Guest Bloggers

Just What Does an Editor Do for Me, Anyway?

Guest Blogger Mark Burstein elucidates about the different types of editors.

“Editor” is a catchall term for a host of different functions in the publishing business; here we will look at six different kinds. It’s an amorphous field, one in which our roles and definitions are moving targets. Sometimes we are hired by the author, sometimes by the publisher. Often the same person can take on diverse roles for different clients, or even the same client. So, in more or less chronological order:

The first, at the top of the food chain if you will, is known simply as the “editor,” but is also called the “book,” “project,” “literary,” “substantive,” or “developmental” editor. S/he is the person who is in charge overall, helping with organization, the story arc, consistency, features, structure, transitions, “assets” (images), permissions, and possibly even advising on design and layout. S/he is also your friend, ideal reader, collaborator, spouse, sparring partner, babysitter, psychologist, cheerleader, hand-holder, slave driver, and/or therapist … doing whatever is necessary to pull those lovely words out of your head and onto pages.

When the editor and the author are satisfied, the manuscript (ms.) then goes to a copyeditor, whose functions were well described by Linda Jay in an earlier post on the Write Spot Blog. In brief—copyedits range from “light” to “heavy”—s/he checks grammar, spelling, punctuation, consistency, usage, continuity, facts, voice, phrasing, tone, and the like. On the “heavy” end of the scale, s/he might suggest rewording, moving sentences and paragraphs around, or adding to or eliminating text.

The third kind of editor is your publishing and proposal consultant. S/he will help you craft a proposal and get it looked at by appropriate publishers or literary agents. (Many small-to-medium houses will look at unsolicited mss., but the larger houses need to go through known literary agents.) Both of these kinds of submissions require a polished proposal.

Number four is the acquisitions editor who works for a publisher. S/he will be the one who decides if the proposal warrants further attention, and ultimately decides if it is right for the house. S/he may also say that it would be perfect for them, if only it had a bit more of (a) and (b) and a little less of (c), in which case it goes back to step one (the “editor”) to work with you for resubmitting.

Once a book has been accepted for publication, it goes to a designer. The designer will put the text and assets into layout (aka galleys) and will send it back to you for approval or tweaking. Having secured that, it will go to a proofreader who will again read the ms., but also specifically look at things that may have gone awry in layout: headings, page numbers (folios), missing lines, bad line breaks, “widows and orphans,” spacing, figures, captions, etc.

Category six is the production editor. In a major house, s/he is responsible for reviewing all aspects of the editorial and production process, including hiring editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, and designers; plus scheduling, shipping, warehousing, and distribution. For an “independent” (formerly known as “self-”) publishing title, this can also be one of the editor’s responsibilities, that is, finding a designer and printer/binder—or formatting your ms. so that it can be accepted by a POD (print on demand) house like CreateSpace, Lightning Source, Blurb and so on, and leading you through that process.

Sometimes these functions can be the province of just one person. Or up to six or more individuals. But each stage of the editorial process is necessary—to greater or lesser degree, depending—and will do wonders for your book.

Mark Burstein.200Mark Burstein is a freelance editor of both nonfiction and fiction. His clients include Chronicle Books, Insight Editions, Harry N. Abrams, and Welcome Books, as well as many authors.

Mark will be on a panel of editors at Writers Forum in Petaluma on May 21, 2015.

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