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Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers

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Editing is a tricky business. It requires analytical flair and creative panache, the patience of a saint and the vision of a writer. Transforming a manuscript into a book that edifies, inspires, and sells? That’s the job of the developmental editor, whose desk is the first stop for many manuscripts on the road to bookdom—a route ably mapped out in the pages of Developmen Editing is a tricky business. It requires analytical flair and creative panache, the patience of a saint and the vision of a writer. Transforming a manuscript into a book that edifies, inspires, and sells? That’s the job of the developmental editor, whose desk is the first stop for many manuscripts on the road to bookdom—a route ably mapped out in the pages of Developmental Editing. Author Scott Norton has worked with a diverse range of authors, editors, and publishers, and his handbook provides an approach to developmental editing that is logical, collaborative, humorous, and realistic. He starts with the core tasks of shaping the proposal, finding the hook, and building the narrative or argument, and then turns to the hard work of executing the plan and establishing a style. Developmental Editing includes detailed case studies featuring a variety of nonfiction books—election-year polemic, popular science, memoir, travel guide—and authors ranging from first-timer to veteran, journalist to scholar. Handy sidebars offer advice on how to become a developmental editor, create effective illustration programs, and adapt sophisticated fiction techniques (such as point of view, suspense, plotting, character, and setting) to nonfiction writing.   Norton’s book also provides freelance copyeditors with a way to earn higher fees while introducing more creativity into their work lives. It gives acquisitions, marketing, and production staff a vocabulary for diagnosing a manuscript’s flaws and techniques for transforming it into a bestseller. And perhaps most importantly, Developmental Editing equips authors with the concrete tools they need to reach their audiences.


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Editing is a tricky business. It requires analytical flair and creative panache, the patience of a saint and the vision of a writer. Transforming a manuscript into a book that edifies, inspires, and sells? That’s the job of the developmental editor, whose desk is the first stop for many manuscripts on the road to bookdom—a route ably mapped out in the pages of Developmen Editing is a tricky business. It requires analytical flair and creative panache, the patience of a saint and the vision of a writer. Transforming a manuscript into a book that edifies, inspires, and sells? That’s the job of the developmental editor, whose desk is the first stop for many manuscripts on the road to bookdom—a route ably mapped out in the pages of Developmental Editing. Author Scott Norton has worked with a diverse range of authors, editors, and publishers, and his handbook provides an approach to developmental editing that is logical, collaborative, humorous, and realistic. He starts with the core tasks of shaping the proposal, finding the hook, and building the narrative or argument, and then turns to the hard work of executing the plan and establishing a style. Developmental Editing includes detailed case studies featuring a variety of nonfiction books—election-year polemic, popular science, memoir, travel guide—and authors ranging from first-timer to veteran, journalist to scholar. Handy sidebars offer advice on how to become a developmental editor, create effective illustration programs, and adapt sophisticated fiction techniques (such as point of view, suspense, plotting, character, and setting) to nonfiction writing.   Norton’s book also provides freelance copyeditors with a way to earn higher fees while introducing more creativity into their work lives. It gives acquisitions, marketing, and production staff a vocabulary for diagnosing a manuscript’s flaws and techniques for transforming it into a bestseller. And perhaps most importantly, Developmental Editing equips authors with the concrete tools they need to reach their audiences.

30 review for Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jae Jae

    "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. "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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nif

    My low rating has nothing to do with the usefulness of this book as a technical manual. So far, it's proved helpful enough. However, the hypothetical authors, editors, and manuscripts are wildly offensive. I was especially floored at the racist and sexist foundations and trans-erasing/transphobic content of the sample manuscript in chapter two. The developmental editor character even used a slur to refer to trans people in her notes. Is it too much to ask of a standard text for the field, writte My low rating has nothing to do with the usefulness of this book as a technical manual. So far, it's proved helpful enough. However, the hypothetical authors, editors, and manuscripts are wildly offensive. I was especially floored at the racist and sexist foundations and trans-erasing/transphobic content of the sample manuscript in chapter two. The developmental editor character even used a slur to refer to trans people in her notes. Is it too much to ask of a standard text for the field, written in the 21st century by the directing editor of The University of California Press and published by The University of Chicago Press, not to include content that actively signals to entire demographics of aspiring developmental editors that they're unwelcome in the field?

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    One reason I love my job is that I get to read books like this one when there's nothing to proofread :) One reason I love my job is that I get to read books like this one when there's nothing to proofread :)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    Finally, a method for my madness! It is enormously interesting to read of someone else's editing process -- especially someone with so much experience -- and see how it matches and where it diverges from one's own. This book offers me a more complete and precise vocabulary for what I have done intuitively. I’ve learned a lot from it. This book is great for anyone who has ever been asked -- or wondered -- what the difference is between copyediting and substantive / developmental editing, as well Finally, a method for my madness! It is enormously interesting to read of someone else's editing process -- especially someone with so much experience -- and see how it matches and where it diverges from one's own. This book offers me a more complete and precise vocabulary for what I have done intuitively. I’ve learned a lot from it. This book is great for anyone who has ever been asked -- or wondered -- what the difference is between copyediting and substantive / developmental editing, as well as for practicing editors.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David Schlosser

    This book is pretty terrific as in introduction to anyone interested in becoming a developmental editor or adding developmental editing to their portfolio of editorial services, or as a refresher to someone who offers developmental editing as a service (that's what I do, so this review is written from that perspective). The book uses a case-study approach, which I think is effective in offering important perspective on applying what you're learning from the author. In my opinion, the case studies This book is pretty terrific as in introduction to anyone interested in becoming a developmental editor or adding developmental editing to their portfolio of editorial services, or as a refresher to someone who offers developmental editing as a service (that's what I do, so this review is written from that perspective). The book uses a case-study approach, which I think is effective in offering important perspective on applying what you're learning from the author. In my opinion, the case studies are realistic and present the typical sorts of circumstances and challenges that developmental editors routinely encounter. However, the case studies make up half or more of the content of the book, so don't be surprised that the entire text isn't pure instruction. All the text is valuable from an educational perspective, and the didactic part of "learn this" and "pay attention to that" is excellent, but about half the content is experiential learning. And, frankly, it's much cheaper to learn that from this book than from underpricing an editing project.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    A practical, manageable, and enjoyable guide to DE.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Hiskes

    A guide to open-heart surgery on books.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sonnet Fitzgerald

    My wonderful sister-in-law, Emmy, bought me this book for my birthday. Now is that a great SiL, who buys me books about editing, or what?? I've been wanting to read this for a while and I'm so glad I finally got the chance. The greatest thing about this book is that it is hilarious. It manages to convey a ton of information while still being a very fun read. Even if you're only peripherally involved in dev edits or publishing, I would recommend this book, just because it's so enjoyable. The struct My wonderful sister-in-law, Emmy, bought me this book for my birthday. Now is that a great SiL, who buys me books about editing, or what?? I've been wanting to read this for a while and I'm so glad I finally got the chance. The greatest thing about this book is that it is hilarious. It manages to convey a ton of information while still being a very fun read. Even if you're only peripherally involved in dev edits or publishing, I would recommend this book, just because it's so enjoyable. The structure of this book was perfect, with everything clearly set out and moving logically from one concept to another. There were ample case studies to learn from, and they often tied into each other. Maybe that's just the way I learn best, but I really appreciated those and found them fascinating. There were clear instructions and tips, giving the reader a solid and confident understanding of the developmental editing process. I've worked as a dev editor for almost a decade and I learned some new tricks. Two small quibbles, which are so minor they do not affect the quality: 1) this book is written for non-fiction. I didn't know this before picking it up, and as I edit fiction, it wasn't as helpful to me as I had hoped. There's a whole different process for fiction. That doesn't mean it was useless, I still learned a lot. It would have been more enjoyable, though, if I had known what to expect up front. 2) My copy was published in 2009, and I read it in 2017. Even though it was only 8 years old, the world and the landscape of publishing are changing so fast that the read felt dated. We're not at war with Saudi Arabia, and unfortunately almost none of the advice about working for publishers remains accurate. That's not the author's fault, that's just how it is right now, in a state of flux. Still, a re-release with updated info would be a better read. Overall a wonderful, enjoyable, informative addition to my home office.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Scott Norton's DEVELOPMENTAL EDITING is described as a handbook on this comprehensive, deeply analytical form of editing that's geared toward freelancers, authors, and publishers. And for the most part, that's true. Norton doesn't just explain what developmental editing (a.k.a. substantive or content editing) is. He also explains in great detail the different aspects of it, from the initial stage of assessing the potential of a book's contents to reorganizing the structure and finessing the writ Scott Norton's DEVELOPMENTAL EDITING is described as a handbook on this comprehensive, deeply analytical form of editing that's geared toward freelancers, authors, and publishers. And for the most part, that's true. Norton doesn't just explain what developmental editing (a.k.a. substantive or content editing) is. He also explains in great detail the different aspects of it, from the initial stage of assessing the potential of a book's contents to reorganizing the structure and finessing the writing style. In each chapter, he uses a case study to illustrate how an editor may tackle the issue at hand and offer comments to the author to address areas of improvement. For its purposes, DEVELOPMENTAL EDITING is a solid resource for nonfiction writers and editors seeking a theoretical approach to this style of editing. For anyone who focuses on fiction or is looking for more practical or hands-on information, however, this book may be better as a companion resource while taking a course on developmental editing. Also, I've learned from experience that I get more out of books on writing or editing that are written in an engaging style or that allow me to "get my hands dirty" as I read. While DEVELOPMENTAL EDITING fell short on both fronts, I do appreciate the information it shares (especially the chapters about style/voice and display/typographical matter), and I plan on referring to it as needed during future dev edit projects.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Walsh

    Several chapters for this book are assigned reading for an advanced editing course that I am taking, and wanting to get full value from my purchase, I read the entire book. Scott Norton packs a lot into this short book. The publisher packs a lot, too, setting the book in nine-point type. To illustrate the work that developmental editors (DEs) do, Norton develops and carries through a scenario in each chapter. Each scenario features one of two fictional editors who portray in their turns the yin a Several chapters for this book are assigned reading for an advanced editing course that I am taking, and wanting to get full value from my purchase, I read the entire book. Scott Norton packs a lot into this short book. The publisher packs a lot, too, setting the book in nine-point type. To illustrate the work that developmental editors (DEs) do, Norton develops and carries through a scenario in each chapter. Each scenario features one of two fictional editors who portray in their turns the yin and yang, or left-brain orientation and right-brain orientation that make up the art and science of developmental editing. The developmental editors with whom I have worked have also been asked to do competitive analyses, comparing features in all of the major current titles on the subject of the book they were editing. Scott Norton does not devote much, if any time to this part of a DE's work, but I wonder if that's because higher-education textbook publishing is too much of a niche or even an outlier. I don't know if I will ever get hired to do developmental editing, but if I do I will be glad to have Scott Norton's excellent title available for reference.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Savannah

    I am not going to rate this book just due to the fact that there are many different aspects that have two very opposing ratings. If I were to rate it, the prose and advice sections were wonderfully written, and incredibly helpful. Chapter 10 dragged a bit and should have been placed earlier in the sequence, but other than that I really enjoyed the process of reading it. However, I agree with another reviewer that there is some highly questionable and problematic aspects to this book. Being publi I am not going to rate this book just due to the fact that there are many different aspects that have two very opposing ratings. If I were to rate it, the prose and advice sections were wonderfully written, and incredibly helpful. Chapter 10 dragged a bit and should have been placed earlier in the sequence, but other than that I really enjoyed the process of reading it. However, I agree with another reviewer that there is some highly questionable and problematic aspects to this book. Being published in 2009 does not excuse it, but it does explain it. I would very much appreciate an updated version with a revision made to the case study sections. The stories themselves were good, but the writing itself featured unnecessary and harmful descriptions and phrases.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    This was a very strange book. It included extensive and overly detailed case studies that had me Googling whether the stories they conveyed were true. (They were not.) It's almost as if the author wanted to write a novel. I found this distracting and unnecessary. That said, I definitely gleaned some useful tips from the actual advice about editing. I wonder, though, how accurately the minute details about publishing have aged. That part was entirely irrelevant to me so I mostly skimmed it. Overa This was a very strange book. It included extensive and overly detailed case studies that had me Googling whether the stories they conveyed were true. (They were not.) It's almost as if the author wanted to write a novel. I found this distracting and unnecessary. That said, I definitely gleaned some useful tips from the actual advice about editing. I wonder, though, how accurately the minute details about publishing have aged. That part was entirely irrelevant to me so I mostly skimmed it. Overall, I'm not sure I would recommend this book. I would guess there are some more straightforward sources for getting the same information in fewer pages.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    This was a detailed course in developmental editing contained in a book. I think it could bear several readings, especially the way I read it: in snatches before my toddler got up in the morning. I appreciated that his case studies explored not only the specific DE issue Norton was addressing, but also gave implicit instruction on dealing with different clients and contracts. Since fiction is my specialty, this was an aspect that helped me more than the technical part of the book, since it's aime This was a detailed course in developmental editing contained in a book. I think it could bear several readings, especially the way I read it: in snatches before my toddler got up in the morning. I appreciated that his case studies explored not only the specific DE issue Norton was addressing, but also gave implicit instruction on dealing with different clients and contracts. Since fiction is my specialty, this was an aspect that helped me more than the technical part of the book, since it's aimed at nonfiction DEs. Still, there was a lot I probably will end up using down the road in fiction editing. All together, a solid resource.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Read for my certificate class on developmental editing. The text is very informative but somewhat dry, and I was disappointed that “the first work devoted entirely to developmental editing” focused largely on nonfiction. I would have liked to see many more how-to’s and examples for dev editing fiction manuscripts.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Vonetta

    Wow, this was technical! I don't know what I was expecting, but this was waaaaay more technical than I needed. That said, a few pages of this book has helped me totally restructure my book, so I'm grateful. Wow, this was technical! I don't know what I was expecting, but this was waaaaay more technical than I needed. That said, a few pages of this book has helped me totally restructure my book, so I'm grateful.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Pete Harris

    Lots of detail about the publishing industry, and the kinds of things developmental editors have to do. It's very focused on non-fiction, so if you want to know more about developmental editing for fiction, you'll have to extrapolate a bit. Lots of detail about the publishing industry, and the kinds of things developmental editors have to do. It's very focused on non-fiction, so if you want to know more about developmental editing for fiction, you'll have to extrapolate a bit.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Clarke

    Most handbooks tend towards the dry, no matter how useful their information might be. Not this one. There's a lot of useful information here and it's presented in a very readable, easy to digest format which is appreciated. Most handbooks tend towards the dry, no matter how useful their information might be. Not this one. There's a lot of useful information here and it's presented in a very readable, easy to digest format which is appreciated.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Paul Silvia

    I read this book every time I start to ponder a new book idea---it's excellent. I read this book every time I start to ponder a new book idea---it's excellent.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Read for my Chicago course. Focuses on nonfiction, but nonetheless a fabulous resource that I will definitely be returning to again and again.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rena Graham

    Loved it. Super helpful advice.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jesica

    Absolutely essential reading for developmental editing and nonfiction writers. This is a how-to in assembling a nonfiction book and an invaluable resource.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

    the first half has a lot of useful information, but in the middle it constantly repeats itself and at one point introduces a chapter with three pages worth of content that could be completely cut.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Robert Kinsloe

    Excellent info

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jen Grogan

    A great, in-depth look at the processes of developmental editing, but (unfortunately for me) very specific to non-fiction books. I found a lot of interesting insights here, but less, sadly, that I'll be able to put to immediate use. A great, in-depth look at the processes of developmental editing, but (unfortunately for me) very specific to non-fiction books. I found a lot of interesting insights here, but less, sadly, that I'll be able to put to immediate use.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Delores

    Basic and bare bones advice.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Janett Wawrzyniak

    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; 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

  27. 4 out of 5

    Savanna

    While this book makes some helpful points about developmental editing practices, it’s rather poorly copy-edited and misses the mark in tone and scope. Throughout each chapter, the writing switches abruptly from Norton’s advice to strangely written “case studies” of fictional developmental editors that seem straight out of a children’s textbook. The overall tone seems to miss the mark, as Norton uses clunky abbreviations and a third-person voice even though the book would be much clearer and more While this book makes some helpful points about developmental editing practices, it’s rather poorly copy-edited and misses the mark in tone and scope. Throughout each chapter, the writing switches abruptly from Norton’s advice to strangely written “case studies” of fictional developmental editors that seem straight out of a children’s textbook. The overall tone seems to miss the mark, as Norton uses clunky abbreviations and a third-person voice even though the book would be much clearer and more personal if it would just assume it’s addressing actual and prospective developmental editors and write to them directly. While this book could offer an engaging, candid account of Norton’s professional experiences, it’s instead strangely detached and passive, sometimes clumsily dropping a few tangential traces of individuality but completely avoiding relevant anecdotes. Why would Norton spend so much time composing the strange “case studies” of fictional editors rather than just frankly sharing his own experiences? That would certainly have been more helpful. Instead he comes off as dispassionate and aloof. Moreover, despite occasionally alluding to the importance of compassionate, polite exchanges with publishers and authors, Norton’s example queries are quite blunt, and I got the impression that he’s rather contemptuous of other editorial roles. He often insinuates that copy editors, proofreaders, and typesetters are less skilled and less important than developmental editors. This is particularly off-putting given the overall shortcomings of the book that could have been remedied through better copy editing. Norton’s guide unfortunately focuses too much on the overall layout of the book and too little on the actual details of refining the writing. Though it does make some helpful points about considerations and approaches for developmental editing and is easy to navigate, it isn’t at all inspiring. Its premise is good, and the book has few competitors, but it’s still poorly executed.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Korynne

    I read this book for my editing class, but it would be good for any kind of editor, or for anyone who does prepublication work on a manuscript. Overall, this book gives good tips and step-by-step guidelines for developmental editors working on different kinds of manuscripts. Although it focuses on nonfiction publications, this book also includes segues about what to do if you're editing fiction pieces. The book takes you through the entire editing process from accepting a publishable proposal to I read this book for my editing class, but it would be good for any kind of editor, or for anyone who does prepublication work on a manuscript. Overall, this book gives good tips and step-by-step guidelines for developmental editors working on different kinds of manuscripts. Although it focuses on nonfiction publications, this book also includes segues about what to do if you're editing fiction pieces. The book takes you through the entire editing process from accepting a publishable proposal to drafting a blueprint to adding the finishing designs. Each chapter features one kind of author, one kind of client, and one kind of assignment, which I will list below. The chapters detail how an editor should deal with each kind of author, client, and assignment, incorporating short anecdotes throughout the book as real-life examples of what it might be like as the editor in certain situations. Along with the anecdotes, there are sidebars that feature examples of what text should look like in a table of contents, how to categorize notes on a manuscript, how to organize possible thesis statements, how to create effective titles, and other useful ways to organize and maximize your editing. Featured authors: The Veteran The First-Timer The Coauthors The Historian The Theorist The Sole Authority The Dead Author The Journalist The Author-for-Hire Featured clients: The Agent The Big Trade House The Small Trade House The Copublisher The University Press The Regional House The Self-Publisher The Book Packager The Trade Reference House Featured assignments: The Proposal with Too Many Concepts The Tome with Too Many Subjects The Study with Too Many Theses The Sprawling Saga The Theory with Too Many Tangents The Local History Turned Personal The Memoir with Lapses The Story with Too Many Voices The Guidebook with Poor Signage

  29. 4 out of 5

    Roger Market

    This is a great handbook. The case studies are thoughtful and insightful, and it's clear why they're the best approach to developmental editing instruction. The typical approach used for copyediting, etc., wouldn't work for high-level editing. However, the book could use a summary and a checklist and/or workflow to tie things together. I'm not sure where I'd begin if I had to DE a manuscript; I'd probably find myself frantically combing the handbook for a workable pathway, wasting valuable time. This is a great handbook. The case studies are thoughtful and insightful, and it's clear why they're the best approach to developmental editing instruction. The typical approach used for copyediting, etc., wouldn't work for high-level editing. However, the book could use a summary and a checklist and/or workflow to tie things together. I'm not sure where I'd begin if I had to DE a manuscript; I'd probably find myself frantically combing the handbook for a workable pathway, wasting valuable time.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Brooks

    This is a great book for any developmental editors out there, but it can also be useful for writers. I knocked it down a star because many of the examples were aimed at high-level, academic nonfiction; I was hoping for more fiction examples. I didn't finish it because it's not relevant to the work I'm doing right now, but I'd recommend it to anyone heading into developmental editing. This is a great book for any developmental editors out there, but it can also be useful for writers. I knocked it down a star because many of the examples were aimed at high-level, academic nonfiction; I was hoping for more fiction examples. I didn't finish it because it's not relevant to the work I'm doing right now, but I'd recommend it to anyone heading into developmental editing.

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