Say you want to go into editorial at a publishing house. What does that mean?
There are actually several variations on what you’re probably thinking of as the editorial department in most publishers. Do you know what they all do and which you’d rather work for? My guess is no, if you’re reading this. It’s possible, if you’re young and hopeful and say you want to make books, you might not actually be interested in the editorial department. Here, I’ll explore what some typical editorial/production departments do, and look at Penguin Random House, one of the Big Five, as an example.
First off, there’s the editorial department. The consensus between BookJobs.com and The Balance Careers is that this department acquires, edits, and develops books. This can include working with agents, authors, and other departments in-house. BookJobs says that if a publisher has several imprints, or smaller subdivisions of the company that focus on publishing different types of books, there will be a different editorial department for each imprint to ensure consistency within that brand. Here’s what BookJobs says the average Editorial Assistant does:
- Preparing acquisitions for transmittal to the production department
- Developing and maintaining relationships with authors, booksellers, and agents
- Performing general administrative duties
- Participating in editorial, design, and marketing meetings
- Reading and evaluating submissions by writing reader’s reports
Penguin Random House is pretty consistent with this general description—they say their editors work with authors on their manuscripts and need to keep up with what’s going to sell in their market and fit with their particular imprint. They also say their editors negotiate contracts with authors and work on marketing plans for their books with other departments.
In addition to the editorial department, there’s managing editorial. The Balance Careers lumps managing editorial and production together, but BookJobs says the managing editors are responsible for a book after editorial acquires them. They basically turn the manuscript into a published book by doing these things:
- Negotiating signed agreements outlining budget and procedures
- Drawing up production schedules
- Reviewing the entire work before going to press
- Hiring and overseeing the work/schedules of freelancers (typesetters, copy editors, proofreaders)
- Proofreading and routing jackets and front matter
- Readying author-reviewed, copyedited manuscripts for setting
- Reviewing/trafficking sample designs
- Transferring author corrections to the work
Penguin Random House’s managing editorial department is basically exactly what I just described—in their words, managing editorial “is responsible for the in-house editorial process of making manuscripts into bound books after acquisition.” The Balance Careers also mentions that the managing editorial department is responsible not just for the finished product, but also getting together advance materials like ARCs (advance reader’s copies).
Production is a bit less defined—like I said above, The Balance Careers puts managing editorial and production into one category, and looking at the description of the production department on BookJobs it’s easy to see why. The production department, according to BookJobs, “acts as a liaison between editorial, managing editorial, design, production, and outside vendors to create and distribute the final product,” and the daily activities include:
- Trafficking of all materials between design and editorial/managing editorial
- Following up on late and/or special schedules
- Estimating of paper quantities and production costs
- Negotiating with suppliers
- Assisting on special projects as necessary
which is not all that different from managing editorial. Penguin Random House emphasizes that their production department works with outside printers, manufacturers, and other vendors to meet deadlines and production budgets.
And finally, there’s the publisher’s office. The Balance Careers says the publisher “set[s] the vision and tone” for the entire house or imprint. According to BookJobs, the publisher oversees the entire manufacturing process in addition to making executive decisions and sponsoring special projects. The description for Penguin Random House’s publisher’s office is slightly different: they “secure raw materials for printing traditional books, manage relationships with key vendors to ensure that our books are of a high quality and produced on schedule, and forecast inventory levels to determine when and how many books need to be reprinted.”
These are all the departments that you might be interested in if you think you want to go into editorial. Just know that there are multiple options if you want to make books.