Top Tips for Substantive Editing

What comes into your mind when you consider the term “editing?”

The majority of writers and readers associate editing with the correction of punctuation, grammar, and word choices in a text. However, most first drafts of a book need a great deal more work before it is even ready for this stage of correction! 

You should not rush into correcting punctuation and grammar as soon as you have written a first draft. Before even considering these elements, you need to make sure that you are on the right path with what you have already written.

If the content of your book is not sufficiently interesting or effective, correcting its grammar and checking the mechanics will not matter. Furthermore, focusing on these will just be a waste of time, effort, and money. The first thing you need to do is ensure you have included everything needed to achieve your book’s goals and that this material is properly organized.

How can this be achieved?

Begin by Doing a Content Edit

The process of content editing, also referred to by the term “substantive editing,” involves carrying out an analysis of your completed draft to be sure it is legible and meets the objectives you defined for your book at the outset. When you have planned your book, created an outline, and written your first draft, you are ready for the first stage in the editing process.

A lot of new and inexperienced authors neglect the substantive editing stage when they complete their first draft. The main reason for this oversight is the belief on the part of the writer that they just need to copyedit their work for punctuation, grammar errors and, perhaps, to make a few minor adjustment to the words. It may be that you do not fully understand the reasons for this particular step and/or do not feel the cost of content editing is justifiable. 

To address this specific concern, it is important to understand that you do not have to engage an expensive professional editor to help you with content editing. You simply need the help of someone who is familiar with and understands the message of your content and its genre. In fact, this step could be undertaken by fellow writers, friends who work in editing, or test readers (as in beta testing). If possible, try to involve all these people! The greater the number of eyes you get to check your work early on, the much better it is likely to be! 

It may be that your text goes through several rounds of substantive or content editing as a way of ensuring the message you intended to get across is indeed clear. Following each editing round, it is likely you will have to undertake some significant revision, which may mean removing sections, rewriting whole sections, and/or adding in some content that was not there originally.   

At this point, do not allow yourself to get too involved with issues related to grammar and/or with word choices. Although these elements are very important to keep in mind during the entire process of writing, undertaking a lot of edits at sentence-level during the content or substantive editing stage will not be much use since you are likely to have to rewrite many of your original sentences.

While you, your content editors, and your beta readers make their way through the content of your book, the factors to consider at this point include:

The Tone and the Voice in a Written Piece

The specific tone in a piece of writing usually has a significant impact on how the writer’s brand is perceived by readers. If, for instance, one operates a coaching service in a near-military style, it would not be appropriate to write an e-book about that service using fabricated and whimsical words such as “wonderbob” and “fabgroovey.”  

But, equally so, if you are someone who likes to create fun for your clients, it may be that you are in the habit of getting people to draw futuristic visions using crayon. If this is the case and you have written your e-book in the manner of a college essay, readers are likely to find your text extremely boring.

Therefore, the content editor(s) you engage can check your text to make sure the tone and voice of your writing match your brand’s voice, the objectives of this particular book, and any other books you have written.  

Continuity and Consistency

The editor you engage to check your content will also make sure the message you intend to convey in your book is put across in a manner that demonstrates continuity and consistency.

Let your editor have a copy of your outline and any other writing materials that may help them better understand your message and general vision. These materials will enable them to get beyond the punctuation and grammar at sentence level and become more involved with the core and essence of your book so that they can make it shine.

Ensure Your Book’s Message is Effective

If your writing is a non-fictional piece, or particularly in the case of a book with a strong message such as a user manual or manifesto, it is here that you and/or your content editor will make sure that your book is properly conveying the core message of your brand to readers.

Has your book addressed the objectives you established at the outset? When both your editor and yourself start looking over your draft, see if your gut instinct tells you this is what you wanted to write when you first started. If it is not, what do you need to change in order to ensure it achieves your intended objectives?

Ask these questions of yourself and your content editor(s):

  • Does your writing convey the core message of your brand?
  • How is your local community served by your work?
  • Does your writing reflect the traits that are unique to you and your work?
  • Does your writing provide clear objectives and important actions for readers?
  • Would you really want to read this book?

A Vital Step You Should Not Skip!

Whether you have written a fictional or non-fictional book, a worksheet of one page, or a text with 100,000 words, you should find substantive editing and feedback at the content level beneficial.  

Every text needs a fresh pair of eyes and – of greater importance – an outside perspective to give you an honest opinion on whether your work makes sense and if it is meeting your intended objectives. When these are known to you, only then should you turn your attention to punctuation and grammar.

Are You Ready to Have Your Manuscript Edited?

The editing and polishing assistance offered by TopThesis.com - and the courses we run - will take you through all the editing stages i.e. the development stage, the content editing stage, the copyediting stage, and the proofreading stage. This thoroughness will ensure your manuscript is as good as it possibly can be before it gets published and shared with the wider world.