Some people may not know, but there are three levels or layers of editing a book. Doesn’t matter whether fiction or non-fiction, doesn’t matter what genre. Book-length manuscripts often need what’s called a structural edit.

If you think of macro to micro, the structural edit is the most macro of them. Dealing with things like pace, order of plot elements, a thing called a ‘through-line’, character motivation and so on. Anything, I guess, that is large and over-arching, and not a ‘small fix’. (I put small and fix in inverted commas because they aren’t necessarily ‘small’ at all. But they can be much simpler than a large-scale structural edit, which is also called a ‘substantive edit’ for that very reason.)

My next book has now been through two structural edits. (My first novel had no structural edit. Like a perfectly-formed child, it just slipped from within, with no medical interventions. Sorry.) The first one, I feel I failed. I didn’t do what they wanted or hoped for. This wasn’t due to recalcitrance, but lack of experience. I didn’t know what to do. How to fix or attend to the areas my amazing publishers pointed out as being somewhat lacking or thin or needing attention.

I rushed it, wanting to ‘get it done’. What a mistake. That first attempt took me 6-8 weeks and it was wasted effort and time. Luckily my publisher is a Good Woman (and likes my stuff) so they asked me to do a bit more work. This time (feeling skittish that I hadn’t hit the mark) I devoted 4+ months to it. I went back into the story properly, spent time with it and the characters again. Looking at story-lines, motivations, pace. Pace was the big one.

I sent it off. Waited the agonising weeks, busied myself with other enterprises. And then today got the phone call. The revised manuscript is ‘oh, so gorgeous’ and ‘more beautiful even than the first version, and that was so beautiful’ and ‘it made me cry heaps. On the bus. In front of the men.’

I could not be happier or more relieved.

What a work this is.

And here for the people who are still befuddled by what a structural edit is, the top 10 results on google:

So what is a structural edit exactly?

Ultimate guide: structural editing for your novel

Structural editing: Canberra society of editors (go those good editor people of Canberra)

What is structural editing?

How to do a structural edit, and why your manuscript needs one

The structural edit: recognising what is and isn’t working in your ms

Structural editing | to the last word

What is structural editing? | The Book Show

Structural editing, copy editing and proofreading

Structural editing services Brisbane | [this is a paid service]*


Next, when it comes to it, I will post about the Stage 2 edit: the copy edit.


* I don’t know this service and so can’t comment on quality. These are the first ten google returns.