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Manuscript evaluations

What developmental editors do can be a bit of a mystery to the uninitiated, so I asked some of my DE colleagues for a broad picture of how they go about the editing process. (No, I am not a developmental editor.)



Developmental editing

As described in other blog posts and places on my site, developmental editing is generally considered “big picture” editing. A developmental editor performs three tasks in the editing process:


  1. They read the client’s full manuscript at whatever stage (usually an early one).

  2. They write inline comments within the manuscript file, drawing attention to big-picture elements like plot, characterization/character arcs, major inconsistencies, weak worldbuilding, etc.

  3. They write an editorial letter to fully summarize suggested changes to the manuscript.


Most developmental editors work with a complete manuscript, and they treat the manuscript in a similar manner to later stages of editing, minus direct changes to the document or comments about style or mechanics, which come later.


A developmental edit takes a significant amount of time to complete, usually 4-6 weeks. The service is also the most expensive (often between $3-5k). This is where manuscript evaluations come into play.


Manuscript evaluations

For a variety of reasons, not least of which are financial, an author may benefit from a different service often offered by developmental editors, the manuscript evaluation (ME). MEs differ from full developmental editing in distinct ways:


  1. There are usually no inline comments; in fact, the editor doesn’t usually touch the manuscript in any way at all other than reading it.

  2. The editorial letter or report is often shorter and more broad.


MEs run at about one-third of the cost of a DE (sometimes less depending on the experience of the editor) and take significantly less time to complete. An author does not have to have completed the full manuscript in order to benefit from an evaluation. Several of my DE colleagues reported that they usually complete MEs on partial drafts and use the ME to help the author take the right actions to finish the manuscript.


In a manuscript evaluation (sometimes called an editorial assessment or report), the editor “questions” the text, looking at where the story is going, how it will get there, and whether the author is moving the plot forward in a comprehensible way. The editor won’t just comment on tense, point of view, story and character arcs, or setting/description. They will comment on whether all of these elements are playing out successfully within the manuscript so far and make suggestions for improvement. The ME should never include plot synopsis; rather, it should offer a clear path for an author to follow to make improvements to their story.


Do I need developmental editing or a manuscript evaluation?

If you’ve got a partial draft and you’re not sure what to do next, a manuscript evaluation is a cost-friendly way to receive professional feedback and guidance on what to do next.


If your manuscript is complete and you’re not sure if you need developmental editing, a manuscript evaluation can be a way to receive succinct and straightforward feedback that will help you move forward with revisions.


If you’ve received developmental edits, and you’ve completed revisions, a manuscript evaluation can help you determine whether you’ve implemented the changes suggested by the DE in a successful way.


If you’d like the assistance of a developmental editor at some point but you don’t have the money at this time and would like to get to know an editor before working with them, a manuscript evaluation can give you the opportunity to get to know the style of an editor before committing to the money and time required for developmental editing.


In short, both full developmental editing and manuscript evaluations empower authors to make the necessary changes to their manuscript so they can move forward with more professional editing, and eventually, publication.


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