Close this search box.

Substantive Editing (Also Called Developmental or Structural Editing)

the first sculpting step that helps define and shape the work's purpose and flow

stages of editing graphic
silver graphite pencil with shavings on a white background

Have questions about this service?

Substantive Editing (also called Developmental or Structural Editing) is the first phase of editing. This hands-on process involves your editor determining how to make the work its most clear and purposeful. 

Akin to how one would begin a sculpture, your editor will cut, reorganize, and suggest where they feel content should be added, working their way outward, shaping, refining, and restructuring the narrative or book’s content in support of creating the optimum flow of story, development of ideas, character, and plot, and healthy rise and fall of storytelling or narrative methods to make for a dynamic and engaging read.

During this “sculpting” phase, the editor:

  • adjusts issues of cohesion in plot or ideas progression and character development, paying close attention to dramatic tension, stakes, and ebb and flow of scene v. exposition
  • ensures consistency and development for setting and dialogue
  • shapes the overall structure for coherence, pacing, and flow
  • some light attention to the prose to refine the overall tone and pacing may also take place.

When Is the Substantive (Developmental) Edit Complete? 

Once the bones of the work are firmly in place such that the essential purpose of the story or work is clear, and the reader has a solid feeling of progression and change from engaging with the narrative world or nonfiction material, the manuscript is ready for copy and line editing.

For more info on Substantive (Developmental) Editing

This article provides a terrific explanation of what each level of editing entails.

Our article, “The 5 Stages of a Manuscript” also clarifies what you can expect at every stage of editing.

5-Hour Block


3-Hour Intro Block


1-Hour Block


Either purchase your initial block of time below, or contact us directly and we’ll get you started by sharing a proposal, client agreement for your approval, and first invoice. 

Following your purchase, we’ll send you some information and a questionnaire to help us match you to the most appropriate member of our team. Once you’ve been matched, which typically happens within 1-3 days, you’ll be invited to connect with your editor in a private team in our editors’ platform, where you can securely upload your files and chat with your editor and iron out the details. Your editor is not only your editor but also a coach, and they’re happy to collaborate with you throughout the next steps if you’re going to be revising or passing the work back and forth. 

Every editor on our team has years of experience in this work. You will be paired with an editor based on your piece, their expertise and the timeline of your project. 

Your editor will start their work by completion a 3-hour introductory block. They will return this back to you to assess and from this, you should be able to estimate the total cost of the project based on how many pages they were able to do in this time.

Check out our article on the stages of editing, book a free call to tell us about your project and where you are with it, or talk to your editor. They will review a section of the manuscript and chat with you about their recommended next steps. 

All time your editor spends either consulting with you or working on your manuscript is billable. Your time is recorded in 5-minute increments, so you only pay for the time used, and your timesheet where your editor tracks your billing is always available to you so you can see where you stand. If you prepay for a block of time and your editor completes the work or you decide to stop work, any remaining pre-paid time will be refunded less applicable payment processing fees. 

We ask that you submit your manuscript in Microsoft Word or Pages, so your editor can use Review or Track Changes to deliver comments to you for your approval. PDFs are not advised as they are difficult to annotate and cost the editor additional time. 

Want to find out more about this service and others?

5-Hour Block


3-Hour Intro Block


1-Hour Block


Other ways we support our writers ...

revision pages with handwritten notes

Manuscript Evaluation & Developmental Feedback

The first stage of the editing process. Assesses the structural elements of your book: plot, characters, setting, world, dialogue, scenes, etc.

black reading glasses sitting on antique book

Editing (All Levels)

When your manuscript is further along, and you need line or copy editing or proofreading to prepare to submit for publication.

e-reader on print background with pencil


Self publishing or need some help discovering your road to publishing your work? Find out more about the services we offer to get your books out in the world.

jar with string lights beside a plain notebook and pen

Courses & Programs

Unlock the skills you need to become a published author or sign up for one of our Write Your Book in 4 Months mentored programs.

20% Off

Our 4-month Mentored Book Programs, Online Courses, & Writing Coaching and Editing Hours. From November 21-27, 2023

  • USE COUPON CODE write20olpgrnov2023 at checkout!