This is a question we get asked all the time. Editing is a behind-the-scenes sort of job, so it's not surprising that it's a little impenetrable.
To make it even more difficult, the role of in-house editor can differ quite a lot from publisher to publisher. And it's totally different again at newspapers and journals. All we can do is report how it is at the House of Onion.*
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions:
- Do you do the big picture story stuff? Yes. Yes, we do. That's structural editing.
- Do you do the sentence structure and wordy stuff? Yes. That's copy-editing. Our old friend.
- Do you edit on hard copy or on-screen? A little from column A; a little from column B.
- Do you check facts? Yes, Ma'am! That's part of copy-editing. (Or sometimes its own special stage - or was, back BI [before internet] when people, you know, published non-fiction.)
- Do you proofread? Not the books we're working on, if we can help it. We're too close to the to text to have the fresh eyes needed to spot mistakes. [What do you mean there is an extra 'to' in that sentence?]
- Do you use a red pen? Only when we proofread.
- Do you meet with authors? Yes. (Except when they live in Spain, and for some unfathomable reason the company won't fly us over there. Sigh.)
- Do you sign up books? Commissioning editors do - but that's mostly the role of the publisher.
- Do you read manuscripts before they are signed up? Often, but not always. It can be useful for the publisher or commissioning editor to have several opinions on a manuscript.
- Do you have anything to do with the cover? Yep, we brief the designer (and sometimes do photo research, and more photo research, and more...) and work with them until we get a cover that pleases us, the author, the publisher and the marketing department. (Hoo boy.)
- Do you typeset the book? Not usually - that's what the designer or typesetter does. (But sometimes...)
- Do you eat cake? OSC.**
- Ok, sure, but... what do editors actually, you know, DO all day? Well, the answer is nuanced, complex, and involved... so the obvious thing to do is explain it in lolcats.
Herewith, the first in an occasional series: What Do Editors Do All Day?
Part one: COPY-EDITING
With thanks and apologies to the original authors of these lolcats.
* One Onion recently watched The Proposal (for professional development purposes only) to find out what book editors do in other Houses. However, it became clear that book editing is indeed a mysterious business, as when the protagonist book editor is asked the question - 'What does a book editor do?" - she never actually gets the opportunity to reply.
**[Out See Copy] Perhaps we don't need to spell this out? Let's trust the reader. Answer has been previously foreshadowed.