Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 12th of those posts. Molly Weybright is a junior studying journalism and creative writing at UNC-Chapel Hill. This summer, she will be an editorial intern at Algonquin Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
As a college student, figuring out what you love is one challenge, and synthesizing what to do with it is another.
I always knew that I loved books, reading and writing, but it wasn’t until I was a junior in college studying journalism that I discovered my knack and love for editing.
I love reading and editing — now what? As I tried to figure that out, I started to learn about the field of book editing.
Lindsey Alexander, the editorial director of The Reading List, told me that to be a book editor, I had to love books and reading, have a good sense of trends in the market and be able to give constructive feedback to authors and agents.
To me, it sounded perfect.
So there I was finally feeling like I was discovering what I was meant to be doing. Books and editing, what could be better?
But as with any career path, I quickly discovered some misconceptions and challenges I would have to overcome in order to succeed as a book editor.
Different Types of Book Editing
In the process of researching book editing, I learned that there are four different types of book editors who are involved in different aspects of the book publishing process. There are project editors, developmental editors, copy editors and acquisitions editors.
Project editors and developmental editors work with authors during the writing and production of their books. Copy editors edit manuscripts line by line to correct grammatical errors and inconsistencies. Acquisitions editors read through book proposals and manuscripts to determine whether the publishing house should acquire the books.
While project and developmental editing sounded interesting, I was more interested in working with the physical books than I was in working with authors. So, I thought, copy editor or acquisitions editor?
Both positions are so distinctly different, but to me, the idea of reading books for their content and quality rather than looking for every error was appealing. Also, most publishing companies offer internships as editorial assistants to acquisitions editors.
Acquisitions editor it was.
Naively, I thought that once I decided what form of book editing I was interested in, it would be smooth sailing from that point on. Not only did I have a background in editing, but I also study creative writing, so I figured it would be an easy learning process.
I was wrong.
After interviewing with the local publishing company for an editorial intern position, they gave me a test. In less than a week I was to read an unedited first draft of a 400-page manuscript and decide whether the company should take the book to publishing.
I could not have foreseen the difficulty I had with reading that unedited manuscript. It was possibly one of the hardest things I’ve done since being in college.
Earlier in the year, I read “The Subversive Copy Editor,” from which I learned that authors operate on a different plane than editors. In other words, as authors write, they don’t always pay close attention to grammar, punctuation and spelling. In order to get their thoughts on the page and write their story, those editorial aspects are often pushed aside.
I discovered the truth of that while I was reading the manuscript. Every misspelled word, every grammatical error, every incorrect sentence structure jolted me out of the story that I was trying to analyze.
Throughout the process I developed tactics to help me read the manuscript without getting too distracted by my learned newsroom copy editing techniques, but it wasn’t easy.
Book Editing Strategies (That Helped Me)
I had to get out of the mindset of a newsroom copy editor. So what did I do?
There were four main things that helped me refocus my frame of thought:
- Jot down edits onto the manuscript as needed. The manuscript is there to make notes on so I found that making some copy editing marks helped to ease my mind.
- Make note of the common errors on a separate sheet of paper so that I knew I had already accounted for them.
- Remind myself of what my job was: to decide if the story needs to be told. If a book is brought to print, it will get copy edited by someone; it will not be published with the errors.
- Think about the first draft of any paper or story ever written and remember that it’s never perfect. Also, I tried to remember that what I was reading was someone’s hard work and a huge accomplishment.
This was a learning experience for me, and I got the job. This summer as an editorial intern I know I will encounter more challenges, but my experience as a news copy editor will help me overcome them.