Some Time Ago
I met a writer who had an extremely powerful editor interested in his work and didn’t realize that she’d just struck gold. Another author felt excited about “meeting an editor,” without realizing that he was talking to the wrong kind of editor. So let’s look at some different types of book editors.
An acquisitions editor is often the person in charge of acquiring books for a publisher. This person will usually be charged with buying books for a particular genre, and will have limits on how much he or she can spend per book. For example, he might be in charge of buying science fiction novels, and he might have a limit of $100,000 per book.
If an agent demands more than the editor can pay on his own authority, the editor will then have to go to the president of the company—and sometimes even the board of directors—in an effort to get more money. Of course, to do that, the acquisitions editor will have to try hard to justify the expense, often making appearances before the marketing department, sales reps, and the board of directors.
When authors and agents talk about sending books to an editor, they are usually trying to get the attention of the acquisitions editor.
Each publisher will have its own title for an acquisitions editor. For example, an acquisitions might be called a “Senior Editor” or “Managing Editor” at one publisher, or “Vice President” at another.
Beneath the acquisitions editor at a major publisher, there are editors who primarily do other things than acquire. Their main editing job might be to act as content editors and project managers.
A content editor will critique books for pacing and continuity, or look at ways to strengthen characterization or description. They might make suggestions on how to create better plots, and so on.
Content editors often also read manuscripts in order to help make purchasing decisions. As an editor, this person can often bring manuscripts to the attention of superiors, and may sometimes even purchase manuscripts, usually with a lower budget. For example, I’ve known editors who have worked as a content editor for a year, and as a present, they get to choose one novel to publish.
Many of these editors primarily handle day-to-day activities to help produce and promote novels.
Content editors are often given titles like “Associate Editor,” “Assistant Editor,” or just “Editor,” depending upon their level of experience.
A line editor is someone who helps prepare a manuscript for typesetting. They will look for dropped words, typos, and so on, trying to make sure that the novel is readable or elegant on a line-by-line basis. The line editor will also be knowledgeable on the publisher’s in-house guide for style and usage.
Often, a line editor is hired as a free-lance consultant and may not have a title at all. In fact, sometimes a line editor will work for two or three publishers at the same time, on a job-by-job basis.
A good line editor can be a valuable resource, but may not have any pull at all when it comes to making purchasing decisions.
So, why is this important? When you as an author are looking for a publisher, you need to know the hierarchy of a company. When you meet an editor, you need to know, “Am I talking to a real decision-maker here, or am I wasting my time?”
An easy way to learn who the real buyers are in New York is to go to www.publishersmarketplace.com and buy a membership. Then go into the “Top Dealmakers” section of the website and choose “Editors” and the genre that you are writing in. The site will then present a list of editors who have actually made purchases on books over the past ten years. If an editor is working for a major publisher but isn’t listed as a buyer, he or she may still be in a position to recommend books for publication, but may not be in charge of making purchasing decisions.