Book Review: Developmental Editing by Scott Norton

Confession: my strongest suit in editing in proofreading. This probably stems from working too many shifts as a grammar tutor, but there it is. Chasing down commas is what I do (whether or not I’m supposed to).

However, where there’s strength in one area, there’s often weakness nearby. And my weakness is developmental editing. I often struggle with knowing how much to edit without losing the essence of the work. With this confession in mind, one of my internship supervisors recommended the book Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers by Scott Norton. He thought it would be a good introduction into the field and ended up reading it with me.

Image courtesy of Nic McPhee (Flickr)It turned out to be a pretty good decision. We both agreed the book was very thorough without being extraordinarily long. It’s laid out in 10 chapters, each dedicated to one step of the developmental process, ranging from re-working the TOC to creating a cohesive style.

Each chapter is also accompanied by a case study. The case studies are printed in a different typeface and run in and out of Norton’s advice in each chapter. He wrote it so that you can read the case studies to see a tangible example of his advice, but the text reads clearly without the studies as well. These case studies were certainly the strongest piece to the book and cemented the information in my head.

Norton’s advice comes from several years of being the director of editing, design, and production at the University of California Press. He writes in a clean, practical prose, so his thought process is easy to follow. My only caution is if you are planning to read this book, set aside plenty of time for it. I didn’t, but I wish I had if only to soak in Norton’s advice better. However, while I still wouldn’t call myself an expert developmental editor by any means, the field no longer seems so intimidating, thanks to Scott Norton’s Developmental Editing.

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