Updated May 2023
The role that editors play at publishing houses and independent presses is vital to the success of everything from short stories and poems to novels and nonfiction books. But what exactly does an editor do? Are editors necessary as the publishing industry changes? What do editors not do?
Writer’s Relief has been helping writers connect with editors since 1994. We help writers of short stories, essays, and poetry connect with editors of literary journals. And we help writers of books and novels prepare submissions to literary agents, since we believe that is the best and most efficient path to getting a book deal from an editor. Clients by invitation only. Submit your writing for consideration today!
Managing Submissions And Acquiring Writing
Although the role of an editor will vary from one publisher to another, most editors are charged with sifting through manuscripts to find work that meets publication specifications. Some entry-level editors will be tasked with reading through unsolicited books, stories, or poems in order to determine if those works merit further consideration by their supervisors. Other higher-level editors may be given the authority to formally make an offer of publication.
At book publishing houses, part of an editor’s role is to meet with literary agents who represent projects that appeal to the editor’s interests. Editors at book publishers must also champion authors they love in order to ensure that such authors receive attention from publishing higher-ups.
Editing and Revising
At an independent press (such as those affiliated with colleges and universities that publish literary journals), a high-level editor will often make suggestions to improve the poem or short story prior to publication. An editor will also oversee the layout, design, typesetting, art, and overall look of a literary magazine. He or she may also write a forward for a literary journal, often commenting on specific works included in the issue.
At a book publishing house, an editor will also make suggestions to the writer to improve a manuscript. However, editors are not line editors—that is, their job is not usually to make suggestions to improve the manuscript line by line, word by word. Most editors look at the larger issues pertaining to a work: form, pacing, characterization, and projected reader response.
At both big publishing houses and independent presses, an editor’s job is often considered separate from a proofreader’s job. Sometimes editors must also proofread; but when possible, professional proofreaders are often brought in. Writers may or may not have a say over corrections that are made to make the work meet house style.
What Editors Do Not Do
Publicity. At mid-sized and larger presses, editors generally do not do publicity. The editor may work in conjunction with the writer on certain projects on an as-needed basis, or the tasks associated with publicity will fall to a department or an individual assigned to oversee that author’s promotion. Although some editors who own their own publishing houses may be more hands-on with publicity, the editor’s role has not traditionally been associated with promotion.
Artwork. If you’re publishing a book with a big New York publishing house, your editor may not have final say over your artwork, but he or she will likely act as the author’s liaison between the art department, the higher-ups, and the author in question. Editors at smaller publishing houses/presses might be more flexible about artwork, and an editor might work closely with a writer about art.
Revision. An editor will not revise a writer’s work. But an editor will suggest revisions for the writer to make. If your work is accepted for publication, be prepared to do more work on a manuscript based on an editor’s suggestions.
The Changing Roles Of Editors
There is some speculation among publishing industry insiders about the roles of editors in the future. Self-publishing has made editors seem unnecessary to some writers, since a self-published book can often be printed without prior editorial critique. Others believe that editors will become even more vital to publishers because editors’ expertise and careful attention to detail may be increasingly important to ensure the highest-quality content (based on the theory that two heads are better than one).
For now, if you want to get your stories, poems, and essays published with literary magazines, you will need to send your writing to an editor. And if you want to get your book published with a top publishing house, you will need to find a literary agent who can skillfully suggest writer-editor pairings and help a writer get a foot in the door. If you would like help with the submission process, learn more about Writer’s Relief.
Interesting article. I always thought the editor and proofreader duties were the same. Thanks for clearing that up.
Your article was helpful in gaining a better understanding of who does what in publishing today. Thanks for sharing your nuggets of wisdom.
Thanks for educating me on the whole business of editing.
Your article was very helpful.