thoroughly on their own or edited it with critique partners/beta readers
  • A writer has self-published book one in a series and wants to do a developmental edit of book two or another book later in the same series before querying that book
  • A writer has already self-published the book they want a developmental edit on
  • A writer is only seeking praise/affirmation and isn’t ready to receive constructive criticism
  • A writer wants a developmental editor to rewrite the book for them (editors are not ghost writers)
  • A writer wants an editor to copyedit when the manuscript requires developmental editing first

As I mentioned before, if there was enough time in the day, I’d love to work with every single writer to help them make their manuscripts the best they can be. But since most writers operate on a limited budget, I often will recommend writers work on certain things prior to hiring a freelance developmental editor in order to get the most possible out of the developmental edit.


If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out our iWriterly video on the subject.



Learn more about freelance Developmental editors: