Book Development

One-on-One Creative Collaboration


Developmental editing is the core of our practice and also the most misunderstood aspect of what we do. Sometimes called structural editing, developmental editing is not about fixing grammar and syntax — though we do clean up texts as we go — but about a book’s big picture. It asks these questions:

  • Is everything here that needs to be?

  • Is it in the right order?

  • Have I anticipated audience reactions as well as I could?

  • What doesn’t belong in this book?

What does a developmental editor’s work look like? Primarily comments in the margins of a work-in-progress as well a regular cadence of interaction and support. Think of a developmental editor as a creative collaborator, someone who knows the process in and out, and is committed to helping you make your book the best it can be. This might mean they may communicate some uncomfortable truths — such as recommending you cut an entire section. But in all cases they should have a clear, compelling reason for every recommendation they make, and also, and more importantly, it should be clear that they’re making this recommendation because they genuinely care for you, the author, and desire your success as much as you do.

The ideal developmental editor is someone who can accurately gauge how long it will take to implement their suggestions. What you don’t want is someone who will make some hand-wavey gesture and say, “Just give us a different opening,” without realizing that the opening you have took you a few dozen hours to get right, and replacing it will probably take even longer.

Good editor-edited relationships are creative sanctuaries; they become the first place author runs to when they need creative encouragement. The best editor-edited relationships generate clarity on structure, intent, and occasionally the larger questions of life: Why? Why not? What just happened? What's next? 

Outside the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman building.

Outside the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman building.