This is ‘big picture’ editing and is the first type of editing to be done to a manuscript. It focuses on structure, content, and organization.

fiction: This might include aspects such as premise, plot, pacing, character dynamics, character motivation, point of view, backstory, dialogue, showings vs. telling, etc.

non-fiction: Non-fiction substantive editing is concerned with understanding the book’s place in the market, and being clear about its audience. It can include things like doing research on similar books already on the market, suggesting content that’s missing from the text, removing unnecessary content, ensuring language and writing style are appropriate, re-organizing content for more logical arrangement of ideas, and ultimately is concerned with presenting a text’s ideas in the most suitable way for its intended audience.


This is sentence-level editing that follows substantive editing and comes prior to copy editing. This level of editing smooths out the rough areas of a text. It is concerned with things like tone, clarity of meaning, awkward phrasing, correcting logical errors, eliminating clutter, correcting inconsistencies, avoiding cliches, and works to strengthen the author’s voice and argument.


This is editing at the word level and followers line editing. This level of editing is all about spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other mechanics while adhering to a style guide (eg. The Chicago Manual of Style). Often the creation of a style sheet and/or character guide is part of this level of editing. These are both documents that help to maintain consistency during the copy edit.


This stage is the final check before a book goes to press. Includes spelling and grammar, and also page order, table of contents, bad page and line breaks, and any errors that might have been introduced into the text while being formatted after the copy edit.


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