The Multi-Tasking Editor

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Editors often don’t have time to edit. You might recall that was the point of my last post. So what do they do when they aren’t getting to their editing?

An editor is the author’s in-house advocate.

If you’re going to miss your deadline, your editor is the person you deliver that bad news to. If you’re struggling to wrangle your novel into something you’re okay to have your name attached to, who you going to call? Yup, your editor. In response to either of these scenarios,  your editor jumps into the fray to help you solve your problem AND to put the best face on the situation in-house.

You don’t want the sales reps and marketing staff to decide your book is DOA. Your editor can be key to keep everyone enthusiastic about your book.

Ultimately the editor plays the part of your book’s in-house cheerleader. That’s why it can be deadly for your book if said editor leaves before your book is released: It just lost its major cheerleader. Others in the publishing house could lost sight of why the decision was made to offer you a contract. Your editor keeps everyone on point.

An editor manages your project.

In most publishing houses, every step of the publishing process is overseen by your editor. 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.)

An editor renders opinions on key elements of your book.

Your editor not only troubleshoots aspects of your book’s development but also offers his or her opinions on cover design, 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!

The list goes on

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

  • acquires new projects;
  • reads potential proposals and manuscripts;
  • travels to writers conferences and major conferences in search of new authors;
  • meets with key authors to brainstorm ideas;
  • edits manuscripts;
  • attends brainstorming sessions on titles;
  • gives input on cover designs;
  • looks at catalog copy;
  • reads back cover copy;
  • attends the requisite business meetings;
  • presents projects to the editorial committee, the publishing committee, and often the sales reps.

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.

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, let us know your thoughts.)

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


What does an editor do all day anyway? Click to tweet.

Take a peek at life from an editor’s POV. Click to tweet.

29 Responses

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  1. What surprises me? That they’re still called editors (maybe they need to edit their job title).

  2. Ode To An Editor From A Newbie, With Apologies To The Bard
    Will all great publish’d travails wash this dream
    clean from my heart? No, this my edit’r will bring
    the multitudinous tasks incarnation
    making this green one read.

  3. Janet, Editors have a tough job, and I appreciate your letting us know about some of the things they do.
    Of course, this doesn’t address the author whose manuscript is left an “orphan” when the editor leaves the publishing house. They can only hope that a sympathetic editor takes over the project.

    • I’ve often wondered about that, Richard. For editors who leave, or agents who retire, etc … what do they do with all their people/projects? Do they pass them to others in their group?

  4. Janet, I hope an off-topic question is OK –
    * Is it just me, or does anyone else feel that Easter is the real start to the New Year?

  5. I understand that an editor doesn’t have time to edit. My editor over my articles isn’t the one who proofreads my grammar, etc. Another person does that. What I do wonder is about how many people they oversee. I’m sure it depends. But it must be a difficult task at times. Keeping everyone straight, all the projects going on at once. I’m sure the same is true of an agent. I hope that one day I’ll get to work with an editor over my novel projects. 🙂 And an agent, too. 🙂

  6. Carol Ashby says:

    Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Allen Arnold, former fiction editor at Thomas Nelson, at the ACFW Colorado Springs Writers’ conference. I would be willing to bet that he also prayed with and for the folks he edited. I suspect many of the editors you deal with do as well.

  7. What do I want an editor to know? Hmmm.
    A very wise person told me that I will be the one that the publishers will consider the authority on all things Navajo. When someone asked, and it was a very valid question, “why not include a Navajo wedding in the book?” I gave a short but concise answer, “Traditional Navajo weddings involve the use of corn pollen, which is spiritually and doctrinally complex in terms of Biblical teaching. Trust me, the cultural can of worms that is ‘corn pollen’ is more suited to a 2 inch thick theological text.”
    I hope and pray for an in-house editor and team who will embrace the challenge of getting all the cross-cultural stuff as close to perfect as possible. And no, no war-bonnets on my hero. Sorry.
    Another thing? I hope my in-house editor will come to know me well enough to understand just how hard it was for me to assert the previous thoughts. I am not genetically programmed to assert anything, but the last few years have taught me to champion my work as though my books were water to the thirsty. I have HAD to learn to be a saleswoman. NOT an easy thing for me. But I do know I’m passionate about my work, and that’s a huge bonus when someone asks “why Navajo history?”
    Back up, kids, Jennifer is about to tell you why.
    PS-Jennifer is worried that this sounded braggy…

    • Carol Ashby says:

      Doesn’t sound braggy, Jennifer. Braggy would be something like saying, “My author website comes up number 1 on Google right now if you search on ‘Roman indigestion.'” Now THAT would sound braggy, but only if you wanted the world to be impressed that you are (for the next few seconds, at least) THE recognized expert on how Romans treated indigestion.

      You have a beautiful website. Love the images. Looks like
      places near home. Have you considered adding some articles about some of the Navajo history that’s important for understanding your novels? I’d find that fascinating, and I bet many other’s would, too. Maybe they could be the basis for a newsletter that you can send out to your email list.

    • Accuracy, Jennifer, is never braggadocio.

  8. Janet, I so appreciate this perspective about editors. I hadn’t considered their many roles within a publishing house. I hadn’t put together the extensive list of tasks they take on as they advocate for the books they’ve picked up.
    *What you’ve shared here highlights the importance of a positive working relationship with the editor who cheerleads our projects. Thank you for sharing this!

  9. In thinking bout that which I would want an editor to know, it’s this:
    In telling stories in cultural context, some characters simply have to be Catholic. It’s the milieu in which I have lived most of my life, and it’s not only a sectarian issue; it’s also a mindset. I’d hope that an editor championing my work would be willing to push back against any bias, to keep they essential truths of Catholic characters safe and respected.

  10. I had much the same reaction as did Shirlee. The title does not fit the task list. In my IT world, this same person is called the Business Analyst. He/She is the most connected person in the business – the central point of contact for every possible stakeholder. I suspect as with the Editor, this is a widely-misunderstood position, and as such does not get the appreciation or recognition that the position and accomplishments merit.

  11. Janet, thanks again for teaching us, as thoroughly and as thoughtfully as you always do, about the publishing industry.
    I’ve recently worked with two different editors that both have the qualities I hope to find in an editor when my time for a book to be published arrives. Both editors made a point of saying what they liked about my articles before describing the suggested edits–which I agreed with. 🙂 And when I made a suggestion that differed from one of the proposed edits, the editor was gracious and agreed it suited my voice better. I wish I could afford to hire her for everything I write. I can handle a lot of red marks if they’re delivered with a love and respect for my voice. By the way, I can’t wait to announce the publication of these pieces later this year. 🙂
    Easter Monday Blessings ~ Wendy Mac

  12. Since Editors don’t edit maybe we should think of a different title for them. Suggestions anyone?

  13. Jerusha Agen says:

    This is really helpful information, Janet! I hadn’t thought about how deadly it could be for a novel if the editor who acquired it left the house before the work was published. And no wonder editors are so busy with all the tasks they have to do! Thanks for sharing the “inside scoop” on the editor’s job.

  14. Christine says:

    Yes, I discovered this when I worked with the wonderful Al Hsu at IVP-US. Even today I still update him about twice a year on sales and my book related news. He was so easy to work with.