In developmental editing, an editor works with an author to shape the structure and content of a manuscript. This can start early in the writing process, or it might begin once a draft of the manuscript is finished. Developmental editing is done more often with non-fiction books, where the emphasis is on the author’s subject matter expertise rather than writing expertise, and it is generally done to improve the book’s quality and effectiveness at reaching its target readership.
I think developmental editing is the most difficult, although potentially the most rewarding, form of editing. It takes insight and creativity to find a theme or a narrative thread that will make the facts come alive. And it takes the greatest tact and communication with the author.
- Concept: Shaping the proposal
- Content: Assessing potential
- Thesis: Finding the hook
- Narrative: Tailoring the timeline
- Exposition: Deploying the argument
- Plan: Drafting a blueprint
- Rhythm: Setting the pace
- Transitions: Filling in the blanks
- Style: Training the voice
- Display: Dressing up the text
Scott Norton takes a lot of the guesswork out of this process by breaking it into separate tasks (see the contents listed in the sidebar) and providing a case study in each chapter. Structure is a constant theme, and the case studies typically use the initial and revised table of contents as a starting point for the editing. There’s valuable discussion on deciding how to approach the material, how to present it, what aspects to emphasize, and whether to order material according to a timeline or by following an argument.
The detailed case histories make the discussion in the book come alive. Each one the table of contents before and after developmental editing to deal with a specific problem. Although the author-editor relationship doesn’t get a chapter of its own, the case histories illustrate a variety of ways working with the author can go.
At a little over 200 pages, the book isn’t unmanageably long, and it’s an attractively published small paperback that you can keep as a reference book without breaking your bookshelf. The further reading section at the end is a thoughtful collection of other good books on related topics with a short description of what each book offers.