Updated: Oct 19, 2021
Structural edits are the big picture edits authors often receive from their editors or agents after the initial submission of their manuscript.
Sometimes called developmental or substantive edits, structural edits deal with the overarching aspects of a book's plot, themes and story structure. Whole chapters and scenes can be rearranged, added or deleted. Characters can be removed, points of view can be altered and subplots might be chopped or streamlined.
Sounds painful, doesn't it? And that's because it is!
But there's little point in getting to the 'nitty gritty' sentence-level editing without a sound structure underpinning your work. It would hurt much more if you spent hours line editing and polishing a chapter, only for the whole thing to be axed the next day!
Despite the masses of extra work, a structural edit is usually a necessary first step towards creating the best book you possibly can.
So, you've sent your manuscript off to your editor or your agent and you've waited the nail-biting few weeks it usually takes for your edits to land in your inbox. The way you approach the structural notes from your editor will have a huge impact on how well you implement the suggestions.
Here are 3 tips to help you get the best out of your structural edits:
Don't rush to read your editorial notes as soon as they ping into your inbox. Read them when you have the time and space to take them in. It can be exciting to see that notification after the weeks of waiting, and it's wonderful to see the glowing feedback about the aspects of your story your editor loves. However, in most cases, there will be suggestions that might feel overwhelming to begin with, so take a minute to make sure you're sitting comfortably (preferably with a cuppa.)
After you've read through your editorial notes, give yourself a few days to process the information. It's completely normal to feel a little defensive when faced with advice and guidance. It's your book-baby, you've put your heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into it, and now someone's telling you that you might have weeks or months of work still to do before getting it to the next stage! How dare they suggest I need to axe my favourite character/subplot/chapter?! Give yourself space to sulk, cry and stamp your feet and don't reply to your editor for at least 24 hours after you've allowed yourself to get the angst out of your system. By then, you'll have probably realised that they've made some valid points that will bring strength and credibility to your story.
Talk it through. Having a sounding board will help you find ways to implement your changes, giving you a place to start. Find a trusted writing friend or critique partner to talk it over with, or request a call with your editor to discuss things further. It takes a village to write a book and getting other people's perspectives on a sticky plot point can be invaluable.
What feels impossible right now will soon be a memory. I remember feeling like giving up when I got my structural edits for my first two novels, but it wasn't long before I felt incredibly grateful for them. My stories were stronger for it, and they enabled me to look at my books with pride. It will be worth it, and your readers will thank you for going the extra mile to get things right.
For more info and comforting words about editing, visit Emma Darwin's blog here
AND, if you don't have a structural/developmental editor (and you'd like one!) do check out my affordable editing services