Written by Janyre Tromp

A developmental (or substantive) edit can be one of the most nebulous and contentious of edits. There are few hard-and-fast rules and more than a few confusing marketing concepts involved, all of which can make the waters murky and authors and editors nervous.

But it doesn’t have to be difficult or combative. Here are three steps to take before you start your nonfiction developmental edit to make a project go more smoothly.

  1. Define your role

The job of an editor is to facilitate purposeful, clear, creative, consistent communication between the author and the audience. Basically, your job as a developmental editor is to ensure a positive reader experience.

That means looking at book-length issues of organization, argument, tone, etc. to ensure that it doesn’t interrupt what the reader is supposed to learn. It’s also your job to point out inconsistencies, inaccuracies, missing front or back matter, and major concerns in permissions, citations, and overarching grammar—anything that is problematic in the message presented.

But it’s hard to do that if we don’t know who the reader is or what they’re supposed to experience.

  1. Define the author’s purpose and expectation

Does the author expect to self-publish or publish traditionally? Self-publishing gives them greater latitude while traditional publishers are much more stringent in expectations. An author will often have a murky definition of their desired outcome or lack the knowledge of the market to know where their place is. Part of your job as an editor is to define that.

What genre are they intending to publish in? Bible study, Christian living, memoir, etc.? This knowledge allows the editor to judge whether the genre expectations are being met for chapter length, content, and feel. But it also defines the author’s purpose. Do they intend to entertain, tell a story, change a behavior, instruct? It allows the editor to know what tone the book should take.

  1. Define the target market, felt need, and promise

We generally encourage authors to think of a target market as a psychographic (someone with a particular need or desire: women with young children who want their kids to see God through nature) rather than a demographic (women aged 20–35 with young children). And marketers often ask authors to think of a specific real person they’re writing to.

What is the hurt or problem the author helps a reader through (felt need)? And what is the end result or promise once the reader finishes the book?

For example, Eryn Lynum’s book, Rooted in Wonder, examines how parents can help their children reengage with God’s world, which is full of amazement, creativity, and love. The felt need is that parents are concerned about kids who are glued to screens missing out on one of the biggest ways God reveals himself to humans: nature. The market is parents whose kids are glued to the screen. Lynum is a certified master naturalist, Bible teacher, and mom, and her book promises to help parents instill an unshakable faith in their kids through the lens of nature and the Bible.

Having this definition of intent will help you, as the editor, filter whether the book as a whole and each chapter as a part accomplishes the goal.

With these three steps taken, you will be well equipped to delve into a developmental edit that satisfies both reader and author expectations.

Janyre Tromp is a twenty-five year veteran book editor by day and writer of historical novels with a healthy dose of intrigue at night. She’s the best-selling author of Shadows in the Mind’s Eye and co-author of both O Little Town and It’s a Wonderful Christmas. And that all happens from her unfinished basement when she’s not hanging out with her family, two troublesome cats, and slightly eccentric Shetland Sheepdog.

You can find her on social media and her website, http://JanyreTromp.com, where you can grab a copy of her FREE novella, Wide Open.

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