Our Changing World: More About Editors

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.

So, if editors don’t have time to edit, which was the point of my last post, what do they do?

Foremost for you, an editor acts as an author’s in-house advocate. If some scuttlebutt ramps up in-house that the book you’re contracted to write is going to come in late, or has been completed but is rumored not to be what everyone hoped, your editor jumps into the fray to correct misconceptions, cover for you till you get your act together, and be your book’s in-house cheerleader. That’s why it can be deadly for your book if your editor leaves before your book is released: It just lost its major cheerleader.You might not realize it, but your editor is also the manager of your project. Every step of the publishing process is overseen by your editor. So if the creative staff come up with a cover you don’t like, your editor is the in-house person who speaks on your behalf. If the title is, in your opinion, all wrong, it’s your editor who conveys that thought to everyone else involved in the packaging process. (Often your agent will be threaded into the conversation as well and can be more insistent than you might be about the need for change.)

Your editor not only troubleshoots areas you might not be pleased with in the book’s development, but also offers his or her opinions on cover, back cover copy, title, interior design, font, etc. When I was an in-house editor, I was the person who initially made title and cover suggestions, and sometimes I rewrote back cover copy and catalog copy. Now, at some houses, editors aren’t allowed that kind of leeway, but no one at the publisher’s knows your project better than the editor–and no one has as close of a relationship with the author as the editor. It pays to keep your editor happy!

In addition to these tasks, the editor often (this will vary from publishing  house to publishing house) is simultaneously:

  • acquiring new projects; reading potential proposals and manuscripts;
  • traveling to writers conferences;
  • meeting with key authors to brainstorm ideas;
  • editing at least one manuscript but probably more;
  • attending brainstorming sessions on titles;
  • giving input on cover designs;
  • looking at catalog copy;
  • reading back cover copy;
  • attending the requisite business meetings;
  • presenting projects to the editorial committee, the publishing committee and often the sales reps…

Let’s see, what have I left out?

So if your editor doesn’t answer your phone calls right away, or doesn’t have time to give you feedback for five rewrites, you can see why. Today’s editor is stretched thin. Especially since the layoffs that occurred over the last few years. While the number of projects have been cut back, the layoffs meant everyone who remained had to take on more projects and more responsibilities.

Now, seriously, can you think of other tasks I’ve forgotten?

Out of the tasks an editor accomplishes, what surprises you?

What do you wish editors knew about the writing life? (Some editors read our blogs, so, go ahead, shout out your thoughts.)

What do you appreciate most about an editor you’ve worked with?

16 Responses

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  1. Wendy says:

    I was surprised to read how much of a cheerleader and liaison an editor is in the publication process. I’m thankful to understand this before collaborating with one.
    ~ Wendy

  2. Nicole says:

    I have a question, Janet. Has the selection of a novel to publish always been the result of a pub board? Has an editor ever had the clout (as an individual) to find an author and get the go ahead for his/her book without everyone else’s approval?

  3. Nicole says:

    “What do you wish editors knew about the writing life? (Some editors read our blogs, so, go ahead, shout out your thoughts.)”

    I wish editors would admit this is a subjective and trendy business. I wish they’d admit they prefer “this” kind of writing. I wish they’d accept that we’re not cookie-cutter writers and just because we intentionally break “rules” doesn’t mean we’re “bad” writers. It can also mean we don’t adhere to rules we don’t believe make stories or writing better.

  4. One of the greatest facets of qualitative editor & agent relationships is that you have experienced guides who are actually IN the boat with you. Everyone else is cheering from the shoreline, regardless of their good intentions. Writing is a lonely sport, and we have many blind spots to overcome. The encouragement, advocacy and…yes…strong accountability that accompanies traditional publishing will not be replaced by the Kindle.

  5. Lynn Dean says:

    I have been very surprised by the help and kindness I’ve received from at least two editors in the Christian market. The first took time to write a personal note of encouragement at the bottom of a rejection letter. He suggested I join ACFW to learn and grow. I was completely new to writing, and that direction was timely and valuable. Beyond that, his kind gesture took the sting out of the rejection. Since it was my first attempt, that meant the world!

    The second editor took the time to read my story all the way through. I wasn’t expecting that. When it was not selected for publication, she requested that I resubmit the proposal the next year. I would never have considered doing that and would probably have talked myself out of it if I had. Again it was not selected, but this editor took the time to list what she considered the story’s strengths and weaknesses, suggested ways to improve it, and invited me to submit again. I can take rejections like that all day! You can bet I contacted the people she suggested and got to work learning what I don’t know yet!

    You hear so many discouraging stories about the difficulties of breaking into this market. These two editors have been beacons of hope, and I deeply appreciate their extra efforts and encouragements.

  6. janetgrant says:

    Nicole, in answer to your question about whether an editor ever has the clout to just offer a contract, I’ve never seen it happen in my multi-decade publishing career.
    I even had my own imprint for a couple of years, which is like running a mini-publishing house inside a publisher. But I still had to take everything through the publishing committee.
    Sometimes, when I vociferously championed a project, the vice president would turn to me and say, “Are you willing to stake your career on this project?”
    Guess what? I never was. If the committee wasn’t going to enthusiastically back the book, I knew it was likely to fail. So I backed down.

  7. Nicole says:

    Fascinating, Janet. Thank you.

  8. Karen Ball says:

    Nicole, I know it’s a bit of a paradigm shift, but it isn’t an editor’s job to be the only one making publication decisions. It’s not about clout, it’s about being part of a team. I’ve always had a lot of “clout” where I’ve worked, but I’d never want to acquire without input from those on my team. Marketing, sales, the leadership…they all bring a LOT to the table. Probably 90% of what I present for possible publication is accepted. Sure, if I made all the decisions myself, it’d be 100%. But you know what? I’d take 90% with support in sales, marketing, and the leadership of the company ANY day over 100% with just my say-so.

    Editors are, in essence, talent scouts. We go out and find the stars, then come back and get our team excited about them. Once a book is accepted for publication, then it’s on to the edit (and I actually DO edit about half of my list myself), meetings on marketing and sales strategies, trips with sales folks to meet with buyers and champion my books, reviewing catalog and cover copy, working with design on covers and interior design, and being in one meeting after another. Many of which have nothing to do with my books and everything to do with procedures, expense reports, budgets, system software, contract content, and on and on and on.

    My point? Acquiring books for publication is a team effort. It’s not just up to the editor, nor should it be. We have enough on our plates. 😉

  9. Karen Ball says:

    By the way, Janet, great posts!

  10. Wow! Who knew? Makes me love editors even more.

  11. Nicole says:

    (Would they were all like you, Karen. I get it. I do. I know you get “things” from authors’ standpoints, too, because you are one and you love authors. I asked the question for a reason which shall remain “anonymous”.)

  12. janetgrant says:

    Thanks, Karen, for speaking up. I think it helps everyone reading the blog to hear from an editor who’s in the midst of living out what I’ve tried to convey. I know some authors think editors are slow to respond to emails and phone calls, but if they understand just how many directions you are pulled everyday, it makes it easier to extend grace your way.

  13. Dale Cramer says:

    I have to put in a plug for my editor here. He’s worked on all my books, and I’ve heard from several different people that he’s my biggest cheerleader and salesman. He’s been known to hand-sell my books to strangers in a store. It’s great to know somebody has my back at the publisher, but maybe it’s even better to know that the guy who’s responsible for so much of the package is wholeheartedly invested in it, because he basically controls everything that I don’t.

  14. patriciazell says:

    Thanks for the insight, Janet. And, a big shout-out for all the hard-working team players in the publishing business–we owe you so much for giving us books!

  15. Cat Woods says:

    I think the message here is reflective of those same messages regarding authors and agents. Everyone is busy. Everyone has a job to do. Everyone wants respect.

    While we like to believe writing is an isolated sport, it really does take a team to make dreams come true. And our best advocates (editors and agents) will only remain that way if we are kind and patient with them.

    While I am unpubbed, I have learned first hand the power of an editor–and their limitations. One of my manuscripts took eleven months to reject. When it came back, it had illustrated sticky notes on it. The rejection letter was written in a tone that let me know this editor had championed hard for my project. The stickies told me it had gone quite far in the rounds. Yet, somewhere, someone was concerned about the market saturation for such projects at the time. This fear trickled down to a rejection.

    If we really consider it, how often would we stake our careers on someone else? Why would editors be any different? I know I would hate to be the one that forced an editor to go home without food for the table.

    Wonderful post.

  16. Jevon Bolden says:

    Hi, Janet!

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been an in-house book editor for almost seven years now, and while I can’t compare what it must have been like for editors who have been in the business longer, I can say that you have described my daily activities to a T.

    I love the authors that I work with, and I have rewritten back cover copy and gone to bat for them on certain content or marketing issues, title disputes and more. I do lots of developmental and content editing too! It is a wonderful experience that I feel made for.

    Thanks again for bringing more clarity to the ever-changing world of publishing!