A developmental edit deals with big-picture problems (such as character development or plot problems).
Like a developmental edit, a critique considers the big-picture problems but is more focused on simple reader reaction (versus the guidance that would be found in a developmental edit). A beta read is a type of critique.
Line editing and copyediting are meant to catch sentence-level problems, such as wordy sentences or misspelled words.
Developmental Editing Versus Critique
In general, a critique is simply a reader reaction. The reader says how they have experienced the story and leaves it up to the author to decide what, if anything, to do about it. Obviously, a critique could be more than that/different from that, but it’s the basic process most follow when critiquing peer-to-peer.
In practice, we often hear this kind of critique called a “beta read.” Someone who isn’t the author reads the book and reports on problems they encountered and questions they had.
In the DE model, the editor is not a peer, reader speaking to writer. The editor is an authority on writing and editing matters. In a developmental editing, the editor makes an argument for how the work should be revised and provides specific guidance for how their recommendations can be implemented during the revision process. That’s a much different intention than a critique.
Developmental Editing Versus Copyediting
Developmental editing is a separate editorial function from copyediting. In copyediting, the goal is to ensure that the manuscript is error-free at the sentence level, the the language is not confusing, and that the whole manuscript conforms to the chosen style, such as whether the Oxford comma is used.
In development, on the other hand, we’re not worried if “lavender” is a better description than “purple.” We are more concerned with whether the story has a strong central conflict, clear character arcs, and a meaningful setting. When we develop nonfiction, developmental editors are concerned with whether the central argument is well-supported and evidence and examples are clearly stated.
A developmental editor may do some line editing – that is, tweaking the sentences in the manuscript – but typically only to solve an egregious problem like a typo (so that it doesn’t wind up in the published book) or to help solve a developmental problem, such as an unclearly stated plot event.