Have you ever wondered what happens to a book after the author puts his pen down or declares that his work is complete?  What processes does the manuscript undergo before it reaches the shelves of the bookshop or your online retailer?  One of the most fascinating steps of book publishing is the editing process, and the book editor plays a vital role in this process.

Book editors review, re-organise and rewrite manuscripts written by authors to facilitate their publication. So, what does a book editor do? A book editor:

  • Fine tunes and polishes the manuscript
  • Incorporates knowledge and information that the writer may not be aware of
  • Draws attention of the audience to the main idea of the writing
  • Ensures that, in spite of editing, the book still speaks the writer’s voice
  • Enhances the logic, flow and structure of the manuscript.

The role of a book editor has changed over the years. There were times when book editors championed the cause of authors and shared great personal bonds with them. Today, there are demands on the book editor to acquire bestsellers and the focus seems to have shifted to marketing the book, rather than editing. Though editing may not be a cost-effective process for the publishing house, the fact remains that an effective editing process is fundamental to creating a good manuscript.

Finding the right book editor

Often, a book editor is misinterpreted as someone who checks for grammar or spelling alone. But in reality, the role of a book editor is quite different and complex. In fact, there are different types of book editors, such as acquisition editors, developmental editors, substantive editors, copy editors and proofreaders, who perform a range of editing functions.

Though at times, the same editor can perform two tasks, it is often rare to find a book editor who performs all of the editing processes. Since the role of a book editor is not limited to one or two tasks, finding the right book editor is very important, and the definition of ‘right editor’ can vary from author to author according to their requirements. Here’s a brief description of the types of editors that an author should consider before taking the final call.

Acquisition editors are the ones who determine if the book would be a profitable choice for the publisher.

Developmental editors work closely with the authors to structure the content of the book. They have a precise idea of the big picture and hence shape the book to cater to the target audience. Developmental editors often work with authors of non-fiction.

Substantive editors work towards improving overall clarity, logical flow and readability of the book. In case of non-fiction writing, the substantive editors also ensure that only the right conclusions are drawn from the text presented.

Copy editors look for factual inconsistencies, examine the style standards of the book and make sure that there are no copyright or legal issues. The final edited hardcopy of the book goes to the proofreader who scours for errors in punctuation, grammar, style and formatting. A proofreader may also check different versions of the book to completely eliminate errors.

Book editors can also be categorised depending on whether they are fiction or non-fiction editors. Non-fiction editors are more interested in enhancing the readability, structure and factual accuracy of their manuscript. They make the right word choices to connect with the target audience. Non-fiction editors may also suggest ways to link the chapters to improve the overall consistency of the book.  On the other hand, fiction editors pay attention to the story, plot and length of the work.

Garnering information from appropriate contacts

A book editor is often an avid reader who is constantly looking for new material. Editors often have a long-term relationship with agents who gather proposals regularly.  Though a lot can be said about building the right connects, sometimes it is just that a relationship works the first time and the author invariably gets hitched to that particular editor. A book editor also looks for information from conferences, magazines or universities.

A Book Editor Often Takes the Role of a Mediator and Publicist

A typical book editor plays a multifaceted role of balancing the writer’s sensibilities with the expectations of the publisher and readers. One of the major challenges faced by a book editor is to find a balance between the author, the reader and the publisher.

Authors have a strong emotional connection with their work, whereas the readers can be quite judgmental about a book and the publisher may just look at profitability. A book editor’s role lies in bridging this gap where he tries to maintain the authenticity of the book besides building a connection with the readers and helping the publisher make a profit.

Once the book editor weighs the risk/reward ratio of publishing a book, she tries to persuade other members of the publishing team.  The publicity and promotion of a book literally depends on the book editor’s spirit and zeal to take it forward.  In large publishing houses, the book editor explains to the marketing team why she thinks the book should be published. She also promotes it in such a way that her book is the first to be read by her colleagues.  Once the team agrees on a book, the book editor negotiates with the author to acquire the book. Often, this is a difficult role for the editors to play and it depends on their negotiating skill. In large publishing houses, there are legal advisors who negotiate these contracts. After the acquisition of a book, the book editor discusses the marketability and publicity of the book with her entire team.

How a book editor works with an author

Generally, the book editor is the single point of contact between the author and the publishing house. A book editor liaises between the author and the publisher to explain mutual needs. An author is generally sensitive to what he writes. During the editing process, the author’s work is under constant scrutiny and subject to many alterations. The book editor gives the much needed reassurance to the author during this stage. Book editors need to be gentle but persistent until they achieve their desired result.

Book editors have a clear and concise idea about what they want from their authors, how to sweet talk authors to cut down on unwanted material or include new information and when to leave their authors alone.

The role of the book editor is to enhance the writing of an author. Book editors have a strong vocabulary and an eye-for-detail and often challenge their writers to reach new heights and are quite resolute souls.  Although all the limelight is on the author and publisher when a book becomes a bestseller, the book editor does a fantastic job in the background.

At Word Nerds, we have completed many book editing projects for self-publishers and authors wanting to improve their work before submitting to publishers. If you need book editing assistance, contact us to speak with a book editor or visit our Proofreading and Editing Services page.