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What is a substantive/developmental edit?

A substantive edit is a macro-edit, looking at the big picture areas such as pacing, characterisation, plot, and tone. It can also involve line editing – word choice that fits with the desired atmosphere, or draws out character or themes – but doesn’t always. Line edits can also focus on style, creative effects and preventing creative overkill.

Note: line editing is not copyediting.

A substantive edit will not rewrite chapters or scenes for you, but will make comments on areas such as the above as well as concept – is it high enough/appropriate for the genre/target audience; are the stakes high enough; does the story have enough focus and if not where/how can this be improved. That’s just to name a few areas. It is guidance, but ultimately it is for the writer to find the solutions that fit with their style and book’s aspirations.

How does a substantive edit differ from copyediting?

Copyeditors will smooth out grammar and flow, correct punctuation errors and ensure clarity of both sentences and ideas, as well as check spelling and style consistencies, but they won’t advise you on how to tell a compelling story, nor which fiction techniques are needed to create the desired effect.

Why do I need a substantive edit?

Many self-publishers out there are scratching their heads on why they aren’t selling books, or are receiving bad reviews. Don’t make the same mistake as them by skipping one of the most important levels of creating quality novels and memoirs – substantive editing. There is a misconception out there that after the first draft is finished all that’s left to do is the copyediting and then proofreading. This is not how the traditional publishers work and they are your main competition.

Unlike traditionally published authors, self-publishing ones do not have the luxury of a team full of editors helping them craft their book to its best potential, all the way from concept, plot and character development, to copyediting and then proofreading. It is for the self-publishing author to seek out professionals and create their own team they can trust to do the best for their work.

There are a million freelance copyeditors and proofreaders out there, but finding affordable editors who can drill down into the story’s true potential and navigate a path to crafting a compelling and balanced story is not so easy. It’s not a copyeditor’s or proofreader’s job to advise on those areas.

Why put your book on a back footing before it’s even left the starting blocks?


At what stage do I need a substantive edit?

This kind of edit is best done in the earlier drafts, before the story has been polished – certainly before a copyeditor or proofreader gets to it.

Why should I pay for a substantive edit or a critique rather than find a critique partner I can swap novels with?

A critique partner is always a good idea when you are just starting out, still learning and not yet serious about your writing. For those who are more experienced and are committed to bringing to publication a well-crafted story, a critique partner may not be what you need. If you are a more experienced writer it can be extremely difficult to find one that clicks with you. Maybe they have less experience and you are giving them more than you are getting back; maybe they don’t have enough writing experience and insight to be able to see the outer dimensions of your story that you may not have yet recognised. They will likely give feedback on their personal reading tastes, which might not tally with your target audience. An editor will of course tell you what they like about your writing, but mostly they will advise on the story for the market it is intended.

There’s also the matter of commitment. Will a critique partner go through the whole novel until its conclusion AND regularly enough to keep progress moving at a steady pace? They have their own novels they are struggling with and may not be able to afford yours the time within your preferred deadline. When you pay an editor, your book is their focus and so is your deadline.

What’s the difference between your substantive editing service and your critiques?

The substantive edit is for a whole novel and the critique service is by single submission – one chapter at a time, or one short story.

How do I send my work to you?

I prefer to use Google docs for editing and critiquing purposes, but sharing documents on Onedrive is also possible. The beauty of these methods is that they are virus secure, simple to use, and offer quick access. It’s also great for keeping track of editing conversations which can easily become lost in the quagmire of email inboxes.

If you are unfamiliar with how to share documents on cloud storage, take a look at these links for Google Docs and Onedrive file sharing.

Alternatively, if you are really uncomfortable using either of these mediums, contact me and we can work something out.

How do I pay you?

I prefer to go through Paypal or you can make a direct bank transfer if you prefer. In the case of novel edits or coaching, I will send you a contract prior to any payments with payment stages clearly set out. You pay a deposit in the first instance upon signature and following payments are made after the delivery of services, as set out in the agreement.

I'm still not sure. Can't I just try you out first?

Of course! Buy an inline critique to see what you think. All full novel edits that have already tried out a critique receive an automatic discount to accommodate this, so you don't have to pay extra for that trial chapter.

How do I proceed from here?

Get in touch! Email me with details of your project: genre, word count, short synopsis and how far along you are with the project and we'll chat. Once you've established what services you need from me, I will send you instructions on how to go from there.

What about mentoring – how does that work?

Please refer to the relevant page for mentoring/coaching.

Substantive Editing Prices

If you would like to order my services, email me in the first instance and we'll work out where to go from there.

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