Are you excited by the very long title of this post? Well, you’re in for a big ole treat, because an ex-editor at a big New York publishing house has been kind enough to give you the scoop on what editors really do. The long nights. The paper stock decisions. The coffee stains on manuscripts. Oh, what a glamorous life they live.
Please note that the views and opinions of Ex Publishing Insider are her own, and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Nathan Bransford blog or its corporate partners. Ha, I’ve always wanted to say that.
Oh, and editors do a lot, and so this is going to be a two part series. You have Part 1 today, and then Part 2 on Monday. Enjoy!
What Does An Editor Do
By Ex Publishing Insider
Well the bar has been set awfully high by Nathan Bransford, Literary Agent, for a post that is both witty and informative. I’m excited to have this opportunity to guest blog, but also sort of chewing my nails down to the quick. Take it easy on me, Bran Fans!
After graduating from school, I got into my head the wacky idea that I might want to work in the New York book publishing world. Eventually I talked my way into a job in the editorial department at a big publishing company. I worked there for four years, and slowly became an editor who bought and edited her own books, thus learning the answer to at least one of life’s great questions: What do editors do?
Editors do edit. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Why don’t we follow one book through its entire publishing process to show what the editor does? And because editors seem to do an awful lot, this will be a two-part series.
1) Herbert Smith is an aspiring writer. It’s all he’s ever dreamed of doing, and if he does dream of something else at night, he promptly wakes up in the morning and chastises himself. He sweats blood and tears for many years and finally writes the great American novel. Somehow through a connection and prayers to a god no one has ever heard of, he finds a literary agent and at last the ball is moving. He will get an editor!
2) But wait, Herbert. Not so fast. First your literary agent is requesting significant changes to your manuscript. Herbert mutters something about “I thought this was the editor’s job” but makes the changes anyway. Finally, after an additional six months, the agent is sending out Herbert’s book!
3) Herbert’s book is sent out to a bunch of editors around the country that Herbert’s agent thinks might like the work. This critical step is probably the most important thing an editor does. An editor buys books. Let that sink in. An editor buys books. In any given day, a high-ranking editor will receive between 3 and 10 agented manuscripts (if she works in fiction) or 3 and 10 agented proposals and partial manuscripts (if in nonfiction). The editor then uses her assistant to screen out any obvious Nos, like a book outside of the editor’s specialty, a book that is positively crazy, a book that is unfortunately exactly like another book they just bought, etc. Meanwhile, Herbert waits and yells abusive things at his cat and thinks of firing his agent because this is just taking way too long.
4) Jane Bookworm is an editor at a big publishing house, and her assistant has just plopped today’s selection of agented manuscripts on her desk. Each one has a little slip of paper called a reader’s report, which the assistant may or may not have written from the agent’s letter, depending on if the assistant is loving this very underpaid job or just biding time until law school. Jane flips through the stack and something about Herbert’s novel catches her eye. Perhaps she’s been thinking that zombies are the next big thing, perhaps it was something she ate for breakfast, perhaps she’s crazy, but she takes a chunk home with her to Brooklyn that night. Meanwhile, people in Herbert’s family are thinking of staging an intervention.
5) Jane reads a chunk of the book that night and actually loves it. She’s surprised (as you always are) and makes a mental note to read more the following day. But then Jane’s week is taken up by a battery of very necessary meetings for the books she’s actually publishing at this very moment, and so she doesn’t get back to the book for a month.
6) Finally Herbert’s agent calls Jane and asks about her children and tells her he admires the latest book she edited and then asks how it’s going with Herbert’s manuscript. Jane says something vague, but she is reminded that she needs to finish it. She finishes the manuscript that day and is excited. She wants to make an offer. But back in Texas, Herbert vows never to write again and tries to take up a new hobby, like stamp collecting maybe.
7) The next day, Jane goes on the campaign trail for Herbert’s book. While buying a book is important, it also costs a lot of money and is a serious gamble for the company and thus a consensus must be reached among some of the editors that this book is “good.” She starts talking it up to editors within her division that she thinks will like it and passes out pieces of it.
8) A week later, several editors have said that they like the book at one of the board meetings. The Editor in Chief has given Jane permission to offer a small amount of money to the agent. Jane is excited.
9) When Herbert gets the call he at first believes it to be a prank from his ne’er-do-well nephew. But after a few weeks of back and forth, Jane and Herbert’s agent come to a deal, and Herbert is hospitalized for nearly dying of happiness.
10) Jane has her assistant begin drafting the contract and writes Herbert a warm note. Two years from now, he’ll be a publishing writer. Wait, what? Yes, two years.
(This is Nathan talking again): Will Herbert like the cover of his book? Will he be eviscerated by Kirkus? Will he be an old man by the time his book is published? Find out…… next week!!