Every year, the mystery writers organization, Murderati, interviews a publishing professional about the state of the publishing industry. This year, their guest was Neil Nyren, senior VP and publisher/editor-in-chief of Penguin Putnam.
You can read the entire interview at Murderati’s site, where he talks everything from e-books to zombies. I want to highlight what he had to say about the editing process–the role of the in-house editor (as opposed to freelance editing like FFS does). I think it’s very important for writers to understand how publishers and editors work and to appreciate the way they make our writing better:
In my experience, many readers (ones who don’t write books) don’t understand the vital role editors play in a novel, hence the self-published industry growth. Two parter – what does an editor do? And will that need ever be supplanted?
Oh, man, an editor does everything. His first job, of course, is to find the book, and then make it the best book it can be. That means finding out what the book wants to be, and helping it get there – and that could mean anything from reshaping the whole text to just line-editing to, in rare cases, nothing at all. The editor is the crucial professional outside eye. Everybody needs one of those, no matter what you’ve written or in what format you’re publishing it.
But after the book is done – polished and perfect and glowing like a little gem – that’s when his job really begins. Because the book has to be published successfully, and every editor has to be a mini-publisher. He has to be aware of every aspect of its publication and what every department in the house needs to know and needs to do to make that book successful – and that’s true no matter what level of sales you’re aiming at. The editor is the liaison between all the departments in the house – publicity, sub rights, production, everything. He always has to be thinking: what does the publicity department need to do something with this book? Is there a particular hook, is there something that can get the author media, does the author have contacts to draw upon to give us quotes, write an article, set up an autographing, buy quantities – anything to help things along? What’s the author’s track record? Sales has go to know. Has he published in magazines or newspapers? Sub rights has got to know. Is there any particular look for the jacket that might help? The art department has got to know. The editor has to think about all this, in conjunction with the other departments, and act as the conduit between those departments and the author.
So will the need for all that ever be supplanted? For the editorial, never. For the other parts, we all know examples of self-published authors who have been such dynamos that their books have gone on to significant and well-earned success. That’ll continue to be the case, whether we’re talking about paper books or ebooks. But being that dynamo requires a lot more time, energy and talent than most people have, which is why (among other reasons) most self-published books don’t have that kind of success. And that’ll continue to be the case, too.
Again, I’d encourage you to check out the entire interview because it’s really great!