I just hung up the phone with a new author who has a book project that I’m very excited about. I can’t tell you much about her project just yetâ€”I’m trying to keep it on the down low for as long as possibleâ€”but I’ll say this: it kicks some serious bottom, and I can’t wait to work with her on it in the next handful of months.
I was telling her exactly this when she asked me The Question. “So,” she asked, “are you my editor?”
I don’t like this question. It makes me feel stuck somewhere between Kierkegaard’s Who am I?! and that PD Eastman book where the bird falls out of the tree and thinks the bulldozer is his mother.
I also don’t like the question because I tend not to handle the answering of it very well. I usually say something like, “Well, yes and no â€¦ ” Sometimes I say, “Well, no and yes â€¦” Because that can be true, too.
Being a writer and all, I know my author can handle irony. But she didn’t seem too happy with me. So I did what I often do when I get asked The Question: I launched into an excessively detailed exegesis of the variations on Editor, and I’ll share it with you now so you never have to suffer the way my poor author did today.
As an author, you will likely have many editors. Some of them will edit your manuscriptâ€”that is, they will actually read what you have written and make suggestions for improvements to the language, pace, tone, and scope of your writing. Other editors will not edit your manuscript, but they will still be your editors.
The first editor an author meets is almost always the acquisitions editor. This is the person who is responsible for making a contractual offer for your project and negotiating the terms of the contract until it’s agreed upon by the publisher and the author. Some acquisitions editors only acquire, while others do other kinds of editing as well. Therefore, your acquisitions editor may or may not also be your â€¦
Developmental editor. The developmental editor is the person who works with you to shape your project into a final and complete manuscript. A DE might make comments such as, “Have you ever thought about adding directions for a knitting project to the end of each chapter? Knitting is very in” or, “Chapter 12: more sex.” This is the most intensive/creative edit your book will get, though not all books even require a developmental edit. If yours does, your DE may or may not also be your â€¦
Project editor. The project editorâ€”also called your “in house” editor, or your shepherding editor, or your championing editor, or more often than anything else, generically “your editor”â€”may or may not actually do any editing of your book. She will, however, be the publisher’s point person for your project and, hopefully, an advocate for you and your book. She’ll discuss with you such things as cover design, deadlines, and your pub date, and she’ll convey any feedback the other staffers may have about your book (i.e., “Marketing says that Eat, Pray, Schlep isn’t really working for them as a title.”) Your project editor will likely oversee the descriptive copy that’s written about your book for publicity and catalog purposes to ensure it’s in line with what your manuscript will be delivering. Your project editor is most likely not also your â€¦
Copyeditor. The copyeditor reads your manuscript and makes edits in accordance with such wonkiness as house style, grammar, and consistency. She may also ask you questions such as, “Re Charlotte Sometimes reference on page 233: Is this a reference to the time-travel YA novel by Penelope Farmer or the B side of The Cure’s Splintered in Her Head? Please clarify.” The copyeditors are actually the most underappreciated of the bunchâ€”they are the unsung heroes of the editorial team, often a freelancer who polishes your manuscript until it shines and then disappears into the night. A tip: Ask your project editor if you can write a brief memo to the copyeditor before she begins her pass. That way you can flag any special words (“please stet spelling of golldangit”) or styles (“I prefer to refer to characters by a single capitalized letter and a long dash, as in ‘Mâ€”’, even though critics will likely find me affected for doing so. Please stet.”)
One more editor who will get her hands dirty on your book is the proofreader, who will review your book for accuracy after it’s been laid out. (Another tip: Ask your editorâ€”you’ll know which one to ask when the time comesâ€”if you can see the pages after the proofreader has taken her pass. Your editor may hate you for it, but it’s the only way you’ll see the absolutely final pages before they’re printed. She may say noâ€”there often isn’t time for this extra stepâ€”but if you ask very, very nicely and promise to return with edits within, say, 24 hours, you might just get a yes.)
And now you know why The Question is so stressful. Why yes and no is accurate, as is no and yes. My recommendation: offer each so-called editor at your publisher a checklist and ask them to check all that apply.