Melanie Spiller & Coloratura Consulting
A Tonic for Ramshackle Wordsmiths
Copyright Melanie Spiller 2011. Do not copy without permission.
Flavors of Editors
Did you ever notice that your editor stiffens and grows uncooperative when you call him or her a “proofreader?” Here’s a short list
of editors and their roles.
- A Proofreader compares print-ready copy to the original, looking for accuracy and unfortunate layout
mistakes such as stacks of words, orphaned words, and extra spaces. Typically, this is an entry-level position in a publishing house,
and is a very difficult and unenviable job. This person is the last to see the text before it goes to the printer and has no control
- A Copyeditor checks and corrects text for grammar, punctuation, conformity to style sheets, and syntax. This position
usually requires some training specific to editing, and proofreading experience. No knowledge of the subject being edited is necessary.
- A Developmental (or Substantive) Editor gets involved in the context and content of text, including organization, issues of linear
thinking, accuracy of content, and, if you’re lucky, shows you the error of your ways and teaches you a bit about writing. This position
requires both copyediting experience and topical understanding. Most DEs don’t do copyedits because a copyeditor follows in their
footsteps at publishing houses, but you may get both in one package if you contract with an individual (like me, hint hint). In publishing
houses, this is the most senior flavor of editor who sees and manipulates text.
- An Acquisitions Editor finds projects, topics, and
authors, and project-manages the project. This person often comes from a sales background, generally has some expertise in the subject
at hand, and works on the contract and the outline with an author. The AcqEd seldom looks at text, unless it is to help write sales
and marketing materials, or to resolve some difficulty in Editorial as an impartial mediator. This person can have some editorial
experience, but is most likely not to. The AcqEd is usually part of the Business Planning staff rather than the Editorial staff.
- AProject Editor is a project manager, sometimes in an intermediary hierarchical step between proofreading and copyediting, and sometimes
as part of the copyediting function. It is the PE’s job to make sure that the project stays on schedule and to be part of the
scheduling group within the editorial department.
- A Managing Editor in book publishing oversees the Editorial staff (Proofreaders,
Copyeditors, Project Editors, and occasionally Developmental Editors) and represents scheduling and staffing issues to the Publication/Business
Planning part of the company. In magazine and Web publishing, an ME contributes to or controls the editorial schedule (deciding topics
for coverage and publication schedules) and supervises editorial and writing staff. Most often, the ME has risen through the ranks
of editors and understands the issues in that department from a personal level.
- An Editor in fiction publishing is a combination of
AcqEd and DE. This person determines which books or stories are publishable, and works with the author on the text. In magazine and
newspaper publishing, an Editor is often a writer or a manager, determining what stories will be covered and by whom, and writing
some percentage of the stories him- or herself. There is seldom a person with this simple title in book publishing, unless it means
- A Publisher is not an editor, but works with the Sales and Marketing people, the Acquisitions Editors, and the Managing
Editor to formulate a business plan and support Sales and Marketing efforts. In many cases, publishing houses have VPs of both Publishing
and Editorial to make sure that the labor pool and the wishful thinking of both departments is equalized.
- An Editorial Assistant performs
clerical functions within the Editorial department, sometimes for a specific AcqEd, sometimes for the whole Editorial department.
Tasks often include filing with the Library of Congress, contributing to project management efforts with other departments (like CD
production or permissions gathering), and typical administrative tasks for the department or individual. In some cases, an EdAssistant
is mentored by the AcqEd or DE, and may advance rapidly, skipping some of the usual steps.
- An Assistant Editor is usually a Copyeditor being groomed for developmental editing. An AssistantEd might perform tasks from both
the acquisitions side and the editorial side, but is closely supervised. In some publishing houses, this position is called an Associate
- A Technical Editor is usually very experienced with the technology under scrutiny in the text. This person can
have editorial experience, but is usually hired for their ability to find errors in code or product function as written by the author.
Occasionally, you can hire someone who knows how to edit for language and content AND for technical accuracy, but most often, a TE’s
intrusion on the language and content side is unwelcome. Copyeditors often spend as much time correcting errors introduced by overzealous
TEs as they do editing the author’s work. (In my vast years of experience, I have never met a TE who didn’t THINK they knew something
about the editorial side, but whose work didn’t create more work—and often some tension between the author and the publishing house.)
hope this helps. There is nothing worse than an irritated editor—we have power over your words and we know how to use it!
my next two blogs, I will write about the editorial process and how one Developmental Editor (I wonder who?) works.