Developmental Editing: How to Find the Right Editor for Your Book

With the changing publishing paradigm, it seems more than ever the number of freelance editors is growing. They’ve put up shop in all corners of the internet, their Open for Business signs blinking in Google Ad spaces.

And with so many options, sometimes it’s difficult for writers to navigate and decide which developmental editor is right for them. How do you know what's best for your book?

In my mind, there are two important questions to ask yourself.

What level of attention is your story getting?

A good developmental editor gets as close as she possibly can to your content and characters, without overstepping. This is a true, skilled developmental editor. But an editor’s work can be more involved or less involved.

There’s a big difference between:

“This character needs more development in Chapter 1.”


“If you give this character a sympathetic moment in Chapter 1, such as [example], readers will understand and forgive her choice in Chapter 7.”

Since developmental editing can be quite subjective, you want someone who will be able to explain their suggestions properly, instruct you with a knowledge of writing concepts for how to make changes, and describe what issue is being fixed or missed opportunity filled.

If you need a lot of hand-holding during an editing process, you might want an editor who’s invested in your story in an active or close way, working with you through revisions, coming up with new ideas to a problem, etc. 

If you don't need close attention, you may want an editor to simply point out the story problem, and leave the solutions and revisions to you.

It's all about the value of what you're getting. Value means something different to each person, based on their particular needs. However, it's worth hiring an editor who will not only take time to get to know your story, but who can adequately explain the benefit of certain changes.

Which leads us to...

Will your book be better off with those changes?

If you sent your work to five different developmental editors, chances are you will get back five different answers to your story’s problem. This can seem confusing. Even devastating.

How are you supposed to decide what’s best for your book?

You can look at the feedback itself, and get a sense of not just the editor’s skills, but their MINDSET.

Is the editor injecting personal pet peeves into your work? (Say no to those.)

Are the suggestions in line with your vision? (This editor totally gets me.)

Are the ideas giving you a light-bulb moment? ("Yes! Why didn't I think of that!")

Is the editor encouraging and helpful? (I feel inspired to work with this person.)

Do you sense good compatibility? (We could be friends. Professional, silly friends.)

And you must ask yourself if your book will be better off than it was before. Are things being changed just for the sake of change, or are real improvements taking place? Because if your book won't be better off, then there's no point in going forward with that editor.

Naturally, you and your developmental editor won’t always agree on everything, but you should be able to agree on most things. What’s important is that you can see yourself growing with your editor.

And that’s worth investing in.