Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What does an editor do anyhow?

by Roseanna M. White
WhiteFire Publishing


Ask an Editor 

So What Is It You Do?



On my last post, someone asked a really great question--what is it, exactly, an editor at a publishing house does? There's a whole slew of things, so I figured it would make a great post. =)

For starters, there are a few different kind of editors, and different publishing houses handle them in different ways. I work for a small house, so the roles get combined. But here's the general breakdown of what all the different editing roles are and who does them.

Acquisitions Editor


This is the person who reads queries and asks for proposals; who reads proposals and asks for full manuscripts; who reads the full manuscripts and decides if they're worth taking to committee. The ack-editor is the first person you have to win over at a publishing house. If they decide your book isn't right for the house or not quite up to par, then that manuscript is done there. 

But if you have them firmly in your court, then they're going to fight for you when the marketing dude on the committee says, "I don't know if we can sell that" and the publisher says, "More fiction? Really? I think we need to grow the non-fiction line instead . . ." The ack-editor, once won over, is your champion. Will they always prevail? Absolutely not, LOL. There are others on the committee for a very good reason! But if you've got them on your side, it's a good start.

Once a book has been bought by the publisher, the acquisitions editors have one more major job--the macro edit. This is where they read through your final manuscript and say, "Your ending is weak--they would never believe the heroine if she did it, it needs to come from the hero. And your beginning is unbelievable--try changing the parents' responses. You use this word far too many times. I found this part to simple. This over here--culturally inaccurate. And while you're at it, rewrite this scene, this part here, and don't forget that big section there--writing gets sloppy."
These notes can range from notes-in-the-margin and the occasional "no major changes!" to twelve pages of notes. This is where the acquisitions editor really shows their worth--where they take the chunk of rock you've given them and chisel at it until the gemstone is revealed. A good acquisitions editor will find the heart of your story and show you how to set it free. (Conversely, a bad one will totally miss your voice and want you to change the heart--but bad ones are rare, rest assured.)

Granted, we're all attached to our stories, so this first macro-edit can really grate on an author. But the job of the author is to digest it; to let it simmer; to review it carefully; and to decide where to say, "No, this has to stay the same" and "yes, it's better for these changes."

Once the author makes those big revisions, they turn the manuscript back in to their acquisitions editor, who then forwards it to the content editor.

Content Editor


The content editor is the one who goes through it line by line--she'll recommend a reword where necessary, change where you have names and where you use pronouns, tell you when something is unclear, find all your typos and grammatical errors, recommend specific changes to scenes or themes or ideas, rearrange paragraphs . . . the detail work.

A content editor is also usually the last one to recommend any bigger changes, like a theme or action that doesn't make sense. At this point you're usually still working from a Word document with tracked changes and comments in the margins. The content editor will have sent her tracked, marked-up doc to the author, and the author will add any comments or disputes or rewrites that are asked for. This is the smoothing out, so to speak.

Once that edit is done, back it goes to the acquisitions editor again, who gets to approve all changes before sending a clean document to the proofreader.

Proofreader / Copy editor


The proofreader (aka copy editor)'s primary job is to catch mistakes. In all the content editing, inevitably words are left hanging, commas misplaced, double periods . . . that sort of thing. The proofreader finds all the boo-boos and typos, the goofs and oopsies. This doesn't (usually) require any rewriting, so no author-approval is necessary. After the proofreader finishes up, it goes straight back to the acquisitions editor.

At this point in the game, all major changes have been accomplished. Depending on the house, some will put out galleys earlier in the process (somewhere between macro and copy edits), and some will just do ARCs (advance reader copy) at this stage. Which leads directly to the final call.

Final Edits


WhiteFire's next release which just went to press
At this point, no big changes that affect page flow can be made, just small tweaks and typo catching. The author gets to do this, along with a final proofreader and, depending on the house, the ack-editor. This is the last call, the final chance to catch anything that has slipped through. As soon as these edits are turned in, the book goes to press--which means only a few weeks until you get to hold it in your hands!

At which point the editor sits back, kicks up her heels, and goes "Phew!" For about five seconds, before she has to start organizing bookmarks and postcards for the author, acting as liaison between author and marketing, gathering reviews, and all that fun stuff. All, of course, while doing the same process for countless other books.

An editor's hat has many plumes, that's for sure! And FYI, this process usually takes 6-9 months.

I'll be stopping by to reply to comments and questions. And if you have a question you'd like to ask for a future post, either leave a comment with it or email me at roseanna [at] roseannawhite [dot] com.

28 comments:

  1. Wow. I thought reading this post would make me all the more nervious about writing and sending in my novel, but it has actually calmed my fears. You gave Editors a more personably look, while most of the time, they are seen as the BIG PEOPLE WHO DECIDE YOUR WRITING FATE. lol

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    1. =) Yeah, you know, we all hear "editors are just people." But until you remove some of the mystery, none of us buy that, LOL. I've had the privilege of working with quite a few editors now as an author, though, and of working with authors as an editor, and it's really given me a great appreciation for what a GOOD author/editor relationship should strive to be. And it's that--a relationship. =)

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  2. Hey, great post! I never really thought about the rolls editors played very much before. I was just wondering though, when looking at a manuscript, what would you say the most common turn-off is? What usually makes editors stop reading them?
    Thanks!

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    1. Sounds like a good topic for a future post. =) I'll put it on my list. But in general, the things that will turn me off really fast are bad grammar and things that mark writing as amateur, like too many dialogue tags and adverbs and head-hopping. I'll go into more detail in a post on it, but it's mostly the writing elements that Stephanie covers on here so well. =)

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  3. This is great! I think it might be kind of fun to be an editor ;) I love revising things <--- major perfectionist and organizer here!
    It was really cool to learn about the process. Thanks for the post!

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    1. It can definitely be fun! I was a freelance editor for a while, and that wasn't so awesome because you HAD to edit everything you were paid for, even if it was awful and in need of way more than any of these edits. But acquisitions is so much fun, because you only have to work with the good, interesting stuff, LOL.

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    2. Ha ha, that does sound like fun!! I have some questions so I am going to email you :)

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  4. Jessica StarickaMay 30, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    I never knew there were this many different types of editors/things an editor has to do. :) Sounds like an editor needs to understand the story as much as the author does. I can't imagine having to do that for multiple books at once. Catching typos wouldn't seem like a big deal to me, but finding plot holes and deciding a scene needs to change...those seem lie huge decisions, from a writers end of the spectrum. :)

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    1. *seem like* and *writer's* LOL, typos.

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    2. Yep, an editor has to know story in general and each story in particular pretty well to be able to make those kinds of judgments! But they have the distance from it that an author can never have about their own work, which allows them to see those holes. =)

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  5. This was a really good post, Ms. White! After college, I plan to start a publishing company that caters exclusively to teen readers and writers, and I was wondering what an editor did, as well. :) So I greatly appreciate this post, as it cleared up a lot of things for me.

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    1. Happy to help, Becki, and what a wonderful dream! My hubby dreamed in high school of starting a publishing company too--and here we are!

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    2. Cool! Yeah, two of my friends and two of my sisters and I are already planning how we're going to do it. :) But what I hear over and over is teens not wanting to read a lot of books because they're written by adults, who don't know a lot of the problems or feelings teens today have. Plus, it's always motivational when you see that someone your age and in your situation can accomplish something.

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  6. Oh, THANKYOU!!! You have put me at ease, and while i am still not entirely confident of my ability to ever publish a book (although, if i was, it would take away some of the excitement if it ever happens) i am certainly a lot less ill at ease. Thanks for portraying editors as actual people, and not faceless, nameless beings who get to say when your writing is fab or rubbish. I now get the process! :D

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    1. Oh good! Glad I could help put you at ease. =) And if you want it and work for it, you'll get there!

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  7. This is just what I needed!
    Thank you!
    --Giana

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  8. Does it matter if the author sends his work to a publishing company out of state? Like, if I lived in Texas would it matter if I sent my manuscript to a company in New Jersey? And where does an agent come in to all of this?

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    1. Nope, that makes no difference whatsoever. At WhiteFire, we're in Maryland but have authors in Virginia, Texas, Colorado, and British Columbia. As an author, my publishers are in Minnesota and Oregon. Never a problem. =)

      And agents come in during submission (they know what particular editors are looking for, so submit their clients' work to the best matches) and during negotiations of the contract. Some will also edit for an author, but that's BEFORE submitting, not after contract (usually).

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  9. Thank you so much for this post, Mrs. White! I liked learning about what goes on "behind the scenes" in the editing world.

    How do you choose a publishing company or editor? How do you know if the editor is right for you and your story?

    notebookfromtheheart.blogspot.com

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    1. Jill, you usually choose which publishers to submit to based on what other books they put out and if you feel your will fit with their line. That really helps you know if you'll work well with an editor too--if they help produce your favorite books, you'll probably love having their input on yours. =) Moreover, you usually get to hear from an editor several times before their house would make you an offer, giving you a chance to get a feel for them and them for you. Of course, it's even better if you can meet them in person. =) Failing that, see if they participate in any blogs or have done interviews to give you a good feel for them.

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    2. I'll be sure to keep this in mind for the future. Thanks!

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  10. Thank you so much for this post. I will definitely come back to this when the time comes for me to get my book "out there." I love hearing your editor's side of the story!

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    1. Thanks, Allison! Sometimes it's still hard to believe I have this side of the story, LOL. But I've learned so much as an editor that helps me as a writer, too. Like how to be the kind of writer an editor wants to work with. =)

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  11. Wow! I had no idea that all of this went on! No idea how much work it is! It makes me appreciate the books I pick up A LOT more.

    Are there a better postion/career/job oppertunities between a content editor and an aquastiion editor?

    Thanks for such a a great post, Mrs. White!

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    1. Sure, but it's usually freelance. You might be thinking of something like a "book doctor." Someone who's hired to read a manuscript and make recommendations on how to change it and revise it and rewrite it to make it stronger. They'll make some specific recommendations on lines, etc., but worry more about bigger picture stuff. This type of editor is who authors will employ BEFORE submitting. Or, more likely, after getting a handful of rejections and realizing they need help taking their MS to the next level.

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  12. Wow, this post is great. Really answers that question and an excellent viewpoint "behind the scenes." I loved reading this because I have been curious about what exactly they do during a normal workday. Thank you!

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