by Roseanna M. White
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.
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.
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.
|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.