Hiring an editor is a lot like hiring someone to build a swimming pool in your backyard. Selecting the depth, size and shape of that pool is just one part of an ongoing discussion with a contractor ready to explain available options and bring your vision of a summer oasis to life.
Copyediting can be light – focused on grammar and spelling, right/wrong, correct/incorrect – or deeper and more subjective. Developmental editing sits in the deepest waters of the editorial “pool” and addresses larger issues such as overall structure, table of contents, chapter length and more. If you’ve ever scrawled in the margins of a book, “but see also page 25” or thought, “There’s the definition for that term I saw in the previous chapter,” that’s a tiny splash of developmental editing. (Yes, I do this, even in my recreational reading. As a kid, I sometimes inked up my magazines like a junior editor instead of just reading them.)
Like that swimming pool you want in your backyard, your editorial assignment can be tailored to your needs and expectations, and you’ll work with your editor to outline the size and scope of your project. Copyeditors and developmental editors can enter a project at various phases. For example, developmental editors can help an author write a book proposal before approaching a publisher, or they might be introduced to a manuscript by an author’s agent or publisher.
Although a copyeditor could catch some developmental items, and a developmental editor might note grammatical errors, two editors are generally better than one. Hiring two people allows both editors to focus on their areas of expertise.
For larger works such as proposals and manuscripts, a single edited “sample” chapter can open communication between the editor and writer about the author’s preferences for future markups and suggestions. However, a developmental editor needs access to the entire work to understand the author’s voice and the existing structure before editing a sample.