Should I Get a Manuscript Assessment or a Developmental Edit?

Many clients come to us ready for help, but then they’re not sure what level of editorial help is right for them. We understand. It’s often a new and sometimes daunting process, involving varying levels of unfamiliar editing jargon—narrative arc, pacing, tension, stakes, line editing, copyediting, etc.—and it can be difficult to know the best place to start. Below are a few guidelines to help you determine the best starting point for you and your manuscript. 


What is the difference between a manuscript assessment and a developmental edit? 

A manuscript assessment and developmental edit both address high-level content issues. With fiction, these include (warning: here’s that jargon) narrative arc and structure; character development; pacing/tension/stakes; and cohesiveness of plot. In layperson’s terms, are readers going to be hooked and compelled to keep turning pages? Do they need more background information or less? Are there extraneous plot points or threads that are confusing or unresolved? Do the characters feel credible and complex? Does the ending feel satisfying? With nonfiction, editors look at flow, logical delivery of argument, appropriateness of language for the intended audience, and clarity and consistency of voice. The difference between the manuscript assessment and the developmental edit is in the delivery. With both the MA and DE, you get an in-depth editorial letter addressing all of these issues. But with the DE, you will also get detailed margin comments embedded in the manuscript itself to guide your revisions. Your editor will point out specific places that you could expand; highlight passages of backstory that could be trimmed or woven in elsewhere; show you where you are both showing and telling; and identify holes in logic and confusing passages. In addition to identifying problem areas, your editor is more likely to offer specific suggestions on ways you could fix or resolve those issues. 


When is a manuscript assessment the right starting point? 

A manuscript assessment is often the right step for early drafts. If no one else has seen your manuscript, if you’re stuck and just want some very high-level feedback to get you on the right track, or if you’re not sure whether you’ve captured the right voice or are starting in the right place, then an MA makes the most sense. After all, you may be making significant changes and don’t necessarily need margin comments for material that may end up on the cutting-room floor. 

A manuscript assessment is also a good option for experienced writers who know how to take feedback from the letter and incorporate it themselves. They may not need someone to point out every passage that needs work and would prefer to reenvision the material themselves. 


When is a developmental edit the right way to go? 

A developmental edit is appropriate when a manuscript is farther along in the process. Perhaps you’re a couple of drafts in; you’ve gotten and incorporated early feedback; or you’re pretty sure the basic pillars of the story you want to tell are in place. 

A DE is also an excellent option for authors looking for more guided feedback. An editorial letter is a remarkable document—it can also be daunting to know how to take that feedback and incorporate it into the manuscript. A DE’s margin comments provide a detailed road map for revisions. They will point out specific passages to focus on, provide explanations for editorial revisions, and offer suggestions for potential fixes. If you are relatively new to writing, this will teach you a lot of about the craft and give you more tools and resources as you continue to hone your skills. 


What is a line edit? How is it different from a developmental edit? 

Generally following in the footsteps of an MA or DE, the line edit is a more granular level of edit that focuses on the words on the line—word choice, repetition, syntax, sentence structure, appropriateness of language for the intended audience, clarity, etc. Once the narrative structure has been finalized, the line edit is the buff and polish that brings your language to a whole new level. If your writing is very clean, the line edit can sometimes be conflated with the developmental edit. If, however, you are new to writing books, these are generally separated into two stages. (It doesn’t really make sense to tinker with the words on the line until the general structure of the material has been finalized.) 

If you’re not sure what would be the right next step for you, don’t worry! We’re happy to review your material and help you determine an editorial game plan that will suit you and your text.