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Book Editors

The Job

The editorial department is generally the main core of any publishing house. Procedures and terminology may vary from one type of publishing house to another, but there is some general agreement among the essentials. Publishers of trade books, textbooks, and reference books all have somewhat different needs for which they have developed different editorial practices.

The editor responsible for seeing a book through to publication may hold any of several titles. The highest-level editorial executive in a publishing house is usually the editor in chief or editorial director. The person holding either of these titles directs the overall operation of the editorial department. Sometimes an executive editor occupies the highest position in an editorial department. The next level of editor is often the managing editor, who keeps track of schedules and deadlines and must know where all manuscripts are at any given time. Other editors who handle copy include the senior editors, associate editors, assistant editors, editorial assistants, and copy editors.

In a trade-book house, the editor, usually at the senior or associate position, works with manuscripts that he or she has solicited from authors or that have been submitted by known authors or their agents. Editors who seek out authors to write manuscripts or conceptualize other projects are also known as acquisitions editors.

In technical/professional book houses, editors commonly do more researching, revising, and rewriting than trade-book editors do. These editors are often required to be skilled in certain subjects. Editors must be sure that the subject is comprehensively covered and organized according to an agreed-upon outline. Editors contract for virtually all of the material that comes into technical/professional book houses. The authors they solicit are often scholars.

The editor has the principal responsibility in evaluating the manuscript. Editors who edit heavily or ask an author to revise extensively must learn to be highly diplomatic; the art of author-editor relations is a critical aspect of the editor's job.

When the editor is satisfied with the manuscript, it goes to the copy editor. The copy editor usually does the final editing of the manuscript before it goes to the typesetter. On almost any type of manuscript, the copy editor is responsible for correcting errors of spelling, punctuation, grammar, and usage. It is important for a copy editor to be aware of the house style and procedures for the publishing house for which he or she works. Consistency is the mark of a professional copy editor.

The copy editor marks up the manuscript to indicate where different kinds of typefaces are used and where charts, illustrations, and photos may be inserted. It is important for the copy editor to discover any inconsistencies in the text and to query the author about them.

The copy editor then usually acts as a liaison between the typesetter, the editor, and the author as the manuscript is typeset into galley proofs and then page proofs.

In a small house, one editor might do the work of all of the editors described here. There can also be separate fact checkers, proofreaders, style editors (also called line editors), and indexers. An assistant editor could be assigned to do many of the kinds of jobs handled by senior or associate editors. Editorial assistants provide support for the other editors and may be required to proofread and handle some administrative duties. They also often read through a trade book house's "slush pile" of submissions.

Finally, and most importantly, there is the paperwork. Though working with words is the main attraction of a career in publishing, all editors must keep careful records. Changes must be recorded, manuscripts must be tracked, and authors and copy editors must be paid on time.

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