The Life of a Book Editor
Perhaps the best way to get ready for the job you'll soon have is to understand what an editor's life is like on a daily basis. So without further ado, here's the scoop:
The beauty of this job is that there is no typical day. In acquisitions, one day could be spent reading proposals, another day in meetings, another day with the office door closed and an editing pencil in hand. (This last scenario is unlikely.)
Some days your head will spin because you haven't sat at your desk long enough to answer last night's email, let alone drink a cup of coffee before your (and your boss's) phone starts ringing. Most days are scattered - a meeting here, a phone call there, running around for cover art for a while, chasing down a proposal from an agent - and the day is over while you're still on page 1 of the proposal you need to have read by the end of the week.
A Copyeditor's Work
As a copyeditor, your days will be scattered as well, but most likely in a quieter sort of way. You could spend an entire morning doing a global "find and replace" on an author's manuscript where a supporting character's name was changed halfway through the book.
You will have regular scheduling meetings to make sure that books stay on track, that authors aren't holding projects up on their end, that the typesetters know when to expect the manuscripts to be delivered, and so forth. As an assistant, you'll likely be taking notes for your boss and/or the managing editor.
Production schedules are the bottom line in book publishing (well, to everyone but the publisher, that is - his or her bottom line is a dollar sign). A schedule is built backwards from a book's publication date to allow plenty of time for copyediting, typesetting, design, and proofreading. A book goes through more than one "pass" (whereby a manuscript is copyedited then returned to an author with queries for him or her to answer), so if one stage in the schedule slips, the entire schedule often needs to be re-created. With several books at different stages, you can see how there's a lot for you to keep straight! ...
The great majority of your actual editorial work will be done either on your commuter or at home - I cannot emphasize this enough. But this variety of tasks is what makes the job so challenging and enjoyable. As my first boss and mentor used to tell me often, there's never a dull moment.
An Acquisition Editor's Work
The primary function of the acquisitions editor's job is acquiring new projects, but it takes more than a quick snap of the fingers to make that happen. There are proposals to read, agents to wine and dine, publishers to convince of a project's merit, contracts to negotiate.and that's for every new book you sign up.
And let's not forget about the books you've already bought that are at various stages of production: There are chapters to be edited, cover art to be selected, authors to be soothed, and marketing tasks to be handled. ...
And still another part of the job that has nothing to do with projects you've already acquired or proposals you're considering: development. As an editor, you're constantly developing ideas yourself. How? By reading and listening. Good editors have a sense about what will work as a book and what won't. They have a sense of who will be a credible author and who won't (for non-fiction books).
As an editorial assistant, do the reading. Talk to people. Offer suggestions to your boss. I don't mean saying, "Maybe we should do a book about X."
Rather, do some research and go into your boss and say, "Have you considered how a book on X might be received? I've read about X recently in A, B, and C publications, and Y name keeps coming up. Perhaps we could contact him about writing a book on X." Even if your boss doesn't go for the idea, your boss will certainly be impressed with your efforts. Best-case scenario? You just got an attempt at your first acquisition.
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by Jodi L. Brandon
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