Developmental Editing with Alan Rinzler [Video Interview]

by | Jul 29, 2013

I had the great pleasure to sit down last week and have an extended talk with legendary editor Alan Rinzler. We only live about 30 minutes away from each other, and we’ve been on many panels together in the last couple of years.

Alan, a veteran of many of the country’s top publishing houses, now freelances and works with both traditionally-published and self-published authors. Having worked with authors like Toni Morrison, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Robbins, Jerzy Kosinski, Clive Cussler, Robert Ludlum, Andy Warhol, Shirley MacLaine, Bob Dylan, and others, Alan has years of wisdom to call on in explaining what he does: developmental editing.

He was at his home office in Berkeley California when we recorded this talk. Here’s the 42:56 video:

Some of the topics covered in this interview:

  • Developmental editing can sometimes start before the book is written
  • The aim of editor and publisher should be to deliver a book that people buy and read
  • The earlier an editor is involved, the better
  • Some of the biggest problems Alan sees in the manuscripts he receives
  • A better way to think of your outline than you were taught in 3rd grade
  • The one thing that helps guide authors through the writing process
  • Why it’s important for authors to “do their homework” about the publishing business
  • The reason you need to know an editor’s track record
  • What you need to know about how editors charge for their service
  • The kinds of books Alan won’t edit
  • Alan discusses his “obsessive” work style
  • The hallmark of a great book

You can find out more about Alan at his site:

Check out his blog here: The Book Deal

Here’s how to contact Alan.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Marla Markman

    That was very enjoyable and informative. It’s always interesting to hear how other editors approach their work. Thank you for posting, Joel.

  2. Annie Edmonds

    thank you so much Joel, I thought the interview was great, yes Alan Rinzler I do have to write all the time, I wish I could afford a developmental editor, sounds expensive, but you gave great advice, thanks again…

  3. chelsea rotunno

    What an amazing interview! Thanks so much for taking the time to share such relevant and fascinating information with beginners like me! Thank you!

  4. Jennifer Lewis Williams

    Thank you so much, Joel, for sharing this video interview. And, thank you to Mr. Rinzler for being so honest, concise, and exceptional in his responses. I will definitely read your blog, Mr. Rinzler, and I appreciate you taking the time to tell us new Indie Authors useful information. My question would be this: as an Indie Author with limited resources, how can one afford to pay a developmental editor BEFORE actually writing the book? I do contract with an editor that edits books in my genre (Crime fiction), but I give her my manuscript to editor (content) after I’ve edited it three or four times already. I do not mind paying for services rendered (as a lawyer, I’m accustomed to everyone at the BBQ or cocktail party wanting free legal advice), but how does an Indie Author actually budget for a developmental edit before the book is written, considering the book will need to be edited at least one more time?

    Thanks for a great, useful interview!

    • Alan Rinzler

      Dear Jennifer

      Authors consult with a developmental editor like me prior to writing
      in order to save time and money. Getting feedback on important core options like character development, story, structure, and literary style before setting out on a 400-page creative journey helps to insure professional results in the end.

      More indie authors are understanding the need for this kind of
      developmental work to be sure the final book is as good as it can be,
      much in the same way they understand the need for copy-editing to
      correct typos, spelling and punctuation.

  5. Frances Keiser

    Loved the interview! Thanks Joel for bringing it to us, and thanks Alan for sharing your wisdom, methods, and tips.

  6. Marcia Richards

    Wow, Joel, that wasthe best interview I’ve seen in some time! What likable guy Mr. Rinzler is! For me, as yet an unpublished writer, editors are kind of scary. Having little experience speaking with an editor, it’s daunting to bare your writing and worry about the reaction from a person who has seen hundreds of great manuscripts. I feel very much less fearful of the process of working with a developmental editor. His tips on how to prepare and what to watch for we’re also helpful. I can’t help going back to the fact that your interview showed Mr. Rinzler as a nice guy who really wants to make a writers book better and is super capable of that task. Thanks for doing such a great job with the interview. I learned a lot and and am a huge fan of of yours and Mr. Rinzler’s.

    • Alan Rinzler

      Dear Marcia

      Thanks for the kind thoughts. I’m glad you feel less fearful about
      working with a developmental editor. I’ve always felt it was my job to
      be an advocate and helping professional, to understand on the deepest
      level what authors are trying to do and help them get there.

      Very few manuscripts are completely great to begin with. My job
      is to spot the ones with the potential worth nurturing.

      • Marcia Richards

        I respect your views and hope I can afford to send you my MS when I have a clear picture of where its going. I’m just beginning to get the characters outlined and the bare bones of the story down. I’ll check out your blog to learn more from you. Thanks for responding!

        Joel, sorry…I thought it would send right to your comments section. Thanks for giving me a head’s up.

  7. Jo Michaels (@WriteJoMichaels)

    I’m an editor as well as a writer. A few of my nitpicks are: pronoun confusion, he said/she said, and contractions. These things seem small but make a huge impact on readability.

    I think any good editor focuses on plot and facts as well as grammar, punctuation, structure, accuracy, and POV. I know the biggest problem is finding one worth their salt.

    This was a great interview, Joel. Thanks for sharing. WRITE ON!

  8. Caroline Mawer

    Thanks for sharing this, Joel.
    How right Alan is about the hard-wired need we have (I definitely have) to tell / share stories.



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