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Al Desetta

Developmental Editor

I'll Help You Transform a First Draft into a Great Book

Have you written a partial or complete manuscript? Are you stuck in some way and not sure what the answer is? As an award-winning developmental editor, I help authors like you transform a good first draft into a great and published book. 



Al Desetta, Developmental Editor

I'm Al Desetta, a full-time developmental editor. I work with authors who have a complete or partial manuscript that needs improvement. I will help you rethink, reorganize, and rewrite your book. As a long-time New York editor, I’ve worked with dozens of memoir writers, academics, business leaders, and even first-time authors.

I've edited books accepted by top publishers—Simon & Schuster, Routledge, Cambridge University Press, Columbia University Press, Persea Books, and Free Spirit Publishing. My work has received numerous awards and praise from distinguished authors, including Jonathan Kozol, Marian Wright Edelman, Martin Seligman, and Peter Benson. 


Based on my wide experience as a professional developmental editor, I know how to go to the heart of your story to enhance your core themes while helping you stay true to your voice and ideas. 


A developmental edit may mean a revised organization, rewriting existing material, or developing new material to improve on what you already have. I will guide you through this process. The end result will be a vastly improved book.

Book Projects

Satisfied Authors

James Zimring.jpg

"Al was indispensable for my book project. He acted as a wonderful sounding board, helped me organize my thoughts, and improved my writing style. I could not have asked for a better experience and I recommend him with the highest enthusiasm."


Dr. James Zimring, M.D., Ph.D.

What Science Is

and How It Really Works

Cambridge University Press

I assisted sex therapist Suzanne Iasenza in reorganizing and rewriting her book Transforming Sexual Narratives (Routledge), which draws on three very different therapeutic traditions to help readers rewrite their mistaken narratives, and reclaim pleasure, intimacy, and satisfaction in their erotic lives.  



“Al Desetta did a masterful job of reworking the original manuscript. His guidance and encouragement throughout this project are truly appreciated.”


Thomas A. Jacobs, J.D. 

  They Broke the Law--You Be the Judge:

True Cases of Teen Crime

Free Spirit Publishing

The Process

The Process


First, I talk with you about your goals as an author. Second, I carefully evaluate what you've written so far. And third, I offer constructive feedback in the form of a tangible blueprint for improving your manuscript. As you do the writing, I will guide you in executing that blueprint.


Perhaps you aren’t confident about how your story is structured, whether you've gone to the heart of what you really want to say, or whether you’ve written too much or too little about certain events. Perhaps you haven't fully developed the book's major thematic question, the central idea you want to express. 

In helping you revise your book, I will pay close attention to core principles that are essential to any book, no matter the genre.

Whatever stage you're at, I will provide a detailed evaluation of your manuscript that identifies its strengths and weaknesses. We'll then have a blueprint going forward for the developmental editing process.

How a Good Book 

Becomes a Great One


Greatness starts with asking great questions.


For instance, how can we create a more compelling story line? How can we best organize the material? How can we improve the writing? Are the ideas and themes conveyed in ways that resonate with readers? How can we create a more vivid story to grab and engage your audience?


By answering these questions, we'll develop our plan for improving your book.

Once we agree on an approach, I will guide you in rewriting the book according to my manuscript evaluation and your direction. I will give you detailed comments on the revised chapters on a regular basis. Working chapter by chapter, I’ll help you craft a book that says what you want to say, in the most powerful way possible.

My work doesn't end with the developmental edit.  As part of my service I will advise you on the interior and exterior design of your book, write the jacket copy, and give you advice on publication. 

More Testimonials


“My memoir was lost in the weeds until Al provided a structure for it, assisted me in rewriting what I had, and guided me in adding new material.  Whatever success my book has will be due to his expertise."

Cynthia Hammer, M.S.W.

The Circular Staircase:

Living with Attention Deficit Disorder

“Al Desetta has a talent for going to the heart of a writer's story.”


Karen Braziller

Editorial Director

Persea Books, New York

“Al is a good listener and a very skillful at helping writers translate their ideas into the words that best express them.” 

Keith Hefner

Founder, Youth Communication

MacArthur "Genius Award" Winner

How I Work with You

Developmental editors help authors solve story problems. Here's how.

An Organizing Principle. Your book must have an overriding organization. To use an analogy from a writing teacher I studied with at Columbia University, not having an organization is like rowing a boat on the ocean. You lose sight of land and you keep rowing, hoping to sight land on the other side. Soon you realize you’re lost and more rowing (more writing) won’t get you back to shore. You need a direction, a map to get you there, and I'll supply that map. 

A Compelling Story Arc. Where does your book begin? How does the story unfold? In what order is information presented? How do we grab the reader’s attention from the start? How do we keep that attention throughout the book? Where and how will the book end? These are all essential questions I will help you answer.

The Big Picture. You have a lot of source material about your specialty or career, so much, in fact, it's easy to focus on minutia and lose sight of the big picture. I’ll help you stay focused on the big picture so you don’t get lost in unnecessary detail. 

The Right Details. Events or ideas that will resonate deeply with readers may be given too little attention, while less important material is given too much. I’ll help you identify “the diamond in the rough” in your book—the strongest parts of your material and the true heart of your story that need to be expressed.

What You Leave Out is as Important as What You Include. A self-help book can't be about every problem someone faces in life. A business book can't be about your entire career.  A successful book has to focus on key aspects of your expertise, the distilled essence of what you want to say to readers, or what one of my writing teachers called “a heightened, partial truth," the kind of truth that will linger with readers.

Issues of Fairness and Proportion. In a memoir, some material that is particularly personal or painful for you or the people you’re writing about can be dealt with indirectly or not included at all.

When to Show and When to Tell. When to dramatize events using the techniques of fiction writing, such as scenes, dialogue, and description, and when to summarize them by writing in a more analytical and reflective way. This applies to almost every kind of genre.

Writing is Rewriting. A developmental editor helps authors rewrite and deepen their books. The first draft is just a start. In a memoir, for example, revision often means strengthening the book’s emotional and psychological insight. I will guide you through a revision process that will make your book far better than you first imagined it could be.​

Contact Me
Are you eager to transform a good book into a great one?
If your answer is yes, then contact me right now. 
Al Desetta
Developmental Editor

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