What is Content Editing?

Content editing is the process by which a professional editor will provide editorial feedback to help lift a manuscript to a publishable standard. This is the type of editing that is focused on structural elements, readability and other key aspects such a character development and plot inconsistencies (for fiction).

It is normally the first time a book has received formal feedback and will stimulate some level of rewriting. This means that during the publishing process, content editing focuses on correcting many aspects of the book and can take weeks, or even months, as the writer and editor work closely to improve the book and aim for an error free manuscript..

What Content Editing Includes

Content editing is known by several different names; it is called developmental editing, structural editing, story editing, comprehensive editing, macro editing, or even heavy editing. However, the most common alternative is called substantive editing.

But they are all the same and do the same job in the editing process.

The role of the editor is to ensure that a book is of a publishable standard.

Wikipedia describes content editing as "significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscript's discourse".

In reality, editing is a much more complicated process. The editor will examine the entire manuscript considering all aspects of the story, including things such as its narrative and structure. In addition, readability, plot, and structure are also taken into account. Some freelance editors will also look out for line-level problems, such as sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation. The better editors will assess a book's suitability for the marketplace. They may also help you to pinpoint the book's genre correctly.

Book Editing Questions

Unlike copy editing, which follows a rigid manual of style (sometimes called a style guide), content editing is very much about an editor's training, past experience, and 'gut feeling'.

This means that the editor's skill is essential if they are to deliver the type of edit that will transform your book. They cannot follow the strict rules of a style guide since each book is different. Instead, during the editorial process, the editor will continuously hold several open-ended questions in their mind. They will apply these questions as they read.

Here are some examples of these questions (there are more, but they are often genre-specific):

  • Does the structure of the book make sense?
  • Is the presentation logical?
  • Is there a wider story arc that engages the reader and pulls them through the narrative?
  • Has a coherent viewpoint been applied? Is it consistent? Does it make sense for the story?
  • Does the chapter structure make sense? Does the writer understand scene structure?
  • Have narrative techniques been correctly applied?
  • Does each scene contain sufficient description?
  • Is each new character sufficiently described?
  • Is the tense consistent?
  • Is the characterization believable and consistent?
  • Are the characters sufficiently developed?
  • Are there any obvious plot holes?
  • If the novel is set in the past, are there any inconsistencies in the use of objects, etc.?
  • Does the book's voice, style, and format match the genre expectations?
  • Is the writer telling, when they should be showing?
  • Are the facts accurate?
  • Does the book's word count meet the genre expectations? If it is too short, how can it be extended? If too long, what approach should be taken?
  • Has the writer correctly formatted paragraphs? Will shorter or longer paragraphs better suit the style or genre of the book?
  • If a prologue is used, does it match the genre and make sense to the wider narrative?
  • Does the book need an introduction?
  • Does the book need additional end material, such as a bibliography or epilogue?
  • Should the writer include information about themselves?
  • If relevant, is the book correctly referenced?
  • If images, tables, and diagrams have been used, has the copyright been correctly attributed?
  • If included, are all footnotes or endnotes correctly presented and formatted?

It is worth noting that line editing is not part of the content editorial process. However, at BubbleCow we include line editing as part of the service.

When is Content Editing Needed?

In this article, I outlined the different types of editing needed when publishing a book.

The best way to understand the editorial process is to consider the steps undertaken by traditional publishers when preparing a book for publication.

The first step is content editing; when an editor provides feedback and the writer reworks the book to a standard suitable for publication.

This is followed by copy editing; this is the process of removing errors and typos from a manuscript. They all also assess the sentence structure. It is also when the copyeditor will ensure that the prose is consistent and matches the house style.

The final step is for the manuscript to be laid out for either paper printing or digital printing. This process can add errors to the text, so one more editorial inspection is needed. This is called a proofread.

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What Does a Content Editor do?

The content editor's role is complicated, but they will consider readability, plot, and structure.

The content editor will read the manuscript and highlight any issues that they will find. These might be with smaller problems of characterization or broader plot problems.

The feedback will be provided in both embedded comments and in a separate report.

The editor will then work closely with the writer to ensure that they are making the changes needed to lift the book to the required standard.

A good content editor will also be making some line-level alterations, though this is not usually part of their job. They will also be carrying out some fact-checking, though, for more in-depth manuscripts, a specialist editor may be required.

How Long will Content Editing Take?

The content editing process is complex and involved. When editing a book, a content editor will often have to read the text several times before providing sufficient feedback.

A content editor may also have to read the full manuscript and then re-read certain sections.

This means that it can often take weeks, if not months, to edit a book or novel correctly.

Also, good content editors are always busy, and a book might have to wait a few weeks before the editorial process can begin.

Helpful Links About Book Editing

Follow the links below to find out more about editing:

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some frequently asked questions that will provide you more information.

What is content editing and why is it important?

Content editing is the process of revising and improving the substance of a written work, such as a book or article. It involves evaluating the work's organization, style, tone, and overall effectiveness. Content editing is important because it can help authors refine their ideas, communicate more clearly, and connect with readers in a more meaningful way.

How is content editing different from other types of editing?

Content editing differs from other types of editing, such as copyediting or proofreading, in that it focuses on the substance and structure of the written work, rather than on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. While other types of editing can help improve the technical accuracy and readability of a work, content editing is concerned with helping the author communicate their ideas effectively and engagingly.

How do I know if my writing needs content editing?

If you're unsure whether your writing needs content editing, ask yourself the following questions: Is my writing clear and concise? Does it flow well and maintain the reader's interest? Are my arguments or ideas effectively communicated? If you answered no to any of these questions, content editing may be beneficial. Additionally, if you receive feedback from beta readers or an editor that suggests issues with the substance or structure of your writing, content editing may be necessary.

Further Reading

If you're interested in learning more about writing and editing, these books are a great place to start:

  1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

    Part memoir, part writing guide, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in the craft of writing. Stephen King shares his personal journey as a writer and offers practical advice on everything from plot and character to pacing and dialogue. Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out, there's something in this book for everyone.

  2. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker

    In this book, renowned linguist Steven Pinker offers a fresh take on writing in the digital age. He explores the principles of good writing and provides practical tips for crafting clear, effective prose. Whether you're a student, a professional writer, or simply someone who wants to improve their writing skills, this book is an excellent resource.

  3. Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers by Scott Norton

    This book is a comprehensive guide to the art of developmental editing, the type of editing that focuses on improving the structure, content, and style of a written work. Scott Norton draws on his years of experience as an editor to offer practical advice on everything from managing the editing process to working with authors and publishers. This book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in pursuing a career in developmental editing.

Final Thoughts About the Editing Process

Editing is a vital, though complicated, part of the editorial and publication process.

Finding a good content editor is often the difference between a good and a great book.

However, a relationship between a writer and editor is a brittle and delicate affair with both parties needing to approach the edit from a place of love.

One thing to note is that editing is not the whole story. You will need to seek out a copy editor. The process of editing is going to force some level of rewriting, which, in turn, will add typos and errors. This means that once you have completed your edit, it will need copy editing. A copy editor will need to scan you manuscript to remove those spelling errors and punctuation problems. Copy editing is a faster process that editing and should be less expensive.

If you are interested in a more expansive look at book editing in general, this article will help.

To discover more about professional content editing visit our book editing page, we even provide free book editing sample editing. It is worth consider that we include line editing as part of our service. Alternatively, discover how you can work one-to-one with a professional editor and writer using our book mentoring service.

Further Reading

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