Publishing is an old industry that’s assembled its own internal lexicon. As you’ll find with any trade, publishing jargon can be difficult for laymen–and even authors–to decipher.
A widely misunderstood term is the deceptively simple title of editor. When most people; again even some authors, hear the word “editor”, they immediately think of someone going through a manuscript and marking errors. That association isn’t necessarily false, but but it’s not true of all publishing professionals with “editor” in their job titles, and editors who work on manuscripts come in several types.
Here are the most common kinds of editors you’ll find working at publishing houses.
- Acquisitions Editor: As the name implies, this editor’s job is to acquire manuscripts for the house to publish. When an author submits a book for publication, it’s the acquisitions editor who either makes the decision to buy the rights, or who champions the book with the house’s decision makers. An acquisition editor’s job isn’t to prepare a book for publication, but to pick winners from the flood of submissions. Nowadays, the editors themselves rarely sift through the slush pile. That task is largely left to editorial interns who pass likely candidates to their supervising editors. Literary awards’ Best Editor categories are referring to acquisitions editors.
- Project Editor: A project editor coordinates with all of the personnel working on a particular book project, including the author, art department, printers, and other editors to turn a manuscript into a salable book. A book’s project editor may or may not be the acquisitions editor who acquired it.
- Development Editor: This is the first person in the publishing process who performs work that is popularly associated with the term “editor”. A development editor works with the author to develop the book’s content. This includes helping to bring story elements like plot, character, and theme up to professional standards. Development editors tend to focus on the “big picture”.
- Line Editor: Now we’re getting into the more archetypal levels of editing. Line editors deal directly with the manuscript, but they don’t primarily check for typos and punctuation errors. Instead, line editors focus on paragraph and sentence-level style and language use. The line editor makes sure that the writing in a manuscript is clear, conveys mood effectively, and has a consistent tone. Line editing affects a book’s readability more than any other editorial stage.
- Copy Editor: A copy editor’s job most closely fits what most people think of when they hear the word “editor”. This is highly technical editing where the manuscript is gone over with a fine tooth comb to spot grammatical, syntax, spelling, and punctuation errors and inconsistencies. Copy editing is essential to making sure that a book is up to industry standards.
- What is my goal in publishing my book: for fun, personal validation, or to gain a readership and earn money?
- Is my book’s plot coherent? Do the characters have definite and sufficient motivations? Do the events of the story comport with my desired themes?
- Are the ideas in my book presented clearly? Is my style pleasing to read and easy to understand? Is my book tonally consistent? Does my writing effectively set the desired mood?
- Do I need help polishing my book’s grammar and punctuation to meet professional standards?
- Conducted multiple editing passes on the manuscript yourself. Make your story as polished as you can get it!
- Received honest feedback from several objective beta readers–or even better, alpha and beta readers. These should ideally be people who a) are neither your friends nor relatives, b) you haven’t met in person, c) are deep and avid readers in your genre. The goal is to get feedback that’s as objective as possible.
- Revised again based on reader feedback. The editor’s desk should be the penultimate stop before publication.