A Structural Edit Is Your Book’s BFF

By SP Turgon

 One of the hardest things to see in your own manuscript is where it is its own worst enemy—where it encourages your reader to stop reading. But a structural edit helps prevent that.

Whether it’s non-fiction or fiction, a book’s success hangs on pulling the reader through. From sentence to sentence. Paragraph to paragraph. Page to page.

                  Most successful books went through a good structural edit when they were still a young manuscript.

A manuscript’s first draft is its infancy and growth where it forms an idea. It’s a rough and maturing being standing on its own feet. And it’s full of brand new or repurposed information inside a unique body.

The various drafts a manuscript needs are like its teenage years. They define its identity by deciding how to present information. And like most teenagers, a first draft can be disjointed, lack follow-through, or leave out pertinent information.

So edits are like parents helping their teen mature. Edits ask for clearer details and a complete story. Manuscript edits develop a rough first draft into a mature, polished book.

Maturity matters! Structural edits refine your message.

A structural edit is also called a developmental, substantive, or content edit.

 This critical first step creates a smooth flow of information or plot that takes your reader on a progressive journey.

And like an aunt or cousin or grandparent can often elicit details from a teenager that a parent cannot, the structural edit is best done by someone other than the author.

It requires skimming skills rather than the precise word-by-word attention of a line edit.


Structural edits look at content interruptions that:

  • Repeat

    • Where does the information mimic itself? The structural edit gathers these passages together it to coherently state the thought, once. Repetitions bore readers and encourage them to skim, or worse, put the book down.
  • Digress

    • Where does the information suddenly turn left without warning, leaving the reader confused, searching for explanation? The structural edit finds these instances and creates explanatory segues or transitions.
  • Over-include

    • Where does the information go on and on like a preacher on a hot day, putting the reader to sleep with stuff that could have been said in a few sentences? Structural edits eliminate unnecessary information that could be collected into appendices or simply saved for another book.
  • Forget

    • Where does the information or plot not fully explain? Experts in a field can forget how readers new to the information may need basic definitions or process delineations in order to grasp the book’s conceptual flow.
  • Parrot

    • Where does the information over-speak in another expert’s voice by using long quotes? With so much importance given to another author, lengthy block quotes encourage the reader to stop and go in search of that author’s expertise.
  • Promise

    • Where does the information say, “We’ll talk about that later”? Promising a more complete explanation later sends readers looking for that instead of moving page by page into the full understanding or plot resolution.
    • Though it’s a common mistake in non-fiction material, even fiction can fall into promising to really get into a character’s motives later on, which often leaves the reader feeling they’re just hanging on, not quite understanding a character’s complexity.
  • Lecture

    • Where does the information need to be broken up? Subtitles or headings give the reader breathing space in which to absorb the author’s message. Breaking up long passages with headings creates white space on the page that relaxes the reader’s eye and tantalizes them by heralding something related, but new.
  • Impede

    • Where does the information need to be simplified? Complex explanations or details packed tightly together act like a mudslide on a book’s path, forcing the reader to find a simpler route. Important as it may be, weighty material that is clear to the author’s peers is much more digestible to new readers when it is in smaller sections, charts, or simpler wording.
    • This can also signal where the author needs to clarify who their audience is: are they other experts in the field or people the author wants to educate?

 A good structural edit is an investment that matures a book’s message, leaving it (like an evolving teenager) better prepared for more fine-tuned editing decisions ahead. Your reader’s satisfaction—and probably your book sales—depends on it.

For more great info on book writing and publishing see This Business of Books (2016) by Claudia Suzanne



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