Updated: Feb 8
There are so many new terms to learn when you’re just getting started publishing children’s books. Sometimes it almost seems like you’re learning a foreign language.
What’s a “WIP”?
Is “bleed” a good thing? Or should I get a Band-Aid?
And what on earth is a “dummy?” (Besides what I feel like trying to learn all this new vocabulary!)
If there’s one publishing term that you would expect us all to be on the same page about, it might be the word “editor.”
Surely there can’t be any confusion about all that red ink?
Can there? 🤔
The word “editor” can mean very different things to different people in the publishing world - and often it depends on who you’re talking to. There are two types of editors that I find are most often confused in conversations about publishing - freelance editors and acquisitions editors.
Freelance Editors: Independent Contractors
Freelance editors are hired by authors (and occasionally publishing houses) to provide a specific editorial service. They charge by the word, page, or project, and use their unique set of skills to help each author make their manuscript the best it can be.
Freelance editors operate as independent contractors, and you can find them on sites like Fiverr, Upwork, or Reedsy, or vetted lists like this one. They are most often utilized by authors who are self-publishing, though some authors hoping for a traditional deal may hire a freelance editor to help them put their best foot forward when they query.
What you need to know about freelance editors:
1. They often have specialties.
Because freelance editors are hired by many different authors to work on lots of different manuscripts, they have to be able to customize their approach to meet the needs of each individual author. Sometimes one freelance editor can do it all. But not all of them have the same skills or specialty areas. You might find freelance editors who specialize in one or more of the following areas:
⭐️ Developmental editing - These editors focus on the “big picture” of a manuscript. They help authors restructure plots, develop characters, strengthen subplots, or explore existing themes.
Developmental editing is the first type of editing a manuscript should undergo, and it may take several passes to get a story to a point where it’s ready for the next stage of editing. This is because developmental editing often requires big changes, and big changes take time. Developmental editing is often like cleaning out a closet so it can be reorganized - sometimes it has to get worse before it can get better!
⭐️ Line Editing - Line editors finesse sentence structure and wrestle with word choice. They take choppy paragraphs and make them flow and make sure your main character’s voice shines through. They’re great with grammar, but they don’t fixate on it. That’s a job for…
⭐️ Proofreaders - These eagle-eyed editors comb through your manuscript looking for errors in spelling, punctuation, verb tense, and more. Many authors rely on a software like Grammarly to do this type of editing for them - while Grammarly is great, you can never replace an experienced editor’s attention to detail.
If you want to learn more about the different stages of editing, check out the video below!
In addition to these different types of editing, freelance editors may also specialize in a certain genre or type of book. An editor who specializes in children’s picture books is going to have a very different skill set than an editor who specializes in young adult fantasy.
2. You might need to “test drive” a few freelance editors before you find your perfect match.
Not sure what kind of freelance editor you need? Just ask! Many freelance editors offer manuscript assessments and can help you figure out where to begin. But don’t take that first editor’s word as gospel. Editing - particularly developmental and line editing - is more art than science. And art is subjective! That means if you send your manuscript to three developmental editors, you may get three different opinions about how best to strengthen your story.
So, take your time. Get multiple sample edits on longer manuscripts, or pay for more than one picture book critique. Eventually, you’ll find an editor who “gets” the vision you have for your story.
3. You can work with more than one!
Taking into account #1 and #2 above, you might need to work with multiple editors throughout the writing process. And that’s totally okay! If you are self-publishing, having several skilled freelance editors you can trust is essential to your success. Any successful book should have multiple sets of trained eyes on it before it goes to print.
Freelance editors understand that publishing a book takes a team. They aren’t going to be offended if you ask for a sample edit and end up passing, or if you let slip that you’re sending the manuscript to another editor after them. In fact, many freelance editors can refer you to their editing friends who might have the strengths or skills you’re looking for.
4. They aren’t involved in the rest of the publishing process.
Once a freelance editor has done their job, they turn the manuscript back over to the author and wish them luck. Usually, they have no further involvement in the publishing process. This doesn’t mean they don’t care, or that they won’t do their best work! Freelancers want their clients to succeed, and they rely on word-of-mouth to attract future clients. But because they work on hundreds of projects in a year, they typically can’t get too deeply invested.
This can be a good thing! It allows them to look at a project objectively and helps the author see past their emotions to identify and correct problems they might not have noticed on their own.
5. You don’t HAVE to take their advice.
Freelance editors should mark up your manuscript using software that allows you to either “reject” or “accept” any changes they’ve marked. (If an editor is actually making changes to the text without any documentation, that’s a red flag 🚩) You may not agree with everything they’ve said, so feel free to use that “reject” option. Obviously, try to be open to feedback - even when it’s hard to hear - but remember that in the end, it’s YOUR story.
Acquisitions Editors: Project Managers
Acquisitions Editors are full-time, salaried employees of traditional publishing houses. A big part of their job is taking a manuscript and working to improve it - just like a freelance editor. But acquisitions editors have several other critical roles.
Some Facts About Acquisitions Editors:
1. Their main job is right there in the name.
An acquisitions editor’s main job is to find and “acquire” great manuscripts for their publishing house to publish! This means they spend a large portion of their time reading submissions from agents or the slush pile to find the next bestseller.
There’s a lot of pressure on acquisitions editors when it comes to this part of their job. If they choose the wrong manuscript, their employer could be sinking thousands of dollars into a project that doesn’t turn a profit. So acquisitions editors tend to be experts in their genre and keep up with industry trends and standards.
2. They don’t get the final say on which manuscripts to acquire.
Once an acquisitions editor has found a manuscript they love, they have to pitch it to the rest of the team at the publisher. Every publisher is set up differently. They may have to compete with other editors in the house, trying to convince the higher level executives to invest in their chosen manuscript. Or, they may have to convince a marketing team that the book can stand out in a crowded market. It’s a high pressure job, and they don’t go to bat for manuscripts that are subpar. They have to be highly selective.
3. They may only work on a handful of manuscripts per year.
Once a book is acquired, they take on the same role as a freelancer - working with the author to improve and strengthen the manuscript. But unlike freelancers, they may only work on a few projects per year. This has nothing to do with their skill level! They’re just as good at finding plot holes as a freelancer might be. But because they spend so much time on the other elements of their job, (See #4) they can’t take on as many projects.
4. The author doesn’t pay them.
The author doesn’t pay anything in traditional publishing, so you don’t need to pay the acquisitions editor for their services. Instead, the editor gets paid by the publishing house.
5. They’re involved in all stages of book production.
Once a manuscript is as polished as it can be, an acquisitions editor’s job is really just getting started. They’re also responsible for managing the book production process - from choosing an illustrator with the art department to overseeing the details of page layout and cover design to coordinating a marketing plan. In traditional publishing, this process can take an average of 1-2 years, and the acquisitions editor is there for all of it!
If freelance editors are independent contractors, Acquisitions editors are project managers. They guide the production of a book from beginning to end. It’s no wonder so many of them refer to the books they work on as “their babies!”
So, here’s to all those editors - freelance or acquisitions - who have helped bring our books to life! We couldn’t do this publishing thing without them.
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