Meet the editors

Now that you have delivered your manuscript (maybe a few months late, but there were so many other interesting or important things for you to do), it is only a matter of a quick polish and your book is half-way there to the book launch and universal acclaim. Correct?

Actually, no. There is a long, hard grind ahead.

The transformation of your manuscript into a published book begins in the publisher’s editorial department. We’ll explore what actually happens in a moment (well, tomorrow) but first let’s look at the people you’ll be working with.

First up, at least in her opinion, is the commissioning editor. Without doubt, this is this person you’ve had most dealings with to date – the person who initially assessed your book proposal, had it peer reviewed, ‘sold’ your project to the editorial board, negotiated a contract with you, etc., etc. Quite possibly, much of this work has been handled by an editorial assistant, a drudge willing to undertake all sorts of tedious work in the belief that one day she too will be promoted to commissioning editor. Often this is true.

Contrary to popular belief, commissioning editors do not spend their days in soft chairs surrounded by big piles of manuscripts, nor their evenings in cosy restaurants chatting up prospective authors. There are elements of this in the job but much more. What? More about this another time. Let’s stay focused on the transformation of your manuscript.

At this point, when your finished manuscript arrives in the publishing house, the most important editorial people may in fact sit in a different department, production; this depends a bit on how things are organized at that press.

The key person here is the production editor, someone who might instead be called production manager, managing editor, desk editor and so forth. But while there are a bewildering variety of job titles for this role depending on the press, its importance cannot be overstated. This is the Fat Controller.

(Oops, here I go again, offending my publishing colleagues. All too many have read Wuthering Heights but not Thomas the Tank Engine. OK, forget the Fat Controller. Think ‘conductor’ instead.)

If your manuscript is a sheet of music, then the production editor is the conductor who ensures that the orchestra plays together, in harmony and with inspiration, making beautiful music. (That sounds much better than playing the Fat Controller but both characters fulfill the same role.)

Supporting the production editor is a team of editorial/production staff. You’ll meet some of these people later. Most important now, however, is the copy editor (either a specialist who may be a freelancer, or sometimes an in-house desk editor already familiar with your work).

(Hmm, notice the name ‘desk editor’ popping up again? Like the production editor, copy editors have different titles. In the case of copy editors, however, not all of them are nice.)

Sad to say, copy editors are not always an author’s favourite person. Why? Many authors think their copy editors are anal-retentive types, nit-pickers able to spot an error or inconsistency at 50 paces but incapable of appreciating what they are reading, right under their nose.

There may be a grain of truth in this assessment; certainly, it takes a special type of person to filter a screed of text written over many months (if not years) and bring to it a uniformity and correctness as if it had been written with the wave of a magic wand. This is a superhuman role that, not surprisingly, few copy editors are able to live up to.

OK, team assembled, now on with the show (in my next post). Meantime, a Merry Christmas to you all.

(Post #1 of the Editorial section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

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2 Responses to Meet the editors

  1. Lamont says:

    I am a frequant reader of your blog and would just like to say thank you! I am due to start my own blog an would like to know how to go about doing so. I hear a lot about WordPress is this a good site to use? Thanks. Lamont

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