Thursday, February 26, 2009

Q&A: Becoming an Editor

Okay, tackling the first question from this questions drive.

Aaron says: I have had several people ask me about how to break into the editing business. Some people might like to hear about this--something about educational background or experience that is helpful in pursuing this as a career. You might could also talk about the different types of editors.

Different types of editors
I'll just speak to the types we use hear at Barbour and the terminology we use.

Copy editor: This is a person who is into the details and generally knows Chicago Manual of Style backwards and forwards. They can help the author say what they are really meaning to say in a way that will be understood by the broadest group of readers. The copy editor helps smooth out the writing. They may tighten the wording--or find ways to reduce the number of words used in order to say the same thing. They help a writer see overused words and phrases. They often double check the author's research. They do their work in such a way as not to lose the author's unique voice. It is not an easy job, but most often they can do this as a freelancer from home.

Content editor: This person reads a work with the main intent being just to look at the story and not so much at the mechanics. They point out to the author where the story pace needs work. They questions discrepancies in descriptions, facts, dates, etc. They make suggestions for things to help the story flow better and on the most believable course. It is most often a freelance position.

Managing editor: This person most generally works within a publishing house. They are assigned certain projects to oversee through the publishing steps. Sometimes schedule management and personnel skills are more important in this job than knowing how to do the specific jobs of a copy editor, content editor, or proofreader, but those skills are a definite help (and looked for on a resume).

Assistant editor: This person is just that. They assist the managing editor in scheduling and seeing a project along. They often are the one to assign proofreading projects and double check corrections that have been made. It is a good position to start in to learn the publishing process. There can also be assistants to senior and acquisitions editors.

Senior editor: This person works with the in-house team to oversee a line/series of books. They will be the one who most often works upfront with the authors and agents, building relationships and helping to massage manuscripts into something the publisher can best use. Often this job involves working within a set budget, selling an idea to a publishing team, working with cover designers, presenting a product to the sales team, being the face of the publisher at a writer's conference, and so on.

Acquisitions editor: This job mainly falls under Barbour's "senior editors," though I think JoAnne's official title is "acquisitions editor." This person fishes for the next best book idea, talking ot authors and agents. They can help hone the manuscript to the publishers needs and are involved in contract negotiations. Often they'll see a book through content and copy edits, then turn it over to the managing editors.

Proofreader: This freelance person is not an editor really. They are the last to review the manuscript for spelling and typesetting errors. They may raise a question if wording or description needing clarity.

It is never any editor's job or intent to rewrite an author's work. Our goal is to guide the author in doing the best writing that they can. (In special circumstances, I've seen an editor have to do some rewrites, but this is not the norm.)

Well, I don't know for sure. I've working in publishing 16 years, and I'm still trying to figure out what I do most days. LOL

I didn't set out to become an editor. I studied education for most of my college career, though my focus was on English. Planning to be a secondary English teacher did give me a lot of the basics in literature, grammar, communications/speech, creative writing, and journalism. I even worked with high school and college newspapers and yearbooks. I started at Barbour right out of college as a customer service rep, and within 3 months my resume was acknowledged as having the skills to work within our still very small editing department. It was a God thing.

I have met many in editing who first worked in retail, journalism, publicity, or marketing jobs. Their love of books draws them into the editing field.

If I was talking to a college student who has goals to work within a publishing house some day, I would tell them to load up on English grammar, literature appreciation, professional writing, and communication classes. It wouldn't hurt to have a few basic business management courses. Volunteer your time to review the writing of other students to start building your skills in recognizing good writing and in seeing where poor writing can be improved. It also is essential to have good computer skills in Word.

If you want to work in fiction editing, taking a course in writing fiction would be very helpful. Go to a Donald Maas clinic or to a fiction writing track at a quality writer's conference.

And foremost to be a good editor, be a good reader. Know what sells in the market in which you work. You don't have to edit Pulitzer Prize quality writing in order to make a lasting legacy in publishing.

Finally, for freelancers getting in with a publisher very often comes down to having connections. In-house editors really need to trust the freelance editors (and proofreaders). Often we find freelancers through author recommendation, recommendation of other in-house staff, meeting them at a conference, and the like. It is hard to take a chance on someone based on just a resume, but still make sure your resume has excellent references. Try starting by editing for authors or local businesses. Be willing to do a first job for no pay to prove yourself. Be flexible in working with publishers' often crazy schedules.

Aaron does copyediting. Maybe he should tell us how he got into that. :-)

[Isn't the shirt great? Every editor needs one. I found this here.]


Aaron McCarver said...

Thanks Becky. I actually got into the business almost by mistake. I had the privilege of meeting my favorite author, Gilbert Morris, at a CBA convention (now ICRS). We struck up a friendship. He was surprised at how much I knew about his books and the family trees of each series. He asked me to work with him to keep all of his books straight. He asked Bethany, Baker,and Tyndale, who all hired me to help with his books. That led to the series we wrote together for Bethany. As those series came to ends, I backed out of the editing for a time. I attended the ACFW conference in Nashville a few years ago (a must attend for authors, I think) and Tracie Peterson asked me to edit for Heartsong. She was then working with acquiring and editing those titles. We had become close when we both wrote for Bethany and she knew I edited as well. I loved it and JoAnne and Becky continue to use me I Barbour. I love working with all of the different authors and have made many wonderful eternal friends. Thank you, Becky and JoAnne for allowing me to do something I dearly love! My background that helped me is I have read all of my life, I read almost exclusively Christian fiction (there is nothing better), and I have a Master's degree in English and teach at two Christian colleges. Another help I will put out there is to take brush-up college English courses periodically as grammar rules do change.

Aaron McCarver said...

Oops! Even editors need editors! I meant JoAnne and Becky continue to use me AT Barbour! Thanks again!

Vickie McDonough said...

Oh, this was very interesting, Becky. I've worked with all these different editors but never knew before how the jobs differed.

I'm curious about content editors and proofreaders. How many of those does Barbour generally use at a given time? Also, some of my books have been content edited and others haven't. I'm curious as to how you decide which ones are content edited.


Becky said...

All books are content edited in some form or another. In the case of something short like a novella, we generally let the copy editor handle content along with the mechanics. Sometimes the content edit is rolled into the acquisitions process. Sometime the senior editor does content read as time permits instead of hiring an outside person. The notes the author receives back will vary widely based on who the editor is and on how much of the content edit gets rolled into the copy edit.

CHickey said...

I have a shirt that says, "Careful, or I'll put you in my next novel." A lot of fun since I write suspense!

Mary Connealy said...

Becky, thanks for breaking this down. Really interesting.

As in everything in my life, every time I learn something new, that new knowledge reveals about 80 things I DON'T know.

And're a college professor???

I love the work you've done with my books, but now I also fear you.

Aaron McCarver said...

If only I could get my students to fear me... You have nothing to fear. I LOVE your books. Everyone be watching for "Montana Rose" this summer by Mary. I just edited it and it is vintage Mary but with more!

Myra Johnson said...

I'm working through my first Heartsong content edit right now, and I have to say I'm impressed with how thorough Rachel Overton has been. The book will definitely be stronger and more accurate as a result of her fine-tooth comb.

Carrie Turansky said...

Hi Becky,
Thanks for this information. It helps me understand and appreciate all that goes into preparing my stories for publication.
Thanks very much for all you and your staff do for us!

brooke said...

Thanks for the info. I am new in this and have been content editing (free) for a couple of Christian fiction writers as well as attending a Christian writer's critique group to work with writers there.
I just found your blog so I will be coming back frequently. I want to learn and grow in this area as much as i can. I LOVE editing!