Publishing texts (X): Developmental Editing
I recall a talk I heard many years ago by an Australian professor – John Edwards, I think his name was. He had worked in the steel industry and had been deputed to shadow a master steel-maker in order to learn how to make steel well. He said he learnt almost nothing: the steel-maker didn’t know how to articulate his work and the professor, at least at the time, hadn’t known how to enable him to articulate it.
That kind of thing is very common, I think. And it isn’t necessarily because the people concerned are inarticulate. The fact is, a lot of our knowledge is tacit. That interests me – but so too does the other side of the coin. I refer to the way that, when an expert in a craft does know how to articulate their expertise – to teach you the tricks, show you the knack – it can be engrossing, even when you’re not particularly interested in the craft itself.
I’ve always admired how-to books written by people with real expertise. There are a few such books on publishing. One of them I have already reviewed on this blog (21 Nov 2010) – Book Commissioning and Acquisition by Gill Davies. Another is Scott Norton’s Developmental Editing, published in the impressive Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing series.
His treatment of his subject – a much neglected one – is wide-ranging. He explains principles and illustrates them with examples. He specifies the kinds of operations that development editors need to perform. And he writes well, with his own voice. I don’t find the advice that he gives always easy to remember or retrieve – though the headings and sub-headings are clear (as you’d expect in a book on this subject), I wish he’d used more visual organisers. But that is a quibble. Overall, it’s an excellent resource.
A regular lament on this blog is that some of the best books on publishing have been allowed to go out of date. This one was published in 2009 and is still fresh. I hope in due course it is regularly updated to keep it current.