How Has an Editor’s Job Changed?
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
The other day, my assistant, Michelle, asked me how an editor’s role has changed since my first book released, which was in the mid-1980s. Some of my responses surprised her; so I thought it might be helpful to you all to “listen in” to how I answered Michelle.
To set the stage, let me tell you the title of that nonfiction book: But Can She Type? In it I examined unique qualities that I believed women brought to leadership positions in business.
Technology Has Changed an Editor’s Job
The very title shouts out one major change since the ’80s. Yes, I wrote the manuscript on a typewriter. It was electric and had a correction ribbon, but still…I have to say, typing a book eliminates most writer wannabes.
Time for Each Manuscript Has Changed
I think we all would guess that technology comprises a major difference in publishing, but my project portrays another change. My publishing experience involved five major rewrites of the manuscript after it was contracted. Yes, five.
But Can She Type was published by InterVarsity Press, which took each manuscript through a rigorous process. If I remember correctly, the first round of rewrites involved my reviewing the critiques and suggestions of three reviewers, each of whom had a special interest in my topic. A business woman, a woman college professor, and a woman newspaper reporter each read the manuscript and made numerous critiques in its margins. I also had what seemed like reams of comments from my in-house editor. Juggling so many perspectives on the manuscript felt like corralling five rambunctious toddlers.
The Number of Rewrites for Nonfiction Has Changed
After that major round of making changes under my editor’s watchful eye, I painstakingly tightened, clarified, illuminated, excised, revamped, and generally wrestled the manuscript to the ground through for four more rounds. I don’t think the manuscript was bad to begin with, or IVP never would have offered this first-time author a contract, but the publisher showcased a strong commitment to making the manuscript reach its potential.
I was sick of the book by the time my editor finally declared it acceptable. (Remember, I had to retype the entire manuscript and adjust the end notes with each round.)
My experience raises these questions:
- When was the last time an editor had the luxury of grinding through five revisions with a nonfiction author?
- Today, would a publisher today invest in five rewrites for a first-time author?
- Would three reviewers be hired by a publisher to critique a manuscript?
- Would the author agree to rewrite five times?
I think the only question to garner a yes might be the last one.
What It All Means to an Author
Editors’ schedules are stuffed as tight as pickles in a jar. If the editor can’t move a manuscript onto the copy editor by a certain date, other projects assigned to the editor form a logjam. And then publication dates have to be moved; ads are run, but no books are available; publicity is scheduled that becomes meaningless; and sales reps have a title in the catalog that the publisher can’t deliver.
The ship is run much more tightly today, and leeway to work to make the manuscript everything it could be seldom exists–even if you’re a best-selling author. Especially if you’re a best-selling author because the publisher is counting on your book to bring in the necessary funds to support the company. The publisher is committed to a quick release of the best-selling author’s title to infuse cash into its system.
That’s part of the reason publishers create books of 500-some pages, with egregious errors, with less than stellar editing–or even lacking strong book structure. Who has the time to hone the piece into a sharply focused book?
Now, my questions to you are:
How many times have you rewritten your work in progress? What keeps you going? (I had a contract to nudge me forward–with the advance already spent, of course.)
By the way, I might not be able to join in on the conversation. I’m at Mount Hermon Writers Conference on the faculty.
Read about the book editing process from the 1980s. Click to tweet.
How has an editor’s job changed from the 1980s? Click to tweet.