How Long Does a Developmental Edit Take?

Sophie Playle

There’s no one set way for an editor to conduct a developmental edit, and therefore how long one takes will vary widely from editor to editor. But here are some things to consider.

A developmental edit helps authors identify and solve any big-picture storytelling issues in a completed manuscript. The general aim of this service is to help authors make sure their premise is strong, the novel’s structure is sound, and techniques have been used to best effect, resulting a compelling and impactful narrative.

Learn more about what a developmental edit is.

How services vary

How a developmental editor goes about making their analysis and providing their suggestions is where the variation comes in.

For instance, a developmental editor might:

  • Read the manuscript once – or several times
  • Compile their feedback in an editorial report – which can vary greatly in length and depth
  • Make notes on the manuscript pages themselves – again, varying in number and depth
  • Directly edit the manuscript to demonstrate how authors might address specific issues – again, the level and depth of intervention varying greatly
  • Create a book map to help authors visualise issues relating to story, plot and structure
  • Create a revised book map with a suggested restructure
  • Work with the author on several drafts, in a number of rounds
  • Provide video or phone consultations
  • … and more!

The overall aim is the same: help the author get the foundations of their novel solid.

Some editors will have a set way of doing things. They will provide a productised service. Every developmental edit they do will be conducted in the same way, with the same deliverables.

Other editors will assess a manuscript – and the author’s creative and publishing aims – first, and possibly take into account the author’s budget, and then suggest a tailored approach.

All of this means it’s really blummin’ difficult to suggest a ‘going rate’ for a developmental edit, as well as how long a typical developmental edit should take.

(And I haven’t even mentioned that word count will affect things too.)

Some rough timeframes

I don’t want to leave you with no guidance at all though – I’m not that mean.

So here are some very general possible timeframes.

  • General feedback as a written report: 3 days to 2 weeks
  • Detailed feedback as a written report: 1–4 weeks
  • Light manuscript notes, plus summary report: 2–4 weeks
  • Detailed notes and edits, plus summary report: 4–8 weeks

More factors to consider:

  • Authors might have to wait for editors to have time to work on their manuscript – editors are often booked up with other work
  • The timeframe an editor gives might be based on working on a manuscript full-time, part-time, exclusively or alongside other work
  • If multiple rounds/drafts are involved, the time it takes for the author to revise the manuscript has to be taken into account too

In summary

The time it takes to conduct a developmental edit will vary depending on how the editor works. You can expect anything from a turnaround of a few days for some general feedback to a few months for more detailed feedback.

The main thing is that editors and authors are clear about exactly what’s on offer, for their particular project.

Don’t get too caught up in what’s ‘normal’ or how things ‘should’ be when it comes to how a developmental edit is conducted – there’s no such thing as a standard developmental edit!

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more:

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