A Unique Book on Editing

★ Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) (Hardcover) by Scott Norton, reviewed by C. J. Singh on amazon.com, copy posted June 4, 2009 (21 of 23 people found the review helpful.) – See all my reviews

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


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.



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