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Pulling Back the Curtains: What Is Managing Editorial?

When I tell people I work in publishing, they immediately assume I’m an editor. Um, sort of, I’ll hedge. But I don’t acquire any books and I don’t deal directly with authors... Cue the confused looks. The managing editorial department is primarily a behind-the-scenes operation—we shepherd manuscripts through the copyediting and proofreading processes, oversee production schedules, and enforce deadlines. Ultimately we make sure that authors end up with an on-time, polished final product.

Here’s a little glimpse into the managing editorial department:

Copyediting 

So you and your editor have just put the finishing touches on your manuscript—the line editing is complete. Now you’re ready to send your book to the printer, right? Not so fast. Your manuscript is about to come across my desk in the next step in the publishing process: copyediting. 

At the copyediting stage, a manuscript is reviewed for diction, syntax, grammar, spelling, and consistency, among other things, and it may even be sent out for fact-checking or to a foreign-language expert for vetting. In the old days, copyeditors edited paper manuscripts by hand with their trusty red pencils; occasionally an old-fashioned paper-and-pencil copyedit is still requested by an editor or author, but, more often than not, we work electronically using Track Changes in Word. A good copyeditor will not only correct your dangling modifiers and catch the frequent repetition of the word “totally” in Chapter Two, but he or she will also note that the R train your main character took to Roosevelt Island doesn’t actually stop at Roosevelt Island—perhaps you meant Roosevelt Avenue? 

To help keep it all straight, copyeditors create a style sheet for each book—a magical document that outlines the spelling and punctuation decisions that were made (milkshake or milk shake? Is the series comma used? Are numbers spelled out or written as numerals?). Typically it also includes a list of character names and brief descriptions, place names, and a timeline.

The copyedited manuscript is then returned to the editor, who shares it with the author. The author has the opportunity to accept the copyeditor’s changes (“Thank you! I can’t believe I used the wrong accent on Grandmère every single time!”) or stet (“No, thank you. I am anti-semicolon.”). Usually there are queries the author responds to. Sometimes, the author will insert new text to help address questions raised by the copyeditor. At last, the file with the author’s changes is returned to the managing editorial department, and the final manuscript is now ready to be typeset!

Proofreading 

After a manuscript has been typeset according to the designer’s specifications, a proofreader reviews the first pass pages against the copyedited manuscript. Aren’t copyediting and proofreading the same thing? Not quite. A proofreader looks for typesetting errors—typos, dropped text, missing italics or fonts, bad word breaks, widows (a single short last line at the top of a printed page), and orphans (a first line appearing at the bottom of a printed page). A proofreader will check the pagination, part numbers, and chapter numbers to be sure they are in sequence, and will confirm that the part titles, chapter titles, and running heads and/or running feet are printed correctly. 

In addition, the proofreader will reference the copyeditor’s style sheet to be sure that the style decisions (spelling, punctuation, typography, etc.) are consistently applied throughout. There may be a smattering of queries for the author, but generally there will be fewer edits on first pass than during the copyediting stage. Finally, the proofread first pass pages will route to the editor and author for review, and further edits are returned to the managing editor. This process repeats, sometimes two or three times, with the review of a second pass and third pass, before the book’s interior is final and the managing editor approves a final PDF from the printer.

Overseeing schedules and enforcing deadlines 

It takes so many departments—editorial, design, production, and managing editorial—to make a book, and someone has to keep tabs on where each component of every book is at all times and, most important, when those materials need to be delivered to the printer. Ideally, a managing editor would build out a book schedule far in advance of that final deadline so everyone involved—the author, editor, designer, copyeditor, proofreader, managing editor, etc.—has enough time to carefully review and read materials at each stage. Sometimes, however, books are “crashed” onto a list late in the process, so the managing editor has to abbreviate the schedule, possibly slashing a two-week copyedit to two days or a seven-week review of first pass to one week and eliminating a second or third pass altogether. It’s a bit of a juggling act, but everyone is working toward the same goal—getting the book made and in bookstores on time—so it always seems to come together in the end.

Do you have any questions about how the publishing process works? Let us know in the comments!

Author spotlight

Melinda A.

I followed my love of books from the suburbs of Philadelphia to the big city, where I’m a copy chief ...

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