"Writing a book is like driving a car at night. You only see as far as your headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way." E. L. Doctorow, author of Ragtime
What developmental editors (sometimes called content or structural editors) do:
As you might imagine from the name, a developmental editor works with a writer on a manuscript that is not yet fully developed, although the current draft may be "complete" in the sense that the writer has narrated the entire story from beginning to end. A developmental editor will analyze your manuscript at the big-picture level, examining it for a range of literary elements including character development, use of time (e.g. flashbacks), plot points, scene development, theme, pacing, setting, narrative arc, and other elements essential to fiction as well as to some nonfiction writing (for example, memoir and other types of creative nonfiction). Manuscript assessment (sometimes called "developmental edit lite") is an area of developmental editing that is often appropriate when an editor first sees a manuscript. In a manuscript assessment, I work with incomplete as well as complete drafts to offer writers guidance and feedback on elements of the manuscript including organization, content, and other big-picture issues, but with fewer in-text specific comments and a briefer editorial letter. Communication between writer and editor as to the writer's goals and vision are extremely important in any version of developmental editing. A good developmental editor wants to help you write the book you want to write; as I have often told my students, "You're the one driving this rig."
In a full developmental edit, I will respond to my first reading of your manuscript with an extensive Revision Letter which will examine in detail every element of your manuscript, making specific suggestions for strengthening each area as needed, supplemented by specific comments and queries within the manuscript using Track Changes. After you complete your revisions, I will carefully review the revised manuscript and let you know whether it seems ready for the next phase of editing, a line edit. If your manuscript needs extensive further revision before the line edit, I can offer you writing coaching in the form of further detailed responses to your revisions, including help with rewriting. (For this extended process there would be a separate charge, which I would discuss with you before beginning that phase of work.) Please see Pricing Guide for details on fees.
Screenwriter David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) offers this wisdom for writers: "When you're younger you think you do a draft or two and then anything after that would be compromising your vision. Well, that's just not the case. Nobody writes first drafts from God, except Mozart." This is where a good developmental editor comes in.