What role does the developmental editor play?

The central function of a development editor (DE) is to work with authors to develop coherent and effective manuscripts. DEs consult on plot development, book organization, book coherence, and other “big picture” items, and sometimes rewrite parts of the manuscript to advance these principles. Some DEs 1 deswork with authors from the beginning of the writing process, while others step in after the author completes the first draft. DEs also act as the project manager for books moving through the publishing process, and function as a point of contact between the departments working on the book. Department coordination duties are more frequently seen in DE positions within publishing houses, but at times freelance DEs coordinate between third parties helping to produce the publication.

Role in different areas of publishing

DEs are most common in book and education publishing. Even within these two industries the role of a DE may vary.

Duties of a DE common to both the book and education industry

In both industries, DEs follow writing throughout the publication process and work closely with authors to improve the prose.

  • Author cooperationwork with the author to create a cohesive, understandable, and effective piece
  • Provide a point of contact– be the link between internal departments such as editorial, marketing, media, and design to create a cohesive book
  • Acquire permissions– ensure permissions are acquired
  • Market research– conduct and synthesize market research, and communicate the results to the development team and authors
  • Manage editors– manage all of the editors working on a particular piece after the acquisitions process
  • Proofing design elements– proof book formatting choices including the photos and art involved in the project

Duties of DE in book publication

DEs in the book industry lean towards a consulting role.

  • Ensure plot cohesionmake sure the plot develops in a believable and consistent way, and eradicate plot flaws
  • Set appropriate tone set the tone that will most effectively get the author’s message across to the intended audience

Duties of a DE in education publication

DEs take on a co-authoring role in the education industry.

  • Research– research the topics to create a more informed education material
  • Writing– write many of the sections in the piece personally

For more information

Information pages

An introduction to Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers by Scott Norton

Editorial Freelancers Association

Job advertisements

Cengage Learning Development Editor

O’Reilly Jobs: Development Editor

Oxford University Press LinkedIn

Leanne O’Donnell is a junior art history and writing double major at TCU. Leanne hopes to pursue a career in auction houses and fine art book publishing.


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