Why the Developmental Edit is One of the Hardest Things You’ll Ever Do

By Alexandra O’Connell

Friends, I’d like to address a difficult and emotional topic: the developmental edit.

You’ve sent your manuscript off to your editor for developmental work. You’ve completed a draft! The world is a beautiful place, filled with hope. Rainbows, puppies, and kittens are everywhere. You buy everyone dinner.


Your editor returns your draft manuscript filled with comments and strike-outs, not to mention, they’ve rearranged the content. You think about the pristine draft you sent out and realize now that it’s obviously defective and awful. You spend a week hiding in a dark room, blinds drawn, listening to sad music or watching Dead Poets Society on repeat.

As necessary as it is painful

The best and worst part of a developmental edit is how radically it can change your book. We want our books to be amazing. And most of us recognize there is no choir of angels singing over our first draft. Still, that first reunion with our manuscript can be tough.

Do not despair! Every author who has published a book with an editor’s help has gone through the same pain you have. Ask one of them whether they regretted going through this process. You’ll be amazed at what you will learn about your book if you give yourself a chance.

You are not a failure

The writer who receives a clean draft back from their editor with no changes at all is a myth. Consider the edits a compliment. Your editor believes that your work can be improved, and should be. Your editor finds you capable of making these changes…and believes you have the emotional balance to welcome the feedback.

Also, there’s this—if your document came back to you pristine, you should wonder whether they even read it.

The hardest work

No editorial work compares to developmental work in intensity, level of scrutiny, and its ability to completely change the groundwork of your book (in a good way).

The line edit requires you to look carefully at word choice; the copyedit requires you to make stylistic choices; the proofread may be time-consuming…but the developmental edit requires you consider the total impact of your book and the narrative choices you make.

This type of work is the most time-intensive, thought-intensive, and emotional part of the editing process. Although everything may seem to be a big, black swamp sucking at your boots when you begin your revisions, the work gets exponentially clearer as you progress.

The bottom line

Celebrate the completion of your draft. Celebrate also the work you do developmentally, because this work brings you closer to not only a completed book, but an excellent book, an important book, a book you will be thrilled to lay claim to and brag about.

Write on.

About Alexandra O’Connell

Alexandra O’Connell is Your Resident Wordsmith, an award-winning book editor and writing coach. Find her at www.alexoconnell.com.

The views expressed herein are not those of Colorado Independent Publishers Association, its officers or directors.  They are solely and completely those of the author.  The Colorado Independent Publishers Association will not be held liable for any legal action resulting from information published in this newsletter, and the organization’s insurance will not cover any such action.