Ask the editor: what does an editor do?

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Today on Twitter I mentioned that Carina Press would be getting three new freelance developmental editors (pause for a quick wheeee! here). In response, the question was asked of me, “what do developmental editors do?”. I think this is a good question so I thought we could chat about edits and editors today.

First, different companies have different editors titles. I’ve heard developmental and content editor, as well as just “editor”. Then copy editor or final line editor. I’m going to use the term editor here to encompass the developmental or content editor. Second, my overview of who the editor is and what they do is overly simplified and generic for the purpose of this blog. Most editors have immense job descriptions with a small ton of duties, and it varies house by house. This is just meant to be an overview for clarification. Not exactly how it’s done anywhere, including Carina.

Generally, when someone refers to their editor, they’re referring to the person who (theoretically) recommended their book for acquisition. Theoretically because sometimes books get acquired and then that editor leaves and it gets passed to another editor. Anyway. At more traditional publishers, the editor is often the person who also negotiates the contract with the agent/author. At Carina Press, I’m actually that person. I tell people that the beauty of freelance editors is that they are free to concentrate on editing!

This editor will be the person who walks the book through the publication process of getting cover art, cover copy and so importantly, of doing the actual editing. They’re generally the main point of contact for the author at the company, communicating deadlines, release dates, etc., and they’re the bossy bit of goods who will be asking the author to (sometimes) kill their darlings or otherwise point out plot holes, continuity errors, character flaws (in the characters of the book, not in the author, one hopes) and all of the other large and smaller editorial things that go into making a book ready for the readers. Some editors are quite good at the line editing portion of editing, and will also point out writing tics, ways to improve and polish writing, and will correct grammar and punctuation as they go. Some editors concentrate mainly on the large-picture edits.

The editor is also the person who determines when the book is ready for the copy editor. The copy editor is that glorious being who is in charge of the minute details of the book. Grammar, punctuation, incorrect word usage, tense/verb agreement, minor line editing, historical accuracy (or inaccuracy, as the case may be) and more. They are the “clean-up” crew and help put the final spit and polish on the book. Copy editors aren’t asked to or expected to do any large revisions or rewrites of sentences/passages. But if the copy editor sees an issue, they point it out for the author/editor’s attention. I usually think of the copy editor as the first reader, after edits.

After the copy editor marks the manuscript all up with their virtual red ink (since more and more editors are going to electronic), and the author has addressed them as needed, the editor is the person who finalizes the manuscript and sends it to production to be turned into a book for us, the readers!

That’s it in a very generic and rather broad nutshell. The secret lives of editors and copy editors. Any questions?

5 thoughts on “Ask the editor: what does an editor do?”

  1. Tina says:

    But how does one actually break into the field of editing? Is there a specific degree or experience that you look for?

  2. very interesting. Picking up three new “developmental editors” then opens the door for working with a greater number of authors then, right?

    I was pretty clear on copy editors and what they did.

    I’m taking the news of THREE(!1) new editors to mean that Carina is doing well, which is wonderful news!

    Thanks for the explanations.

  3. MichelleKCanada says:

    Great post and it answered some questions I had. I am an avid reader not a writer so I had been curious about editors. Can I ask a question back? Let me give you the example first and then the question if that is okay.

    Last week I read a book where a secret hidden passageway was discovered in the main bedroom closet of a historical house that had been in the same family for generations. Apparently all these decades and years the family members never knew about this secret passageway but low and behold, the main male character (not apart of the family at all) after looking into the closet one time (not even looking for a secret passageway) and then just like that, finds it. I basically rolled my eyes and thought to myself, ‘oh yeah that was convenient’. There were so many unlikely situations in this book and I kept thinking to myself, did this author think the readers were going to be that willing to over look the constant “unlikelys” just to make the story get to where she/he wanted it to go? I found in the reviews, so many other readers thought exactly like I did.

    So now finally my question, (lol) would it be up to the editor to point out to the author that she/he would need to be a bit more creative as to how that passageway was discovered because it just was so unlikely. Now that scenario above was just an example but the book was full of me saying ‘oh come on!’

    Thanks!

  4. Inez Kelley says:

    *clings to Deb Nemeth*

    You will pry my developmental editor out of my cold, dead fingers.

  5. Angela James says:

    @Tina Every publisher is different, but I look for a degree of experience along with a demonstration of solid skills via a test I give.

    @Michelle Theoretically, yes, it would be the editor’s task to point those out. But in situations like these, I refuse to say the editor didn’t do his/her job because there is so much subjective in reading. But yes, that’s the type of thing an editor might discuss with an author!

    @Cyndi Three new freelancers means more people reading the slush pile, so hopefully a quicker turnaround (though it’s still up to me to send out the rejections and make those acquisitions phone calls, and my schedule hasn’t gotten any lighter :P ) and yes, hopefully more authors. I

    @Inez we all love Deb!

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