Before moving to the agency side of the publishing biz, I worked in the managing-editorial department at Tor Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. Not infrequently, publishing and non-publishing folk alike asked me what that entailed: “What, exactly, is managing editorial?” “What’s the difference between a managing editor and a ‘regular’ editor?” “Do you read ALL the books?” Slow down, people. Let’s go in order.
The managing-editorial team works at the intersection of the editorial, art, and production departments. While publishing houses and their respective imprints may structure their departments—and the workflow across those departments—in different ways, the managing-editorial team are essentially the middlemen who make sure projects stay on track, budgets are adhered to, and standards of quality for the publishing industry are met. Here’s a (simplified) breakdown of how the managing-editorial team interacts with these three departments:
Editorial: After an editor has completed his/her edits on a manuscript, it is submitted to managing editorial for copyediting, text design/layout, and proofreading. The managing-ed team shepherds the manuscript through each of these stages to final bound book. The copyeditor, normally a freelancer, fixes grammatical errors, looks for time line issues (Why is John at the bar? He was killed off in Chapter 1!), and otherwise cleans up the text to be industry quality. The copyedited text is then submitted to the art department to be designed and laid out in book format. Finally, this laid-out text is sent to a proofreader for another round of quality-control checks. The book’s editor must approve any changes to the manuscript made throughout these stages, and the managing-editorial team oversees this process.
Art: The art department designs book covers and the interior text, but the editorial, sales, and marketing departments must approve the covers. The covers are routed through these departments by the managing-editorial team, which then makes sure they meet production deadlines.
Production: Much has to be considered in the production of a book as a physical object, including paper stock, trim size, page count, page signatures, bookbinding method, and so on. Because a book’s production cost will affect the bottom line of an editor’s profit-and-loss statement, decisions must be made collaboratively between the production and editorial departments. The managing-editorial team is a bridge for that communication.
The managing-editorial department is head up by—who else!—the managing editor. The managing editor is the senior member of the department, who oversees and coordinates the schedule for an imprint’s entire list and ensures that deadlines and budgets are met. He/she also manages a staff of production editors and other members of the team. A managing editor perhaps started out as a managing-editorial or production assistant, moving up to production editor, and finally rising through the ranks to managing editor.
Managing editors are different from “regular” editors in that they do not acquire their own books. At some imprints, an acquiring editor may serve as the managing editor, but by definition they are very different jobs. A managing editor does not work with authors, build his/her own list of titles, or otherwise have a hand in shaping the editorial content of a book. MEs are more concerned with the nuts and bolts, and their primary duty is to manage editorial schedules for the books acquired by the editorial staff.
If you work in managing editorial, you don’t read each and every book that you work on. In fact, you probably won’t read any of them cover to cover (at least not for work!). The bulk of the textual review (copyediting and proofreading) is farmed out to freelancers.
Although managing editorial isn’t the sexiest side of the publishing biz, it can be a great introductory job at a publishing house. Working across a variety of departments gives a great vantage point to consider what type of work within publishing you might like to try next. There isn’t much room for creativity working in managing-ed; rather, it is the job of the managing editor and his/her team to organize and coordinate other people’s creative efforts. However, if you enjoy compulsively checking schedules and to-do lists, are hyper-organized, love to hate bad grammar, think the squiggly proofer’s marks are kinda fun and cute, and enjoy the bookmaking process in general (maybe you were one of those cool kids in high school who took a bookbinding or papermaking class…), it can be a great role. Managing editors are often unsung heroes in the industry, but they are vital to the publishing process!
P.S. If you spot a typo in this blog post, it’s because I’m already losing my man-ed chops.