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Developmental Editing

A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers

Developmental Editing

A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers

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.

Read the introduction. See the author’s website.

252 pages | 4 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing

Library Science and Publishing: Publishing

Reference and Bibliography


“In Developmental Editing, Scott Norton discloses the analysis and techniques that underlie the seemingly magical act of turning an idea—or a flawed manuscript—into a good book. Norton gives aspiring editors the tools they need to do this demanding job. He gives authors the understanding they need to take advantage of an editor’s advice. Finally, he gives authors without the good fortune to work with a developmental editor a way to look at their own work with a critical eye.”

Beth Luey, author of Handbook for Academic Authors and Revising Your Dissertation: Advice from Leading Editors

“Scott Norton is no seat-of-the-pants developmental editor. He’s a man with a method—practical, detailed, lucid, engaging. Even the most battle-tested editors and agents will rethink their tactics after reading this field guide to manuscript development.”

Susan Wallace Boehmer, executive editor for trade book development, Harvard University Press

“Scott Norton’s book should be required reading for publishers who want to understand developmental editing and how it can improve their books.”

Michael Morgan, president and CEO, Morgan & Claypool Publishers

“I’ve done a fair amount of developmental editing, yet Norton has managed to fill his book with things I didn’t know—or had forgotten or stopped being very disciplined about. Editors of every stripe—DEs, line editors, copyeditors—can learn much from this fresh, readable, and practical book.”

Wendalyn Nichols | Copyediting

Table of Contents

            What Developmental Editing Is
            Whom This Book Is For
            What This Book Covers
            Some Ground Rules
1           Concept: Shaping the Proposal             
             Author Profile: The Veteran
             Client Profile: The Agent
             Assignment: The Proposal with Too Many Concepts
             Locate the Concept
             Profile the Audience
             Evaluate Market Potential
             Bring the Vision into Focus
2           Content: Assessing Potential
             Author Profile: The First-timer
             Client Profile: The Big Trade House
             Assignment: The Tome with Too Many Subjects
             Size Up the Author
             Size Up the Publisher
             Size Up the DE
             Create a Content Summary
             Find the Main Subject

3          Thesis: Finding the Hook
            Author Profile: The Coauthors
            Client Profile: The Small Trade House
            Assignment: The Study with Too Many Theses
            Cull Theses from Topics
            Beware of the Rehash
            Choose the Main Thesis
            Create a Working Title
4          Narrative: Tailoring the Timeline
           Author Profile: The Historian
           Client Profile: The Copublisher
           Assignment: The Sprawling Saga
           Untangle Timelines from Arguments
           Find the Main Timelines
           Brainstorm Timeline Strategies
           Compose the New Timeline
           Finetune the Timeline
           Restore Bits of Argument
5         Exposition: Deploying the Argument
          Author Profile: The Theorist
          Client Profile: The University Press
          Assignment: The Theory with Too Many Tangents
          Untangle Arguments from Timelines
          Find the Main Arguments
          Brainstorm Argument Strategies
          Compose the New Argument
          Finetune the Argument
          Restore Bits of Timeline
6        Plan: Drafting a Blueprint
          Write Up the Plan
          Compose Chapter Theses
          Intervene Strategically

7        Rhythm: Setting the Pace
         Author Profile: The Sole Authority
         Client Profile: The Regional House
         Assignment: The Local History Turned Personal
         Rearrange the Furniture
         Draft New Passages
         Balance Chapter Weights
         Edit for Pace
8       Transitions: Filling in the Blanks
        Author Profile: The Dead Author
        Client Profile: The Self-Publisher
        Assignment: The Memoir with Lapses
        Create Opening Transitions
        Create Closing Transitions
        Draw Conclusions
        Place Those Conclusions
9      Style: Training the Voice
       Author Profile: The Journalist
       Client Profile: The Book Packager
       Assignment: The Story with Too Many Voices
       Set the Tone
       Parse the Rhetoric
       Master Abstraction
       Gauge the Ironies
       Harmonize the Voices
10   Display: Dressing Up the Text
      Author Profile: The Author-for-Hire
      Client Profile: The Trade Reference House
      Assignment: The Guidebook with Poor Signage
      Consider Subheads
      Consider Epigraphs
      Draft an Art Plan
      Illustrate Concepts
      Visualize Data
      Test-Drive Maps
      Add Lagniappe
Further Reading

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