Every writer needs a different kind of assistance from an editor, so I offer a laddered set of services and tools:
- Free tools for DIY authors to improve a manuscript in simple steps;
- Two levels of manuscript reviews, as brief Readers Reports and longer Manuscript Evaluations; and
- Substantive / structural editing with options of either a full service or as a “blueprint” for writers who want to edit their own work.
What is substantive or structural editing?
Substantive editing is about content or substance. Structural editing is about organizing that content.
Content and organization are the twin gate posts that give entry to a reader for an encounter with a book. As a specialist structural and substantive editor I help authors to ensure four things.
- The book has the essential content. There are no gaps.
- All the content is relevant. Nothing needs to be removed.
- Everything is in the right order and well sign-posted. The reader will not get lost.
- The book has allure. It promises discovery if the reader turns the page.
Some authors ask why they need editors to check the content of their manuscript. Surely, the author should decide what goes into the book? An editor checks if the author’s promises to the reader are filled, mediates between the author and the reader regarding content and background, and ensures that the reader can fill the gaps.
There is no mistaking the clear song of well-organized writing. It is easy to read, explains itself, and gives clear signposts for the reader.
The structural editing process
Structural or substantive editing is the first step in editing a book manuscript. I assess content and organization, looking for obvious gaps, checking for clarity, and noting possible additions and alternatives.
Finding the bones
I look for what can be cut. Is the book consistent? Does it meander into dead ends, leaving questions unanswered? Where might it need more sections or chapters?
Assessing the organization
I read the whole manuscript and assess the logical or narrative development. I ensure that the table of contents matches the chapters. I check whether the manuscript lures the reader forward. If it seems more content is needed, I suggest what is required.
Within each chapter, I look for thematic development down to paragraph level. I consider stylistic issues down to sentence level. If changes are needed, I make a new structure or outline based on the table of contents.
The author reviews this, and if required I make adjustments. When the author likes the new structure, either the author or I reorganize the manuscript according to the new structure.
Some rewriting may be needed, and perhaps some stylistic changes. If requested, I check the final version.
Do you need a structural edit?
Organizing the flow of your document or manuscript is hard, unless you outline it before starting to write. If you write “by the seat of your pants,” you will probably recognize these organizational problems.
Length and proportion
The book seems too long, but some material seems to be repeated. it seems too short but you are not sure where to add material.
Continuity and logic
The point of view differs between sections and you wonder if this is appropriate. There are breaks in the flow. Does each section or chapter adequately make its point? You’ve cut out a lot of material, but you think it might be usable somewhere.
Examples and evidence
You have many examples, but some seem marginal. How can you use them more effectively? Do your major statements need better evidence?
Beginnings and endings
Transitions between sections and chapters seem weak.
Interest and credibility
The book might be boring. You aren’t sure if it will attract your readers, or even who will read it. You have profiles of potential readers, but how can you widen your appeal? Will the book have credibility in its field?
Template for a new structure
My easy-to-use guide for re-organizing a manuscript is like an expanded Table of Contents with my comments and suggestions.
Full structural edit
I send a template as above. After the writer has commented, I update the template for further input. On the writer’s approval, I then implement it by moving text and headings into the new structure, adding suggestions about how to smooth over the transitions.
On request, I read the revised manuscript and send comments. After further small changes the manuscript should be ready for copy editing.
Whether a writer wants a template or a full structural edit, I send a contract to establish the details requiring attention. You can preview that contract here.