Skip to main content
Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Author, author! It’s an editor’s life for me.

There is no doubt that daring to put your thoughts, ideas, opinions, emotions or stories, into the public domain is to invite a response, be it praise or criticism. It is a wise author that recruits some help before “going public” and for many the first step is a substantive edit or structural editing, comprehensive editing, development editing – different companies use different labels for pretty much the same thing.

At this point the big questions are about intended use and audience, about the content and the organisation of the content, and whether the work, works for the reader. Substantive editing is analysis-based, and decisions require judgement, not just the application of rules, and have the support of the author.

We asked Andrew Steeds, who teaches the PTC course Rewriting and Substantive Editing, for his three golden rules. This is his (slightly tongue in cheek) response:

“I guarantee that, if you follow these, you’ll be well on your way to being a decent substantive editor.

"Think about what you are planning to write before you begin to write. No, really, really think about it. And, if you’re working on someone else’s writing, really, really think about what they are trying to achieve.

"Actually, don’t think about what you are planning to write at all. (You see? Substantive editing involves changing your mind mid-stream.) Think about what your readers – or your author’s readers – really need/want to read. That’s more important than what you or your author wants to say.

"And, when you’ve finished writing, or rewriting your author’s writing, put it to one side. Don’t look at it again for at least two hours. Ideally, go for a walk, cook a meal, build a house before you look at it again. And when you do look at it, really, really read it. Don’t rubber-stamp it – don’t approve it until it sits up and shouts at you that you’ve got it right.”

Related Articles

Rewriting and Substantive Editing (Non-Fiction)
Andrew Steeds