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on June 6, 2009
I heard about Scott Norton's Developmental Editing from a classmate--a colleague of the author--in Berkeley's Professional Sequence in Editing. I had never before heard the term "developmental editing," but immediately ordered the book, which I rarely do without the benefit of supporting reviews (since the book was just coming out, there were none at the time). My first response: This is an extraordinary book, and should be added to any short list of essential resources for editing, publishing, and writing.

As defined by Scott Norton, developmental editing is distinct from copyediting and substantive editing. The copyeditor deals with the nuts and bolts of clarity, cohesion, consistency, and correctness (the "4 Cs" according to Amy Einsohn's The Copyeditor's Handbook), while the substantive editor has license to revise at the word, sentence, and paragraph levels.

The developmental editor (DE) operates at the nexus of art, craft, and the market realities of today's hyper-competitive publishing industry. The DE simultaneously serves three constituencies: as first advocate for the reader; as protector of message and voice for the author; as field operative for the publisher, enhancing its reputation while maximizing the book's market prospects. Ideally the DE is brought on board very early on. More often, the DE will be tasked with improving or even rescuing an existing manuscript by applying Scott's developmental blueprint, which also forms the structure of his book: Assuming the author has provided a manuscript with "good bones," the DE first discovers and draws out the most compelling concept. That concept is then narrowed to a sharp thesis, and supporting content is restructured into a rhythmic balance of engaging narrative in service to a cogent argument. Stylistic intervention ensures the author's voice is expressed with clarity and an appropriate tone, while running text is supported with complementary display elements.

In practice, the boundaries between discrete editing tasks are leaky, and don't lend themselves well to tightly prescribed divisions of labor. Still, I like Scott's definition, which he tempers with the acknowledgment that the DE will frequently dip into the inkwells of copyeditor or substantive editor--or even at times the ghostwriter.

The first book-length treatment devoted exclusively to its eponymous subject, Developmental Editing is close to perfect in accomplishing its stated goals: defining the DE's role, prescribing the DE's methodologies, and making a case for the DE's value proposition in publishing's economic equation. Scott accomplishes these goals by spiking the book with the DNA of its own principles, which are prescriptive without being formulaic. Developmental Editing features a clear concept, a sharp thesis, a logical structure, comprehensive yet balanced content, elegant expression, and inventive storytelling (the book's expository framework is punctuated with supporting fictional narratives). And while the book focuses on developing nonfiction books, its methodologies could be applied in some measure to just about any type of writing.

Scott Norton's Developmental Editing should have a broad audience, since it would profit anyone in the publishing industry. For those hoping to enter the industry or move up its food chain, the book is a best-practices manual. Writers can apply its principles to bring sharper focus to the start of any new writing project, or--when a publisher's developmental budget is strained--to self-diagnose problems in an existing manuscript, pushing the work past the tipping point that favors publication.
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on September 4, 2011
"Developmental Editing" is written for freelance editors of nonfiction, not fiction. A few things could be of use to fiction editors too, but overall, I would recommend another book if you are looking for a book on editing fiction.
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on June 4, 2009
In teaching courses on editing at UC Berkeley extension, I assigned various books that focused on grammar, usage, proofreading, copyediting, and publishing. I searched for a book on developmental editing. None. "The Chicago Manual of Style fifteenth edition, merely mentions the subject. Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) is unique.

Scott Norton defines developmental editing as "a significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscript's discourse" and observes that unlike copyediting it cannot be "demonstrated with brief examples. So I've adopted the strategy of creating extended narrative examples. Although fictitious and intentionally exaggerated, these 'case studies' reflect the range of authors, clients, and developmental assignments."

The artfully constructed case studies Norton presents engage the reader throughout the book -- from the first chapter, "Concept: Shaping the Proposal" to the final chapter, "Display: Dressing Up the Text." Two examples of his creative case-study approach follow.

"Thesis: Finding the Hook" (pp. 48-67) begins with the developmental editor (DE) taking a first look at the book proposal and noting that the two coauthors, an anthropologist and a sociologist, both second generation Mexican Americans "had too much to say on their subject, and many of their theses contradicted each other" (p. 51).

The assigned DE, Bud Zallis, a freelancer, made preliminary lists of topics and the eight theses he found in the manuscript. Two theses appeared strong: "'La casa chica,' the ultimate ambivalence: man wants to have cake and eat it too" and "'Machismo,' the attitude 'problem' most Mexicans name first" (p. 54). The DE's thorough analysis yielded the working thesis "The tradition of 'la casa chica,' which gives 'illegitimate' families a prescribed role in Mexican society even as it affirms their second class citizenship, predisposes undocumented workers to accept uncomplainingly their role as 'illegal' workers in American society" (p. 62).

Next, the DE brainstormed on the working title of the book, finally coming up with "Mexican Values, American Dreams." As a nifty touch, Norton adds: "On National Public Radio, Maria [the anthropologist coauthor] was asked, 'When the madre of la casa chica has been finally welcomed into the big house, will there be peace?' She answered, 'Oh yes, she'll take her place quietly at the table. But she and her children will never forget.'" (p. 67). The creative freedom of fictitious case studies!

The second example focuses on "Display: Dressing Up the Text" (pp. 187-219). The manuscript on the Indian Diaspora came from a new author, Jagreet Raj Kaur, a long-time Indian-American contributor of short articles to the Famous Footsteps Travel Guides. The travel-guide publishers chose the Indian diaspora as the inaugural title in their new series because its median income was substantially above that of their host countries -- more book sales likely. And they were pleased with her ten-year record of delivering sharp articles.

The assigned DE, Hedda Miller, also a freelancer, noted that the manuscript needed work on chapter sequences, tables, choice of epigraphs, and art. Evidently, her success in writing short articles is one thing, writing a book-length manuscript is another. Scott Norton lucidly explains the changes and enhancements Hedda Miller suggested in each of these categories.

I highly recommend this book to all nonfiction writers, editors, and publishers.

-- C J Singh
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on September 22, 2012
This was a very good, detailed book about being a developmental editor for non-fiction work. I was disappointed because I wanted more information about fiction, but that was my mistake. A few of the points could be applied to fiction writers, but not many. But the book is well-written and would be immensely helpful for anyone desiring to learn how to work with non-fiction.

Susan Uttendorfsky
Owner, Adirondack Editing
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on August 14, 2013
This is a comprehensive, complex, subtle and humorous manual on all aspects of developmental editing. It should be on the shelf of every author, publisher and editor. I can testify that my thinking, writing and editing have already improved! Simply brilliant.

You will learn to: choose the main concept of the book according to the author's vision and the needs of his market; rework the TOC accordingly; navigate the intricacies of collaboration between author, DE and publisher; extract the main thesis out of the main concept; tell the difference between theses and topics; create a working title that will reflect the main thesis; locate all narrative threads (yes, even nonfiction does have narrative threads) and comb them into an organized whole - choosing which are main, which subordinate, and how will they be ordered in the text; choose from different kinds of argument, and learn how to find and structure the main line of argument; write a developmental plan and all other needed documents; create a balanced rhythm by editing for pace; design opening and closing transitions according to the main thesis of each chapter; organize the conclusions, from smaller ones to more fundamental ones, and decide on their placement; improve stylistic elements like voice, tone, and diction, as well as all aspects of visual book design.

I am so happy I read this book! It feels as if I've taken a class in DE. Bravo Scott!

Note to the author if he is reading this: sorry to see the Kindle version currently discontinued - hoping that this is because it is being improved. It had minor troubles in the formatting of the Tables - but I have faith that these will be fixed, esp. now, when automatic book updating is possible. Also, please update your Further Reading section - some books you recommend have newer editions, some are OOP, etc.

Thanks for reading my review and, if it was helpful for you to get a feel for this book, I'd really appreciate a click on the "yes" button.
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on May 9, 2013
University of California Press in Berkeley guides developmental editing in this book, for authors and publishers. This book denotes significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscripts discourse. It helps the author form a vision for the book and coaches chapter by chapter to ensure the vision is successfully executed. With use of line editing, chapter, section, paragraph and sentence levels, suggested rewrites are given. Authors should find practical advice to improve their writing skills; and maximize the appeal of their own manuscripts to prospective publishers. Concept focusing the authors vision, thesis and creating a winning title that reflects the winning choice is covered. Narrative to form a coherent story structure to choose between telling a story and making an argument is discussed. Detail to name a few topics includes, brainstorming to fine-tune a timeline to a revised table of contents is included. In exposition they fine-tune the main argument. A blueprint is created that will serve as a touchstone for the author and publisher throughout the editing process. It provides interventions when schedule or budget does not allow for a full developmental edit. Chapter equality with editing for pace with restructuring and transitions are used. How moving a conclusion from one place to another can lead to entirely different effects. With structure in place, ways of prose is used to help authors achieve their unique voice in prose. Opportunities to illustrate concepts and to express data visually, and extra touches to add luster, web pages are discussed. The sequences of stages may occur simultaneously or frequently and others may be inapplicable to specific projects. Techniques presented can be adapted to personal styles and advice discarded if it does not resonate. There is no one way to perform a developmental edit but first learn to master the rules. The tools given in this book are clear and in sequence with much more valuable instruction to read. I highly recommend this book. I own a copy.
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on July 24, 2013
I really learned from this book! There's a real difference between copy editing and developmental editing. My reference library is improved by the addition of this book!
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on October 28, 2015
There are very few books on writing and editing non-fiction, and as an author of non-fiction books, I am always looking for books that give tailored advice for that genre. This book by Scott Norton is excellent. I have to admit I didn't know what development editing was before reading the book, but now I realize that they are your book's Fairy-Godmothers (regardless of their gender!). Lacking such a remarkable person of course, you will have to turn to this book to walk you through manufacturing your own fairy-dust. Sprinkle some on your book, you will be amazed at the result!
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on January 3, 2016
I actually enjoyed this handbook more than most fiction books I've read--it's like a utopian novel for editors. The text is perfectly drafted at the word level, and for me, vicariously solving the puzzles presented in each case study was almost as satisfying as doing so on real developmental projects. If your reading experience is anything like mine, you will constantly recognize elements of your own editorial intuition and gain a more dynamic ability to explore, understand, and justify them. Absolutely excellent
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on October 10, 2014
I'm a writer of academic non-fiction, not an editor, but I got an enormous amount from this charming book. By helping authors see how editors view their writing and think about books, Scott Norton shows how authors can craft and develop an excellent manuscript. I've recommended the book to many first-time authors, and I reread it myself before starting a new book project.
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