Should You Hire a Developmental Editor or a Copy Editor?

Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel about caregiving and ALS. Her short story collection, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, was a finalist in the Foreword Reviews' INDIEFAB Awards. Her fiction has won Gold and Silver Medals from Readers' Favorites International Book Awards, the Barry Hannah Prize, the Ron Rash Award, and many others.

You’ve just finished your manuscript, the one you’ve been working on diligently for what feels like forever. You know that before you submit it, you should get it looked at by an editor, but whom do you pick? Are they all the same? The first thing you need to do is to figure out what kind of editor your manuscript needs: a developmental editor or a copy editor.


Image from Iconfinder

Developmental edits happen early in the process. Developmental editors help authors find weak points in their manuscripts. These editors will look at character, structure, language, and narrative. Copyediting happens second, once your manuscript is in its final form—no more reworking chapters or adding and deleting scenes. Copyediting focuses on grammar, punctuation, and the four Cs: clarity, consistency, coherency, and correctness.

A Developmental Editor Looks at Character and Structure

Let’s take a closer look at what a developmental editor does. What does work with character, structure, language, and narrative look like? A developmental editor will take a clean, fresh look at your characters. Oftentimes, it’s difficult for an author to be objective about their characters, just as it can be difficult for a parent to be objective about a beloved child. These characters came to life inside your head, and you’re bringing them to life on the page. There’s no one closer to them than you. Your editor will tell you if your characters lack continuity, if they’re realistic, if one seems unnecessary, or if your story is lacking a key character, such as an antagonist.

Structure, unsurprisingly, has to do with the makeup of your story, the foundation from which your setting and characters spring. A developmental editor will tell you if your point of view is working, if you should incorporate flashbacks to make your timeline less linear,