Developmental Editing For Self-Publishers – Nonfiction

By March 19, 2017Editing eBooks

Developmental editing, in a nutshell, requires critical analysis of a manuscript, looking at the BIG picture issues and checking for things like organization, clarity, flow, and tone.

Organization:  Is information organized logically?  Do entire paragraphs need to be moved, condensed, grouped or cut? Are chapters in the best order to make your point.

Clarity: Have you clearly explained your point?  Have you made a coherent argument? Can the reader understand your point? Is the content a repeat of what you’ve already said?

Flow (Pace): Have you gone off on a writing tangent?  Have you included too much unnecessary detail?

Tone (Level):  Is the tone consistent? Are the terms easy for your target audience to understand?  Are you using too much technical jargon only known in your industry?

A developmental edit is called different things (sStructural, substantive, DE, comprehensive or content editing) whatever term you use, at the core of a developmental edit focuses on the BIG picture of things.

I prefer to use developmental editing.

Before I tell you why terms for developmental editing get used interchangeably and why this type of editing gets confused with proofreading, copy editing, and line by line editing; I’ll share that the target audience for this post is nonfiction self-publishing authors.

However, authors who write fiction and those who seek traditional publishing will also gain nuggets of wisdom from this post.

Although a developmental edit for nonfiction is different than one for fiction in that the big picture in fiction deals with voice, structure, plot and characters – the commonality is the big picture.

Why so much confusion with terms?

Reason #1.   There’s this thing called the New Writing and Publishing Universe.

Accepting that there is a new universe is like accepting that there is a new planet.  It’s not easy for everyone to do. There are people who struggle to accept ever-evolving  writing and publishing rules and terms.

Reason #2.  As a self-published (indie author) and also traditional authors, you wear many hats, and the editing lines gets blurred with you doing various types of editing.

Reason #3.  Editors have some overlap in the services they offer and some tailor services to meet the needs of a writer.

Think of it this way. If you take your car to the repair shop, the company might provide some complimentary and or packaged services to be a one-stop shop. Complimentary services might include a ride home if you are leaving your car and extra services might include topping off fluids.

This is a way of letting the customer know they appreciate their business and as a way to stay competitive.

A developmental editor may also package or offer different types of editing services making them a one- stop shop and as a way to customize a job to a client’s specific needs.

To further clarify the differences developmental editing looks at the major strengths and weaknesses, whereas proofreading, copy editing, line by line editing, fixes minor things in your manuscript.  I do not use the term minor to mean unimportant corrections.

Regarding differences in the last three types of editing, proofreading is correcting typos, misspelled words, spelling some grammar.  Copying editing is more detailed grammar, style, spelling, punctuation issues, transitions, wordiness, jargon.   Line by line editing makes the material ready for publication.

But wait there’s more.   Those three types of editing are also called different things and the terms are used interchangeably.

Please DO NOT allow your mind to roll into a twisted ball of confusion.  If you hire an editor, they will clearly explain services offered and also feel free to let the editor know what you need.


Think of editing like remodeling a house.  If a house is being remodeled the major work will be done first and then the minor stuff.

What sense would it make to tear down walls for repair and then to clean up before fixing the walls?

This is not to say that you shouldn’t clean up, so you don’t step on a nail or trip on debris, but the final clean up won’t come until after the major work is done.

When I’m rewriting something I’ve written, I proofread and fix typos (tidy up) just because it’s easier to fix the bigger stuff. But what sense would it make to do a complete polish if the big job is not done?

Step #1.  Write a fast first draft of your book.  In my book  Fast First Draft of your book, I share the exact steps to outline then write a quality book draft.

Click For Details

In working with clients, book writing boot camp participants, and online students, it’s almost always the case that the faster they write their first draft increases their chances of finishing their book.

Writing a draft fast will lead to excitement and overwhelmity, a word I made up which means to be 10xs more than overwhelmed.

Freeze overwhelmity by putting the draft away for a few days and revisit it with a fresh set of eyes.

Step #2.  Do another rewrite. During this rewrite depending on your skillset, you’ll probably be doing a little bit of every type of editing.

Step #3.  After this rewrite put it away for a little bit longer and revisit it with a fresh set of eyes.   Things will become apparent that were not apparent until after you’ve spent a little time away from the material.

Rewrite until you are satisfied that you made you book the best it can be.


You don’t have to try every tip.   Do the tips that you are able to do and the ones that work best for you.

Read it book out loud.  When you read your book out loud, you’ll recognize places where you have moved from one topic to another too abruptly, or you might recognize an area that needs to be more fully fleshed.

Text to speech.  There is a number of text-to-speech software, and that can be used on many electronic devices.

When you hear your text read out loud, you will hear what you have written and not what you think you have written.

Also, typos and other mistakes may be hard to see on the page, but sentences that contain errors will sound wrong when they are read out loud.

Read your manuscript as a PDF or on a different reading screen a previewer.

Anyone can turn a document into a PDF, upload to their blog or to Amazon and read it without publishing. If you don’t know how to do any of these things.  Google it. Or email me for instructions.

When I read my book as a PDF or through a previewer, I see mistakes not previously seen, and I make notes to correct.

Print your manuscript out and take a pen to itI usually only print out certain sections that I want to pay close attention too.  Printing cost can add up especially depending on how many drafts you rewrite.

If I print the entire manuscript most revised version.

After you are sure you’ve polished your manuscript the best you can, and you are satisfied it’s time to hand it over for a developmental edit.


Especially if this is your first or first few books because developmental editing is complex and you need a critical set of eyes on the work to pick up things you will miss.

It’s not that you can’t do some self-editing of your own work, you can, but it’s not enough.  There are perks to hiring an editor because even if you are an amazing writer a book editor’s objectivity saves you time.

Let’s face it after a certain number of revision you’ve taken your project as far as you can, and it’s then time to let a skilled fresh set of eyes take over.

If hiring a developmental editor is not in your budget here is some other options, you might consider. Even still it’s not a bad idea to try the below options.

Family & Friends

I’ll be honest I stopped asking family and non-writer friends to read my stuff going back to my screenwriting days which was a very long time ago before I started writing books.

I stopped doing this because I found it difficult to get timely and quality feedback from this lovely group of people.

If I was able to get feedback, it was either overly positive or not constructively critical.

A way to get a family or a friend to read your book in a timely manner is to treat them to lunch or a small amount gift card.  This was something I was doing before I quit asking.

Giving a small token of your appreciate shows a family member or friend that you respect their time and value their feedback.

Since becoming a developmental editor, I’ve read countless books and scraps of writing from family, friends, and friends of friends at no cost.

Later when I followed – up with the person, it was most disappointing to learn their unfinished book is lingering somewhere in a desk drawer or on the computer.

It is for that reasons I rarely if ever read family or friends stuff.

Hire someone

There are sights like Fiverr or Upwork, where you can hire someone to proofread, beta read, or even do a developmental edit. I have a developmental gig LITE up on Fiverr.

I’ve personally completed over 500 jobs on the site ranging from book coaching to ghostwriting, and I have stellar reviews.

I keep a profile up on Upwork and Fiverr and have several Fiverr gigs. Although I don’t do much work from those sites preferring to work from my site where I can have different types of communication with a client to better serve their needs.

If you decide to contract with someone via one of those sites, send a couple of different sellers chapters different chapters of your work.

This usually is fine with a nonfiction book since most chapters are stand alone.  Trying out different sellers allows you to test them out as not all sellers deliver the same quality of work.

Offline Writing Groups

I never did well being a part of in-person writing groups.  Probably because each one that I joined everyone wasn’t on the same level of writing, and or were writing different things from poetry, nonfiction, and fiction.

The groups were all over the place. I’m sure you can find value and feedback if you join the right group.

Online Writing Groups

I find great value being a part of online groups for writers. I have been able to trade-off book readings. They read my book, and I read theirs and offer constructive feedback.

Beta Readers

You can find beta readers in offline groups or writing groups online and in social media forums.  If you are not a known writer, don’t expect beta readers to eagerly sign off to read your book without offering them something in return.

I would suggest offering the reader a free copy, but that will not appeal to them if you are not well-known.

You can also hire beta readers on sites like Fiverr.  Again, I would only give each beta reader hired a couple of chapters.

Developmental Editor

A developmental editor brings more skills to the table than someone who is just helping you out.

I know this because I’ve have been an editor to family & friends, a freelance editor on the sites, and editor in offline and online groups, and a beta reader.

To a degree, I’m still all those editors because I love helping writers and that means meeting a writer where they are at or wherever they find me.

I’ve rolled everything I’ve learned doing over 500 book writing related jobs on Fiverr, and even more on other sites.

The critical thinking skills I developed getting my English Lit degree (I knew the degree would be good for something one day), teaching online and offline, and spending 10 years as a screenplay consultant, everything I’ve learned makes me confident that I never met a project that I couldn’t improve greatly.

While screenplays are structured slightly different than books, there are a ton of commonalities in screenplay writing and book writing.

All those things are what make me one hell of a developmental editor.  Toot. Toot.

You can STOP reading now unless you’re interested in my developmental editing services in which I offer various phases of service.

Phase # 1.  This is the phase where you have not started writing your book.  This is what I call book consulting.   Before you start your book writing process, you will have questions, especially if this is your first book or first few books.

Even if you’ve been writing for a while you probably still have questions.  I answer and help you resolve book writing questions and put together a working plan.

Phase # 2.  This is the phase when you are still writing.  A recent client came to me in the phase where she’s written half of her manuscript, and now she’s stuck.   This is not uncommon as I see lots of writers who start writing their book and seek help only after hitting a writing roadblock because they did not outline, or choose the right nonfiction book structure or something else.

Phase # 3.  This is when you have finished your manuscript, polished it and gotten it in the best shape that you can. This may be a result of me working with you in the other phases, or this could be me seeing the manuscript for the very first time.


I will do an editorial assessment to determine the needs of your book or the one you plan to write.  If this is done in phase one, this would be a book consultation.

If an editorial assessment in done in phase two or three it would include me reading through a couple of chapters of your manuscript and providing an assessment and determining if we are a good fit.

I’ll recommend an editing level based on this assessment and provide a quote.

The fee for this editorial assessment is $25.00 for one hour of my time. Or if you’d just like a trial run you might try this option.

Please note if you select this option I’d prefer to work through my website.  Contact me at

I charge this fee because I get inquiries from around the world especially on the freelancing sites, where people send attachments, pages of questions, and so much more.

I love to write and help writers; I do. It’s my Achilles heel.   However, I often have to remind myself that I’m running a freelance business. Each inquiry takes time, and it takes me away from my tight schedule and existing clients.

I hope you have found this blog post helpful. Even if we don’t work together, I wish you the best of success along your writing journey.

What about you?

Do you have any questions for me?  Have you worked with a developmental editor and care to share about the process.

Post questions in the comment section or email me and I’ll respond.

Looking forward to hearing from you.