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Book Editor  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotBook editors can work for themselves or for a publishing company. Their duties will vary depending on which path they choose. Either way, you must love books to work as a book editor!

When a book editor works for themselves, they do freelance work. This means they deal with different clients (book authors or their agents, if an author has one), and typically work from home.

Freelance book editors take unpublished manuscripts and get them ready to be sent to publishing companies. They have to know a lot about grammar and punctuation, as well as what makes a book interesting to read.

"I prepare a book for publication," says Florida-based freelance book editor Laurie Rosin. "I bring it to a stage of production readiness. Because I work with beginners, I am a writing coach as well as a book editor. I critique their manuscripts, meaning I evaluate them and explain how to correct and improve them. I write notes about their content on every page and correct spelling, grammar and punctuation."

dotThe work is a bit different for book editors who work for publishing companies. Ben Schafer is the executive editor for a New York publishing company. He says that dealing with spelling, grammar and punctuation isn't a big part of his job. His work is more about finding unpublished books, bringing them to the attention of his colleagues, and trying to figure out if the book will sell.

"One misconception is that we copy edit and proofread," he says. "We don't: copy editors and proofreaders do. Ours is more the big picture, 'more of this, less of that' kind of thing."

Both freelance and in-house book editors deal with people a lot. Freelance editors deal with clients constantly. An in-house editor will negotiate a deal for payment and royalties with the author or their agent. And that's just the beginning. In-house editors take on an almost managerial position to get a book published.

"From there, I'm the go-to person in-house," says Schafer, "the representative of the project in that I communicate to sales, marketing and publicity what they are going to try and foist upon the world. I edit the book and give the author suggestions for improvement -- this part of the job can either be a lot or very little, depending on in what state the manuscript arrives."

dot David Fuller is a newspaper copy editor and a freelance book editor. He says that due to changes he's seeing in the industry right now, freelancing may be the way to go if you're looking to enter the book editing field.

dotNo matter how you're employed, if you're a book editor, your hours are going to vary. Freelance editors can set their own hours, and often find themselves working more than eight hours a day if business is going well. It's a good idea to be available during regular business hours to talk to clients.

In-house editors work a more standard workday, but this is a notoriously busy line of work, one that often sees a lot of overtime.

"I work at least a few hours every weekend, sometimes all weekend, and many nights after leaving the office still spend a couple hours reading," says Schafer.

Editing can cause eye strain or repetitive stress injuries as it's a task that involves lots of reading and time on computers. It's a good idea to learn when your body needs to take breaks -- and to remember to take them!

At a Glance

Work with an author to improve a manuscript

  • You can work for large or small publishing houses, or as a freelance consultant
  • You have to be able to make quick decisions
  • A degree in English or communications is a good place to start