Life is full of surprises, and there is nothing more filled with surprise than an author's first substantive edit. It bings in electronically to the author's in-box in an unassuming e-mail. Some editors still work on hard copy, but not many. Most of my work lives in a virtual world.
In a blog last week, I described in depth the purpose of a macro edit. After the author responds to the comments in a macro edit, the substantive or content edit is the next step in the editorial process. It can be a light edit if an author is experienced in self-editing, or it can be a heavy edit if the author has not had time or the experience to turn in a clean manuscript.
When an author opens the manuscript file, it can be a shock to the system. You see, editors use the "track changes" feature on the Word doc, and even the slightest of change will show up in a sea of red.
Experienced authors take a deep breath and read through the manuscript either accepting or deleting changes. If you find yourself deleting more changes than accepting them, you and the editor need to talk. You have a failure to communicate.
I've heard authors say, "I'm shocked. The last editor didn't touch a thing." That may be because the editor didn't have time to edit the manuscript because of his or her workload or the publisher has a policy of sending manuscripts out for copyedits only. That's sad, but it's an economic reality in publishing. Edits cost money: big money. If you've never had a true edit, you've missed out on a learning opportunity.
My hope is that you will tackle a substantive edit on your own manuscript. The following guidelines are what we send out to freelance editors when the in-house editor is buried with other projects:
Guidelines for Freelance Editors
Abingdon Press Fiction
Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition--specifically sections 2.47 through 2.68 to understand the various edits
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged
Both of these resources are available online
CMS [Chicago Manual of Style] Definition-2.55: Substantive editing [Note: also called content editing]
"Substantive editing deals with the organization and presentation of existing content. It involves rephrasing for smoothness or to eliminate ambiguity, reorganizing or tightening, reducing or simplifying documentation, recasting tables, and other remedial activities. (It should not be confused with developmental editing, a more drastic process; see 2.48.)"
This list contains general instruction but is not an exhaustive list of things to check. Use CMS as your guide.
It is your job to correct errors by making changes in the electronic version of the manuscript.
Use Microsoft Word or save the file in MS-Word format.
Work with Word's Track Changes feature turned on. Every edit you make must be tracked.
Look for places to tighten the description or dialogue. Remember, less is more.
Look for pet words or phrases employed throughout the text. Look for clichés or trite phrasing. Either make a simple substitution for overused vocabulary or make a note to the author in a comment box.
Be aware of repetitive sentence constructions that can lead to boredom. Make changes that will add variety to sentence structure or make a note to the author in a comment box.
Remove unnecessary modifiers and redundant words or phrases.
Hunt for passive sentences and replace with active verbs. The use of helping verbs with present participles that end in “-ing” or past participles that need “was” creates a passive voice. Recast those sentences to eliminate as many of them as possible without affecting the tone, the point of view, or the voice of the story.
Always keep the author’s voice in mind. Remember, the manuscript is the author’s work, not the editor’s.
Avoid over editing.
Some authors are content with work that is "just good enough." You need to decide whether you want to settle for being an adequate writer or a writer who continues to grow. I do remember, however, a Scripture that says we should do our work as unto the Lord. Doesn't that mean that we should always do our best?