Some publishers have chosen to downsize the number of in-house editors but instead to rely on freelancers. That decision raises the question, What does an in-house editor do for you?
Having been such an editor, I have personal insights into what fills an editor’s day, but I’ve asked some publishing veterans to weigh in on the question as well.
One of the first items that occurs to me is that an in-house editor serves as your advocate.
When You Lose Your Editor
Ever lose an editor mid-project? The heart goes out of the process; no one else seems to care the way your editor did. And you thought the entire publishing house was excited about your book! Why would losing one person make such a difference?
Carol Johnson, who pretty much launched Christian fiction by publishing the likes of Janette Oke and then steered Bethany House for many years, says it this way, “First and most important is the in-house editor’s ‘ambassador’s role’–repping the author to the House and the House to the author. Having someone in person on site where decisions large and small are being made about a project you’ve invested blood, sweat and tears to create is worth far more than advance dollars.”
The In-House Editor as the Author’s Champion
Jan Stob, the Director of Fiction at Tyndale House, sees an editor’s job this way: “An acquisitions editor’s job is to not only acquire but also to help communicate the vision for that product and/or author throughout the company. Having acquired a product, I have a vested interest in seeing it succeed. I become the in-house champion for this author and his/her title.”
Whatever word you attach to the job–advocate, ambassador, champion–editors see themselves as the party responsible to take care of your manuscript once you hand off that precious baby.
The In-House Editor as Publishing’s Hub
The editor is the hub around which publishing’s wheel moves for your book. If marketing has a question about the book’s content, if the book designer wonders if an approach is working, if the proofreader thinks she’s found a major error, each individual will turn to the editor for guidance.
Now, here are some questions to respond to:
- Have you experienced an editor leaving a publisher while your project was being produced? How did that work out for you?
- What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about the editor you’ve enjoyed working with most?
- If you’ve not had the chance to work with an editor yet, what quality would you value most in one?
Why is losing your in-house publishing editor sometimes fatal to a project? Click to tweet.
What an in-house editor can do for you that a freelance editor can’t. Click to tweet.
I have an in-house editor. Her name is Barbara, and she’s pretty.
And pretty tough.
I have nowt but highest praise
for my in-house editor,
except, perhaps, when she says,
“What did you write that for?”
She scans my work with gimlet eye
(and both her eyes are pretty),
and then might say, with heavy sigh,
“It’s dripping with self pity.
Sure you’re dying, too darn bad,
but others need a laugh,
and if all that you write is sad,
who’ll want the autograph
of a guy whose legacy
is a constant ‘woe is me’?”
I like your play on the idea of an “in-house” editor, Andrew.
I have not yet had a chance to work with an editor, but I have admired the love and friendship I’ve seen Jan Stob demonstrate to her clients. Her actions have always touched my heart.
She is a kind person but a no-nonsense editor–the best combo of qualities.
Janet Holm McHenry
Janet, could you comment on the different roles of an acquisitions editor and a book editor? Do sometimes those roles overlap?
The best editor I’ve had over the years of doing 24 books was Liz Heaney, who was my freelance editor for four prayer books I did for WaterBrook. She took a writer new to creating nonfiction and made me go deeper. In fact, she completely rejected PrayerStreaming: Staying in Touch with God All Day Long and made me start over by making me read the classic writers on prayer. Not only did I grow as a writer, I grew as a thinker. If others do not know Liz, she has edited all of Max Lucado’s books. Working with her was a blessing.
That’s a good, clarifying question, Janet. An acquisition editor’s main responsibility if to acquire new projects. But, often in all but the largest publishing houses, the acquisitions editor will also be that project’s content editor. The content editor looks at the sweeping issues in a manuscript–its structure, its logic, if adequate research has been done, if the writer overuses long sections of quotes from other sources, etc. A copy editor checks the minutiae of the manuscript–punctuation, grammar, correct quotes, endnotes, and following the publishing house’s style guide as well as the Chicago Manual of Style.
Liz Heaney is one of the editors I respect the most. What she requires of a writer forces that person to come to as near to perfection as they can reach. It’s hard work, but I’ve never heard a writer complain when it was all over. Each realized how much the manuscript had improved under Liz’s sharp-eyed guidance.
Janet Holm McHenry
Thanks, Janet! For most of my nonfiction I believe I’ve had different acquisitions and content editors–even the most recent ones.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Yes, my editors polish up a project, but the first thing that comes to mind when I think of what they bring is “Enthusiasm.” Both my editor and her boss have told me how much they love to read my submissions, laughed at my heroine’s antics, and look forward to further projects. Knowing that I have enthusiastic advocates for my writing is such a huge encouragement!!!
Good point, Kristen. Editors are cheerleaders, too.
I haven’t had the opportunity to work with an editor yet, but I believe the quality I would most hope for in that editor would be dedication to getting my story, my “baby”, published.
Chris wren james
Thanks so much for that. I have an editor who has been really fabulous then became ill and then recovered and is now travelling with her partner. She assures me she is still wanting to edit my completed novel of 60,000 words and we are at least half way through. Should i just be patient and wait or ask her if she is really planning to continue? Not sure the way to proceed.