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Complete Canadian Book Editor
Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

 

You're holding in your hands a book. Maybe it's a paper book -- a codex -- the form the West has used for nearly two thousand years. Maybe it's an ebook, carried on a dedicated reading device or read from a smartphone, jostling for your attention alongside numerous apps, images, games, and other texts. Regardless of its container, a book is notable for its content: the sustained transmission of knowledge and thought, the creation of an authoritative voice that delights, admonishes, encourages, inspires. A book is always greater than the sum of its parts, more than the words and images on its pages, more than its physical shape. A book is an experience. And book editors are integral to creating that experience, for building the bond between writers and readers, every day.

 

A book editor's success in building that bond depends on the act of publishing. At its foundation, publishing refers to the process of making writing public, enabling it to circulate widely, without restriction. Over the course of several centuries, the work of printers and booksellers overlapped and diverged to create the distinctions in the industry we recognize today.

 

One of my industry colleagues defines book publishing as the process of turning money into books and then turning books back into money. On the surface, this explanation of the business isn't particularly profound: all industries, in one form or another, turn capital into a product and expect the product to sell, earn a profit, and return capital to continue the production cycle. The cultural industries -- like book publishing -- are different, though. No one asks an author to write a book, no one asks a publisher to publish a book (other than an author, of course), and people don't need books in quite the same way they need food, shelter, clothing, power, and heat. (I know, for serious readers, books can feel like life necessities. Like many of you, I have, on occasion, chosen books over food.) And every book is, in some sense, unique, intended for a specific audience and requiring an original, carefully tailored marketing plan. Turning books back into money is in fact very difficult, and book editors have the broadest involvement of anyone in the process. They first try to find the authors and the manuscripts of books that will feel like needs, not wants, to their potential readers. Then they work deep inside the text -- often in conjunction with authors and designers -- to create a physical object that will fulfill readers' expectations. Eventually they work with marketing staff to discover the unique sales points to make a book fascinating and appealing to its intended audiences. While all of these processes are in motion, editors are also nurturing the next book, the next author, and the next. And they do all of this work for a tiny fraction of the cover price of each copy of the book sold.

 

Writer, editor, and publisher Marshall Lee defines book editing as "The preparation of the content of a book, and sometimes its conception and planning, in cooperation with the author and designer." While this is a factually accurate definition, it barely touches the specifics of the hour-by-hour, day-by-day processes of acquiring and editing manuscripts and working with authors, publishers, designers, marketing staff, and other editors, and it also misses the all-important human element of the work. This book seeks to fill in those details.

 

What This Book Is and Is Not

 

The Complete Canadian Book Editor has been written to teach aspiring and working editors how to succeed in the field of book editing. As you read the chapters and work through the activities and exercises, you will learn about the tasks a contemporary book editor performs, from contracting new manuscripts to producing back cover copy, from going through the slush pile to congratulating the author at a book launch. Textual editing is a fairly common activity, performed in all areas of publishing as well as in other types of business. This book explains how the conventions and processes of book publishing differ from those in other fields of publishing, and defines and contextualizes a large number of industry-specific terms. It surveys the various sectors within the book-publishing industry and explores the regional, national, and international structure of the business. It gives you background and insight into specific processes and activities, such as editorial meetings and sales conferences, so that you will be well prepared to step into an editorial or marketing role with an established firm or to provide writers with effective and appropriate consultation and coaching as a freelance editor. The book is situated in the Canadian context but necessarily refers to the broader context of international publishing.

 

In covering so much ground, I must inevitably make some generalizations. My general comments about certain activities may not reflect your specific experience, although they are informed by my experiences, those of my friends and colleagues in the business, and the perspectives of industry experts I've quoted. There are differences in processes, practices, and even basic working assumptions between, say, trade publishing and scholarly publishing, or between literary publishing and textbook publishing. As much as possible, I have tried to note distinctions between sectors, and of course every publishing house has its own idiosyncrasies and peculiarities. I've written in broad strokes; I hope your experiences and your discussions with colleagues and peers will add further detail.

 

What you won't learn from this book is how to edit per se. There are, however, various exercises to help you practise and refine your copyediting and proofreading skills, as well as a variety of activities that invite you to reflect on the significance of editorial tasks. Very little of a book editor's day-to-day job involves working with text. Instead, most of it involves working with other people in the publishing cycle, especially sales and marketing staff. In fact, the jump from sales and marketing into editing is fairly common today. If you want to be a book editor, don't turn down a job in sales, marketing, or publicity: right now, this may be one of the best ways to break into the business.

 

On January 2, 2013, Mike Shatzkin published the following comment on his highly influential book-publishing industry blog:

 

"I think the clearest indication that marketing is reaching its proper 21st century position in publishing will be its increasing importance in driving title selection. As publishers become more audience-centric, it is the people who are communicating with the audience (the marketers, but also the editors, and the line between them will get fuzzier, not that it hasn't sometimes previously been blurred) who will see what's needed that isn't in the market yet. In a way, that's always happened. But in another year or three, it will be a formal expectation in some structures, and will have a defined workflow."

 

This quotation is talking about you, the aspiring book editor. You may be less likely to get a job in contemporary book publishing without a sound sense of book marketing and its related issues. Marketing -- at least for major publishers -- is becoming a crucial part of the in-house editor's required skill set. In turn, freelance editors may be increasingly responsible for the mechanical and, to a lesser extent, substantive editing of manuscripts. In-house editors may be fewer (at least at very large firms), and their jobs will be more financially driven.

 

Does this mean there are no jobs to be had? Not at all. It simply means that to get one of those jobs, you need to be as well prepared as possible. Knowing what book editors do, knowing what's expected of publishing interns and editorial assistants, knowing the language of publishing and the makeup of an editor's interests ... all of this knowledge will help you compete more effectively and insightfully for a book-publishing job. It will help you be a more effective and resourceful colleague if you join a small, independent book-publishing firm -- and there are many such firms across Canada. It will also help you be a more informed and valuable consultant if, as a freelance editor, you work with authors looking to self-publish.

 

This book aims to prepare editors of books for commercial sale. I've worked in the world of academic publishing, where selling a few hundred copies of a book is a significant accomplishment, and with small, independent Canadian publishers whose print runs are modest compared to the publishers whose books are routinely featured on the New York Times bestsellers list. As I said above, the historical purpose of publishing has been to make books for selling. For some writers and editors, the idea of financial success -- in fact, the idea of relating artistic production to money in any way -- suggests compromising one's artistic vision or pandering to common tastes and expectations. If this is your outlook, you might question some of the information in this book -- and such questioning is appropriate. I think we need to ask whether commercial publishing has over-commodified the book, whether economics has in fact created the anti-book, as scholar Sherman Young describes certain texts (books ghostwritten for a celebrity as part of her public relations program, for instance). According to Young, anti-books are "cynical creations, manufactured for marketing reasons only"; they derail our social conversation and mock our intellectual curiosity. Yet these books do circulate, and do generate social conversation (at least for some audiences), alongside books written with very different purposes, books perceived to be more socially valuable. Does that make some forms of publishing less legitimate or less important than others? Asking these kinds of questions and assessing the larger values of our business are necessary processes if we are to keep our discipline vibrant and relevant. Editing and publishing are intellectual labours; success demands that we think critically, that we question everything. That said, for most people, publishing is a business, and most jobs in the industry depend on the successful marketing and selling of a substantial proportion of the books a firm publishes in any given season, so it's that perspective I adopt in my discussion and advice throughout this book.

 

Chapter Overview

 

Now that you've done some thinking about the profession and about your motivations for becoming a book editor, here's an overview of what this book will provide to support your goals.

 

Chapter 1 discusses the history and significance of books in Western culture. It looks at the emergence of the book editor -- a relatively new figure on the publishing scene -- and what value editors contribute to the process of making books for the commercial market. It then invites you to connect yourself as a prospective editor to the traditions of book culture and to reflect on the way you perceive and understand the work that book editors do.

 

Chapter 2 moves from the broad reach of book history to a brief survey of publishing in Canada, in particular its roots in nationalism and regionalism. I discuss the structure of the Canadian market, its various publishing sectors, and their composition. This section also looks briefly at the economics of the business and introduces important concepts -- such as royalties, discount structures, and subsidies -- that affect editors' acquisition choices and publishers' programs and lists. The general survey of publishing in this chapter may be useful to anyone entering the industry in any capacity, including hopeful writers.

 

Chapter 3 deals with the numerous details associated with the acquisitions process. I look at the processes of commissioning books and handling submissions, and discuss how editors assess the manuscripts they read. This chapter explains and provides examples of various documents editors use in editorial evaluation and communication, such as query letters, proposals, editorial reports, and rejection letters. It also investigates the construction of taste, why certain editors and certain publishers make the choices they do, and how the commodification of books creates opportunities for some authors -- and silence and invisibility for others.

 

Chapter 4 looks specifically at contracts. This chapter discusses the first principles of book contracting, the major clauses of a standard contract, typical subsidiary rights, and the relationship between acquisitions and house economics, as well as a number of other, smaller details of contracts. This chapter is intended to teach you how to walk an author through a standard book contract and how to read and understand the specific points in the contracts offered by the firms you will work with.

 

Chapters 5, 6, and 7 focus on elements of editing a manuscript. First, I look at the relationship between the book editor and the author and how the editor can support the author when various problems emerge. Next, I look at aspects of manuscript preparation. I present the book as a constructed object, engaged in genre and audience expectations and supported by a publisher-built apparatus. This chapter also looks at specific structures that become the responsibility of the editor and the publisher, such as the title, the cover, and the cover copy, as well as various aspects of the front and back matters. Then I turn to textual editing. I review some key ideas in stylistic editing and copyediting, and revisit proofreading. Throughout these chapters, I refer to resources that support book editing and closely consider the book editor's sensibility and the elusive concept of style.

 

Chapter 8 looks at the design, production, and manufacture of the book as a material object. I start with some basic processes, terms, and concepts in design and layout. Then I look at printing and binding. Finally I introduce the notion of production editing, including issues such as budgeting, costing, schedules, and administration. This chapter also examines processes involved with a digital workflow and considerations for the future of both physical and digital books.

 

Chapter 9 considers in turn the strands of sales, marketing, and promotions. It looks at several tasks -- such as preparing a title information sheet or a catalogue description and attending a sales conference -- specific to editors supporting manuscripts prior to publication. It then discusses tasks generally handled by the marketing team, such as social-media marketing, publicity, book trailers, book tours, readings, and reviews. This chapter also looks at the larger context in which book marketing occurs, the place of book reviewing in contemporary culture, and the problem of discoverability.

 

Chapter 10 considers the future for book editors and book editing. While the purchasing of books is fairly stable, amid ever-increasing entertainment and information alternatives, larger global trends are having an effect on the job of the editor. Here I look at the shift to digital publishing, the rise of self-publishing, the economics of the industry at large, and other matters. Since 2010 the upsurge in ebooks has led to a revival of interest in paper books, and recently sales of ebooks have appeared to stabilize. The business of making books is indeed changing, but the industry needs knowledgeable, versatile book editors more than ever. This chapter brings all of the preceding chapters together to discuss the iterative, and generative, process of publication.

 

Chapter 11 presents an array of stand-alone exercises for you to practise specific editorial skills. Supporting this chapter is a series of appendixes, intended to reinforce and extend your understanding of specific editorial tasks. You'll find a list of publishing terms, a checklist for editorial project management, and a marketing planner. You'll also find an annotated list of books useful in building a comprehensive editing library and a grammar and punctuation primer.

 

There is a glamour associated with book editors. The legend -- or is it a shadow? -- of Golden Age book editor Maxwell Perkins hangs over us, inspiring us, sometimes intimidating us. It's my hope that The Complete Canadian Book Editor, which draws from the knowledge and experiences of veteran editors as well as a diverse literature about writing, editing, and publishing, will help you find your inner Max: to be an inspiring, leading book editor in whatever role or sector you find yourself working in. Let's get started.

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The Book Unbound

Editing and Reading Medieval Manuscripts and Texts
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