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Q: What does a developmental editor do? A: Much more than you might imagine…

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

You may have heard of ChatGPT, the latest advance in open-source artificial intelligence, which can answer questions by referring to its vast database of knowledge and language models. So, I thought I’d ask it, ‘What is a developmental editor?’

It gave me a perfectly acceptable answer, explaining that a developmental editor plays a crucial role in the book publishing process, working with authors to help them shape and develop their manuscript into a polished, publishable work. It also told me that a developmental editor will provide feedback on overall structure, pacing and cohesiveness and identify areas that need further development with suggestions about how that might be achieved.

As a developmental editor myself, I can’t argue with any of that. But what a chatbot can’t explain is the human dimension to all of this – although it did mention that a developmental editor is required to be both critical and supportive. How you strike this balance goes to the heart of what it means to be a good dev ed (shorthand for developmental editor, which is a bit of a mouthful).

There are times when an author needs a lot of encouragement and others when they need some tough love and feedback that might be hard to read or hear. The most important thing is the relationship a dev ed develops with an author – and that must be one in which trust, safety and mutual respect have been established.

A developmental editor therefore wears a number of hats: coach, supporter, cheerleader, adviser, teacher, mentor, technical specialist, wordsmith and occasionally therapist – meaning their role extends way beyond the definition provided by AI. All of the developmental editors at The Right Book Company understand that they are in service to the author they’re working with and are there to offer advice, guidance and input to help them produce the best book for their business. It’s a collaborative process that focuses on meeting an author’s needs and helping them deliver on their goals – but ultimately the author is in the driving seat. We don’t ask our authors to write to a template or specific word count and always endeavour to be flexible when it comes to time pressures and the demands of a busy working life.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what a couple of our authors have said about the benefits:

‘Working with a developmental editor helped me to organise my thoughts about what I was going to write. They provided helpful suggestions and coaching on how to make writing more fun and enjoyable and were supportive at all times, especially when I felt stuck or daunted by the challenge. They also provided feedback on content, writing style and direction and confirmed whether what I was writing was making sense or not!’

‘The process was collaborative, supportive and highly effective. It enhanced my writing without stripping away my narrative voice and ultimately I produced a much better book than I could have managed alone.’

And this, from a co-author:

‘Working with a developmental editor provided two key benefits: first, they continually provided expertise and advice to me and my co-author on how to correctly structure a book; and second, they ensured that we kept to our agreed timelines and provided the necessary nudges when required.’

From my perspective, there’s nothing quite like finally holding a book in your hands that you’ve played a part in getting out into the world – sometimes through thick and thin. It’s immensely rewarding, especially when you receive an acknowledgement in the book itself.

Jane Simmonds is a highly experienced developmental editor who has been on the team here at The Right Book Company for two years. She says: ‘I enjoy the to and fro of developmental editing – getting to know the author, understanding their ideas and aims for the book, then working with them to clarify their thoughts and maximise the impact of their writing. It’s great to see how authors grow in confidence and skill through the process.’

I agree with Jane that the confidence boost we see in authors is one of the most gratifying aspects of the role. And crucially, working with a developmental editor will help you get past worrying about how you’re going to write your book and start talking about when you’re going to start – because you’ll have an accountability buddy (and so much more).

I’ll give the last word to the artificial experts at ChatGPT: ‘Overall, the role of a developmental editor is to be a partner to the author, helping them to bring their manuscript to its full potential and make it ready for publication. They work together with the author to turn an idea into a finished book that is ready to be shared with the world.’

Our fully human developmental editors are ready to partner with you to create the right book for your business – and the world is waiting…

To find out more about how the Right Book Company can help you get your book written, visit our website:


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