A client of mine wrote a book proposal based on her dissertation, sent it to a publisher, and was invited to submit the manuscript for a round of peer review. She contacted me after she had gotten the book back with comments and asked me to help her restructure it based on the feedback the peer reviewers had provided.
I took the manuscript and comments, read it thoroughly while taking notes, and designed three options for a new outline and structure for the book, also noting which parts I thought could be deleted. All three options were based on a different type of structure with a different story/argument buildup. After my client picked her preferred option, I got to work restructuring the book, moving parts around, deleting other parts, and creating six new chapters. She then took it from me, edited it, and sent it back to me for a last pass. The book has now been published!
This kind of editing is what I call structural editing. Structural editing is the most rewarding but also most taxing form of editing. When writers come to me because they need help developing their argument, untangle their main points, restructure their book or article, or anything else that involves the content of their work, I always know that I’m in for a lot of work. In order to do a structural edit well, I have to know what the author is trying to argue. I have to immerse myself in their writing and their thought process.
So how do I do it? First, I print the manuscript. While all my copyediting is done on screen, structural editing requires a paper manuscript so that I can easily flip back and forth between sections to understand the structure. It also helps me focus and it makes it easier to take notes.
Once I finish my first pass on paper, I open the document on my laptop and transfer all my comments to the Word document. This is like a second pass, where I go through the document again and usually come up with more ideas about how to restructure or develop it. I note these ideas in a new document for the author.
Next, I send the manuscript and the document containing the restructuring options back to the author, and once they have made a choice, I get to restructuring the book.
After finishing a structural edit, I usually feel a deep satisfaction that is quite different from the contentment I get from a copyedit. Copyediting is extremely satisfying because it fulfills my need for perfectionism. It fully involves my language- and detail-oriented brain and I love it. Structural editing is rewarding because it involves my academic brainpower to its maximum. What is the author trying to say? Which argument is emerging from these pages? How can this story best be structured into different chapters and sections? What should these chapters and sections be named? How can I effectively restructure the text? If something is unclear or if something should be said or done or organized differently, how can I convey this to the author clearly? How do I word the alternatives that emerge in my brain? Which parts are superfluous and should be cut? This is a massive effort, but if it results in a structure that flows, that makes sense, and that the author likes, it is totally worth it. I love being and editor and I immensely enjoy the variety of work I get to do!