What Do Fiction Authors Need to Know About Structural Editing?

November 25, 2022

Your book manuscript is finished.  Hooray! It’s time to celebrate!  


But... now what?  


You need an editor, but you’re not sure how to find one or what to expect from the process.  I understand where you’re coming from.  Not so long ago, I was new to editing and unaware of the four editing stages:


1.    Structural Editing

2.    Stylistic Editing

3.    Copy Editing

4.    Proofreading


But now that I’ve steeped in the editing world for a while, I’d like to give you an overview of what you need to know about structural editing, and editing in general.



Q:  What is structural editing?

A:  Structural editing is the assessing and shaping of material (your manuscript) to improve its organization and content.



Q:  Are structural editors known by any other names?

A:  Yes, they might be called developmental editors, book doctors, content editors, or macro editors.



Q:  What does a developmental editor (DE) do?

A:  A DE usually works with an author to develop the book concept and shape the content long before the manuscript is completed.



Q:  What will a structural editor (SE) focus on?

A:  A SE will focus on elements of storytelling, such as audience, premise, point of view, voice, plot, narrative pace, characterization, and scenes. They’ll analyze how you’ve shaped the story into chapters, and what elements need revision to bring the story to light.  They will share what they see as the strengths of the manuscript, as well as the “big picture” changes that need work.  Since they’re the first critical reader to analyze the work, they’ll offer constructive suggestions for revision that will improve your chances of getting published.



Q:  Are the four stages of editing often combined?

A:  Yes!  Due to budgetary reasons, the structural, stylistic, and copy editing are often combined.  Proofreading is usually separate though.



Q:  What questions will the structural editor ask?

A:  First of all, SE’s are active, critical readers who will ask themselves questions like: How is the manuscript organized?  How does the text convey meaning?  Are the characters believable?  How effective is the POV?  Is the evidence convincing?



Q:  What is the goal of a SE?

A:  First and foremost, SE’s want to help make your manuscript the best it can be so you can get it published (if that’s your goal).  They want to ask critical questions, diagnose problems in the manuscript, and propose solutions that match your vision. Ultimately, editing is a conversation between author, publisher, and editor and nothing is set in stone.



I hope this overview was helpful.  Check back in on my blog for an article on stylistic editing essentials!