House Tour: Editorial

Well it’s the last Thursday of the month (can you believe?) and you know what that means—the latest installment in our Publishing House Tour series. This month we will be covering in house editing, and all that that entails. 

As a reminder, last month we covered Acquisitions, a process in which the editor is heavily involved. In fact, the editor is pretty heavily involved in most areas concerning the book they are shepherding, but we’ll get to that throughout the series. We have previously mentioned how complicated the book publishing process is (feel free to turn it into a drinking game, we’re not nearly finished telling you about it) so the first thing an editor has to do is fine tune the schedule for a book. 

Throughout the process, there must be time for editing, copyediting, typesetting, proofreading, corrections, designs, printing, binding, shipping, and all the myriad of decisions in between. At the same time as all of this, sales and marketing are working their magic, so there must be a tight schedule created for the editor and author to keep everyone on the right track. With a schedule created, an editor has a deadline for when a fully copyedited manuscript should have it’s first pass to when it should be printed and ready to go from a warehouse. 

In book publishing, there’s something of a romance around the editing of the older days. People wax poetic about Max Perkins and those of his ilk, lamenting that editors don’t edit the same way anymore. But fear not new editors, there is still much to be done, and it seems as though people have been reminiscing on the past since well, forever. In a 2015 NPR interview, Rebecca Saletan, Editorial Director of Riverhead Books spoke to that. “It’s been said since I got into publishing that publishing is going to hell in a handbasket: ‘People don’t really edit anymore,’ and since that was said to me 30 years ago I’ve learned to take it with a big grain of salt.” At least it’s true: the more things change the more they stay the same. It is true of course that editing has evolved over the years, and though editors are still the biggest champions for their manuscripts, there is quite a lot of pressure on them to make sure those manuscripts are worth all the time and money invested into them. 

One of the things that may confuse people about the process of book editing is where it all begins, and unfortunately like most things in life it just depends. It depends on what kind of book it is, how much of the book is done, what the editor determines to need to most work done, all kinds of things can be factors. No two editors are the same, and their process will differ from manuscript to manuscript, author to author. For the purposes of this tour, we will assume the first step of the author to be developmental editing. 

Developmental editing deals with the big picture of the entire book. The editor will look over structure, pacing, shaping an argument, focus, gaps in the narrative, plotting, subplots, and making sure the work is cohesive as a whole. In general this usually takes more than one go round between author and editor, working together to make sure all developmental issues are worked out and ready to go to the next stage: line editing. Although it should be known, developmental editing and line editing aren’t done on strictly different timelines, often both kinds of editing are happening all at once and combined into one new draft for the author to look over. 

Line editing is where we start to get into the nitty gritty. Line editors focus less on the big picture and more on the little things, like is that the correct describing word? Does that paragraph really help the reader understand or can it just be cut? and things of that nature. A line editor is meant to help in such a way that the author’s style is still adhered to and their voice still comes across, but the line editor helps to polish that voice. 

Now we come to copyediting. Copyediting by definition seems the most straightforward, but that isn’t always so. In most publishing houses copyeditors actually fall under the production category, but we’ll give a brief overview here. Copyeditors are hunters, looking out for spelling, grammar, that the structure of the manuscript is formatted uniformly, and all matters of mistakes. Though many publishers do not employ fact checkers because it can be a lengthy and expensive process, copyeditors often do a light fact check of things like names and dates. Copyeditors look out for the accuracy, structure, and logic of a manuscript, and it is their job to catch what the previous edits have not caught. This can be quite the task, considering that most editors are by nature eagle eyed to begin with. Once the copyeditor is done, one last copy is sent to the author, who reviews it (often with the help of their developmental and line editors) and then the manuscript is officially passed off to production. 

A good editor is one who can work with an author without changing the book by inserting their own voice and vision. The editor works to amplify an author’s voice, boost their confidence, and enhance their creativity. In turn, a good author is one who can take criticism and work with the editor, knowing their goal is to make the author’s book the very best it can be. 

So that’s editing! It’s a little messy, but all the good things in life are. We here at Three Houses Press appreciate you all hanging in there with us, and we’ll see you in May for the next stop on our tour. 

Recommended reading if you’re interested in more: What Editors Do, by Peter Ginna