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Publishing 101: The Different Types of Editors

A lot of people—even some published authors!—seem to be confused about the difference between the different types of editors. I know that publishing can be super confusing (I OFTEN have to explain my job to my family and non-publishing friends), so I thought that I might take a minute today to try and clarify some of it for you.

(Note: This list is based on my own experience at Macmillan. But publishing is a creative industry and various companies have different titles and processes!)

Acquiring Editors

These are the editors who decide what books should be published. Their job is to read through agent submissions, author manuscripts, and proposals to find the books that deserve to be published—just like what we ask all of you wonderful readers to help us with here on the site. Acquiring Editors might also come up with ideas for books themselves and then work with agents and authors to bring these books into being. Once they have a book they want to publish, they have to “acquire” it. This usually involves sharing the manuscript or idea with their co-workers in sales, marketing, etc., to make sure the company is on board with the book, and then negotiating with agents and authors until they reach a deal.

Content Editors

These are probably who you think of when you think of the word “editor.” The Content Editor is the one who writes edit letters and works directly with the author on polishing the book and making the book the best version of the author’s vision possible. These edits can be major ones involving plot, characters, pacing, etc., on a macro chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene level or minor line edits on a paragraph and sentence level. (Here at Swoon Reads you can try your hand at content editing through your comments on the manuscripts!)

In many cases (especially in trade publishing) the Acquiring Editor and the Content Editor will be the same person, and is just referred to as “the Editor.” But there are definitely situations where one editor might acquire the book (usually someone in a more senior position) and then another editor will take it over and work with the author during the editorial process.

At most of the major trade publishers, people working as editors start out as Editorial Assistants, then are promoted to Assistant Editor, then Associate Editor, Editor, and Senior Editor.

Managing Editors

Once the content editor and the author get the manuscript to a place where they are confident it is the best it can be, they hand the book over to the Managing Editor. Managing Editors (also known as Production Editors) are responsible for setting up schedules to get books published on time. Once given a finished manuscript, they hire copyeditors and proofreaders and keep track of the book as it moves between departments. It gets designed and approved, reviewed and approved, and reviewed and approved again, until there are no more changes and they can hand the book off to the Production Manager.

Copyeditors

Copyeditors are a fresh set of eyes looking at a manuscript. They do look at grammar and sentence structure, but often more importantly they also are reading for clarity and consistency. Does everything make sense? Is this sentence confusing to new readers? Do the characters have the same hair and eye color all the way through? They also look at timelines, and other details like the spelling of characters' names.

Proofreaders

Proofreaders are also fresh sets of eyes to look at manuscripts. They usually follow after the copyeditor and are more focused on grammar and sentence structure. They are also looking at designed pages, so will make sure that all of the author’s and editor’s corrections have been made from the last pass, and that no new errors were added in the process. If they do notice a consistency error or get confused, they will query it, but their focus is more on grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Production Managers

Not technically editors, but I’m including them because working with them is a vital part of the Managing Editor's job. The Production Managers are the people who are responsible for taking the manuscript and art files and turning them into actual physical books and purchasable e-books. They work with our compositors, printers, and paper suppliers and play a key role in setting deadlines and schedules.

As you can see, it takes a village to make a book, and this is only the editorial side!

Have any questions about how the publishing process works? Let us know in the comments!

Author spotlight

Holly West

Senior Editor at Swoon Reads and Feiwel & Friends. Giant geek. Dedicated fangirl. Half-Elven Rogue Cleric. Also answers to That-Girl-Who-Reads-A-Lot.

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