After months of working on your nonfiction project, you’ve completed the first draft of your manuscript. Congratulations! You’re already ahead of most people. Take the time to acknowledge it and pat yourself on the back.
But there’s more to do…
If you want your book to be successful, you must dissect it. Message, voice, and clarity are all aspects that contribute to the marketability of the book, and what makes it stand out against others. Developmental editing picks apart what is needed from the book to appeal to the audience—what tone is needed, the best way it can be structured, how much research it requires. Here are ten elements developmental editing examines in nonfiction:
Defining the concept of your nonfiction book is key. Knowing this is essential in the early stages, before any other developmental editing aspects can be applied. Is your book a manual or a how-to guide? Is it historical nonfiction, or a travel guide? If so, how is this different from similar books on the market? Ensuring you know what your book is about, who it’s targeted at, and what you want to achieve is paramount. An editor will help you assess whether your concept is interesting and compelling, whether it is neither too narrow nor too broad, and where it stands in the current market. Once you have a clear idea of your concept, you can focus on the structure, tone, and unique spin on the topic.
2. Overall Structure
Perhaps the most important aspect of any nonfiction book is a good, clear structure. A good framework offers the reader a book that is seamless in its approach to what it intends to achieve. This is essential to give your readers a book that is concise, well organized and, above all, useful. An editor will consider how effective the structure of your nonfiction book is. Does each section follow a logical structure, where ideas build on each other? When revising, consider whether the layout is jarring, and whether it is consistent. A clear introduction and conclusion are mandatory and ensure the information sandwiched between flows.
3. Effectiveness of Chapters
How well your chapters are structured, follow on from that. Establishing each section as effective in exploring a subtopic, without straying off, makes for a well-informed read. Each chapter should be around the same length for consistency, depending on what is needed. Enough focus must be on each subtopic without seeming redundant. Are the chapters or sections too long or too short, with too many or too few headings? Does each chapter have an effective hook and conclusion? How well does each section present information and does it flow?
Whatever you are writing, you have a message to convey in your own unique voice. Ensuring that message is clear is important. Decide whether your purpose is to inform, entertain, or teach – and what you want to say that is unique. You’ll have already considered this when deciding what your concept is. Include what you want the reader to achieve from the book in the introduction, making your message clear from the beginning. Similarly, the conclusion should present how your book has solved a problem or taught new lessons. An editor will consider whether you effectively convey your message. Are you covering unrelated material or including unnecessary information?
Keep in mind you’re writing for a particular audience. An editor will evaluate whether your manuscript is right for the target reader. If your nonfiction book is for beginners, the information needs to be written in an easy-to-digest manner, and the structure should be easy to follow. The same goes for nonfiction how-to or perhaps if your book is targeted at a younger audience. The tone, the message, the voice, the complexity of the information and the way it is presented must be appropriate for the intended readers.
Another important aspect of developmental editing is to ensure clarity in your work. Information should be concise, easy to read, and have supporting evidence from sources that illustrate the points you’ve made. Some questions a writer and an editor should ask themselves are: Is the information presented in a clear and understandable manner? Is the level of complexity appropriate? Is there redundant or repetitive information?
Without a logical structure in which the information in a nonfiction text is portrayed, clarity is difficult to achieve. Are the ideas and arguments displayed in a logical and coherent manner? Presenting a problem with a solution, as well as articulating the cause and effect of the information, contributes to the coherence of your text. The Cause/Effect structure may be useful in historical nonfiction; similarly, the Problem/Solution structure can be useful for self-help or how-to books. Ensure your introduction says what knowledge the reader will gain. Explore this throughout the chapters with a clear conclusion.
8. Voice and Style
Your most essential tool is your voice. For a leadership book, an authoritative voice may be appropriate. For a how-to book, your voice should be informative and personal, while you can add empathy if it’s self-help. Does your personality come through in your writing? An editor can help you analyze this. Another important aspect to consider in your writing is your style. Style examines whether your text is too formulaic and clunky, or too short to effectively convey your message. Always ensure your voice and style return to your message, intention, and target audience, as well as offering your unique take on the subject. Remember that this aspect sets you apart from the rest of the nonfiction work out there and will be key in helping your marketing strategy.
Research, and the amount needed, differs for every nonfiction book. A book for academics draws heavily on research and requires appropriate referencing, i.e., footnotes and a bibliography in Harvard, Chicago, MLA etc., style. Backing up points from an outside source adds authority to your writing. This builds your relationship and credibility with the reader, proving it’s been thoroughly researched. An editor will look at the use of evidence to support your argument and whether it’s properly referenced and cited. An editor will also consider whether the author has used their own experience and examples, as depending on the genre of the book, this may be more important than research alone. Are there too many or too few of your own ideas?
10. Fact Checking
Ensuring the information you include is correct and appropriate is essential for a nonfiction book. If your information is inaccurate, exaggerated, or cliché, you’ll lose your reader’s trust. Work with a developmental editor who specializes in your genre, who will tell you if there are any gaps in the content, if you are not contradicting yourself, and if you are not leaving out important information or repeating yourself. Fact-checking, however, remains the author’s primary responsibility—so ensure you fact check!
Do I Need a Developmental Editor?
All these elements give you the structure you need to write and revise your nonfiction manuscript. Take this master plan as a blueprint, or a list, to check out the things you need to consider when self-editing your manuscript. While it can be a tiring process, the benefits are immeasurable, and can make the difference between a best-selling nonfiction book and a flop. Taking these aspects into account is essential for your marketing, as you outline what your unique selling point is and how it differs from all the other books out there.
Work with an experienced developmental or content editor in your own niche, who understands the genre, and who will review each of these areas for you, telling you exactly what you’re doing right and what needs more work.