Savvy Authors Blog: What is a Freelance Developmental Book Editor?

Are you looking to hire a freelance developmental editor to work with you on your manuscript?

Whether you intend to self-publish or pursue traditional publication, many writers seek out the assistance of freelance editors to polish their manuscripts.

However, with so many titles flying around of different types of editors, it can be confusing to understand who does what. Today we will discuss what exactly a freelance developmental editor is, who would benefit from working with them, and when is the best time to work with this type of editor.

Developmental editors assist authors prior to a book’s publication in big-picture editing, such as story structure, character arc, plot development, pacing, and much more. They are not ghostwriters and do not rewrite books for writers. In addition, they are not copy editors or proofreaders, who work to improve line-level accuracy and readability as well as to spot errors, inconsistencies, omission, and repetition.

The role of a developmental editor is to teach writers to identify the gaps in their stories and characters.

Developmental editors will pinpoint problems within a story and offer suggestions for how to improve it. Writers have the freedom to address those problems in the way that best suits the story (and how they want to tell it). In other words, developmental editors do not dictate the direction of the book but offer suggestions. Or, they may simply identify the weaknesses within the story, depending on the style of the given editor.

Writers looking to work with a developmental editor should come into the process with an open mind about their story and be prepared to be challenged. Editors aren’t here for self-assurance or to tell a writer how wonderful their story is (whether or not that’s true), but to collaboratively work with a writer to make their story the best it can possibly be.

Writers hoping to traditionally-publish their books do NOT need to work with a freelance developmental editor in order to be published. If they’d like a deep-dive into craft or professional assistance on how to improve their manuscript, they certainly can, but it is not required to get a literary agent.

Writers looking to self-publish their books, on the other hand, are often encouraged to seek out professional freelance editors to help them polish their manuscripts prior to publication. 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 freelance editors to polish a manuscript before self-publishing it.


When to Work with a Developmental Editor

In my opinion, the best time to work with a freelance developmental editor is after a writer has edited their manuscript several times on their own AND worked with beta readers and critique partners (on several more rounds through the manuscript). That way, by the time it gets to a developmental 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.).

Most writers want to come out of this (potentially expensive) editorial service with a polished, shelf-ready manuscript, which likely won’t happen if the book needs several rounds of significant edits.


Interested in Becoming a Freelance Editor?

If you want to become a freelance developmental editor and work with writers on character arcs, pacing, strategic leading up to plot twists, and much more, it’s important to know what exactly a developmental editor is (compared to ghostwriters and copy editors), when is the most advantageous time to work with a writer, and what writers you will frequently be working with.

In my personal experience, especially since I formerly worked as a literary agent, I often work with writers struggling to get a literary agent’s attention with their submission package and manuscript. However, many other developmental editors will most often work with writers who are self-publishing their manuscripts.

To learn more about developmental editors, check out my book editing series on the iWriterly YouTube channel:


This blog was originally published in Savvy Authors. Click here to read more.

Click here to watch the iWriterly video.