May I Speak with an Editor?
In a publishing house, an editor may do a number of things. An acquisitions editor is the person with whom you’ll first come into contact, since this is the person with the primary responsibility to recommend projects for publication consideration. Some houses call this position sponsoring editor or commissioning editor.
Beyond that, your acquiring editor (the person you will quickly come to call “my editor”) may line edit your book. Even if this doesn’t get a thorough line editing, the acquiring editor will need to make decisions about your manuscript that can include cutting big chunks out, insisting you rethink parts, or requiring you to add something you’ve never thought of before.
If this weren’t confusing enough, many publishing houses establish rankings within their organizations that assign different job titles to acquisitions editors at different salary or seniority levels. Some houses have adopted rankings for editors that mirror the academic distinctions of assistant, associate, and full professor. You may find yourself reading a letter from an assistant or associate editor, or perhaps someone whose title is simply editor. Don’t be distracted by this. The person who has expressed interest in your work is the first person with whom you want to bond, whether or not she has been promoted to the highest ranking at her press. Obviously, there can be advantages to working directly with a very senior editor. But if you find yourself chatting with the associate editor for politics don’t sit there wishing you could meet the real politics editor—it’s likely you already have.
A manuscript editor or copy editor will be responsible for correcting style and punctuation, and may raise questions about clarity and intention. Sometimes a piece of writing will be subject to only the lightest cosmetic adjustments, while other times the manuscript will be substantially reworked. Once, manuscript editors were housed in a publisher’s offices, but increasingly manuscript editors work freelance, and are managed by someone in-house. The manuscript editor will be the person responsible for querying anything unclear or missing from your text. You, however, who are responsible for the final version of your book.
A developmental editor isn’t an acquiring editor, but may be assigned to an important project, lending the author or volume editor crucial assistance. Developmental editors are common at textbook houses, but are rare in other branches of book publishing. Sometimes development means taking a chaotic project and organizing it, while in other cases development might mean taking on myriad details (such as permissions and illustrations) for a complex volume initiated by the press itself. Authors who have heard about developmental editors sometimes wonder aloud why the press can’t provide one to help them through the last rewrite. But a developmental editor’s time is precious, and those work hours will be committed only to projects for which the publisher sees the possibility of significant return.
You might also work with someone described as a line editor. A line editor is someone who, as the title suggests, combs through a manuscript line by line, not only reading for sense but listening for rhythm and euphony as well. You might even get some fact-checking thrown in. Though line editor and manuscript editor are closely related job titles, a “line edit” is frequently reserved for trade books. Line editing is expensive.
A managing editor usually oversees copy (or manuscript) editors, and sometimes supervises further elements of the production process. Managing editors manage not only the copyediting process, but much of the scheduling your book will require. Increasingly this means that the managing editor must juggle the schedules of freelance copy editors, proofreaders, and indexers while keeping an eye on the printing schedule. The managing editor will likely not manage the acquisitions editors, however.
Diane Baker to Brian Aherne, playing a high-powered trade editor in The Best of Everything: “Oh, no wonder you’re an editor! You know so much about people!” Different kinds of editors perform different functions. All, however, are grouped under the editorial umbrella of a publishing house, which embraces two functions: acquisition, or signing books up; and manuscript development, or making them better. Some acquiring editors spend all their time “editing a list”—that is, bringing in projects—and no time developing or enhancing the author’s words. A specialized monograph publisher may operate this way. More commonly, acquiring editors both bring in projects and, perhaps selectively, spend time on detailed shaping and rewriting. On the other hand, a developmental editor may spend all of her time on shaping a manuscript, and have no acquisitions responsibilities at all.