When writing, authors describe their universe, sharing it with their audience through the communication process. In engaging in this complex process of translating their own world in words meant to make others see it through the writer’s eyes, authors usually adhere to a subjective writing. Even when writers proofread their work they might consider that there is nothing that they would add or change to the initial draft, as they comprehend what they wrote specifically because they are the initiator of their own ideas. However, transmitting the meaning of their words or structured writing to the audiences might not result in the expected outcome unless substantive editing is applied. Substantive editing is not meant to change the voice of the author, or to radically transform the original writing. It is, nevertheless, required for making the reading more appealing and attractive for the readers, using various editing techniques and strategies, but I disagree with the statement that substantive editing threatens the writer’s ownership of the text.
Formally, the concept of ownership refers to a legal right that somebody has upon a property (Editors’ Association of Canada 3). In the authorship world, ownership describes the act of possessing the rights over a written text, which the author can publish or give copyright to a specific publisher or allow the license for publication of the work (Juby 18). However, in the writing and editing context, the ownership concept includes a more profound discussion about the voice or the writing style of the original author that need to be reflected even in the substantive edited text (Juby 18).
Claiming ownership of a text implies assuming it. This situation can lead to inaccurate and unconfirmed information that might compromise the quality of the writing and associate the author (owner) of the original text with a misinformed writing (Enisohn 123). Enisohn (21) indicates that the role of substantive writing is to improve the quality of the original text of an author in terms of technique, accuracy or style. The Editors Association of Canada (3) indicates that substantive editing can also involve stylistic editing. Sutcliffe (586) approaches the substantive editing more broadly, stating that editors can apply qualitative changes on the structure, format and sometimes writing style, in order to create a consistent and accurate writing, with the right use of concepts or writing registers (Sutcliffe 586). Mackenzie (176) stresses that the structure and the arrangement of the writing are significant aspects for the overall presentation of the writing, as they provide a linear comprehension of the text for the audience. Therefore, where the writer arranges information as he or she conceptualizes them, they risk confusing the reader through dispersed presentation of the data presented. The role of the substantive editors in this process is to arrange and structure the information for creating relevance for the readers (Sutcliffe 583). Recommendations about changing or improving the writing style can also be part of the substantive editing process, in cases wherein the editing implies changes the jargon, doublespeaking (transforming the negative into positive), gobbledygook (unintelligible jargon) or passive voice abundance inundate the manuscript (; Sutcliffe 586). However, in situations wherein the substantive editor needs to make more dramatic interventions, applying changes at the paragraph, sentence and line level, there should be imposed the implication of a coauthor (Einsohn 11). In this situation the original writer’s ownership is threatened, as he or she will share the rights on the text with the coauthor involved in reshaping the style of the writing.
In editing manuscripts, decisions are made with considerations on the readers. The written manuscript must respond to the reading needs of the targeted audience (Mackenzie 76). For this end purpose, the authors need to comply with the recommendations received in the substantive editing process, knowing the line between ownership and co-ownership for their work. Jargon, passive voice, doublespeaking or gobbledygook are aspects that can characterize the writing style of authors for which substantive editors can require the application of changes. However, they may contribute to defining the voice and tone of the writer, or the writer’s personality. An excessive revising of these writing formulas can lead to losing the writer’s voice and tone, threatening his or her ownership on the text (Mackenzie 104). When the substantive editing requires the total rewriting of the manuscript, there will be imposed uniformity in style, tone or focus (Masterson 27), which will lead to losing the original sense of the writing. However, the author solely loses ownership of the writing if a coauthor or a ghostwriter will be involved in rewriting (Einsohn 11).
Substantive writing is merely intended at improving the original writing in order to adjust it on the reading needs of the targeted audience. The adjustments and recommendations that the substantive editors request may imply changes in the structure, arrangement, format and even the writing style. However, I disagree that substantive editing threatens the writer’s ownership of the text, up to the point where a coauthor or a ghostwriter will be involved in the rewriting process.
Editor’ Association of Canada. Professional Editorial Standards. Toronto: Editor’ Association of Canada. 2009. Print.
Einsohn, Amy. The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications. London: University of California Press, Ltd. 2000. Print.
Juby, Susan. “ Editor to Author” Book Publishing I in Lorimer, Rowland, Shoichet, Jilian, G. & Maxwell, John, W. Vancouver: Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing Press. 2005. Print.
Mackenzie, Janet. “ Substance and Structure” and “ Editing Methods” in The Editor’s Companion (Second Edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2011. Print.
Sutcliffe, Andrea. “ Editing”. New York Public Writer’s Guide to Style and Usage. HarperCollins. 1994. Print.