Developmental Editing’s Focus

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Writing a book requires a great deal of organization and focus. The same holds true for developmental editing. Throughout the process, a developmental editor will ask many questions and make sure they’re answered in ways that won’t confuse or distract the reader.

These questions can be organized into broad categories. Various developmental editors will tackle these categories in different orders, but all categories will be addressed.

Goal of the writer. This is usually the first category dealt with. Why do you want to write the book? Why did you write what you wrote? What do you hope the reader will gain by reading the book? These are questions that a developmental editor must ask and know the answers to before continuing.

Goal of the book. Sometimes, this is the same as the goal of the writer, but it might not be. Many non-fiction book authors want the book’s goal to be something like: It leads to a steady revenue stream. That’s really the writer’s goal. 

A book on finding love might want to teach the reader techniques to find a life partner (the goal of the book), but if the writer has a practice, the goal might be to establish credibility so the reader hires them to be their relationship coach (the goal of the writer).

A CEO or adjunct professor might write a book to inform about their business or the class they’re teaching (the goal of the book). But if the CEO or professor wants the book to lead to speaking engagements, that’s the goal of the writer.

A developmental editor will separate and resolve the differences.

Goal of the reader. First, you must know who are your readers. Then, when someone finishes reading your book, what will they feel? Will they feel satisfied? Will they be inspired to act in some way? Will your book go down in the annals of literature as one that brings something new and exciting to this category of book? That last question is a little dramatic, to be sure, but a developmental editor will ask, how well the book could be received and remembered?

Category. What type of story or book are you writing? What elements do readers expect from that type of book? Do you have those elements, and are you presenting them in unique and compelling ways that would keep your readers riveted? Fiction books use a different term: genre, but the same principles apply to nonfiction books.

Theme. What is this book really about? Why are you writing it? Why does it matter to you, and why should it matter to your readers? A developmental editor also will examine how well you carry that theme throughout the book and offer suggestions to make it more powerful and effective.

Structure. Many nonfiction books don’t follow a traditional beginning/middle/end structure like works of fiction do. However, successful nonfiction books use the same storytelling principles in the various scenarios the writer uses to explain, highlight, and amplify the points the writer makes in the book. 

So, a developmental editor will ask, what are the scenarios you use to illustrate your concepts? Do your scenarios have a beginning, middle, and end? Do your scenarios start with some event or incident that set the story in motion? Does you story build to a climax? Does the ending make sense? Have you communicated all of this clearly? Are your book’s ideas organized in a logical manner so the reader won’t get lost?

Characters. This is closely related to structure. Who are the people in your book’s scenarios? How do they behave through the scenario’s beginning, middle, and end? What are their roles in setting the story on its way, in the climax, and in the resolution? Do they act in ways that make sense for the story you’re telling within the scenario?

I understand that this is a lot to digest, so I’m making myself available to you to answer any questions you might have. I can be reached at (818) 521-1675, lee@leebarnathan.com, or on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/leebarnathan). 

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