Congratulations! Your contract has been signed and your work is going to be published. Now it’s time to turn your manuscript into a book. Over the next few months you’ll become very familiar with a few people involved in this process, and some of them will be editors. Depending on the size of the publishing house, a different editor may work with you on each stage, or one editor may wear many hats and do it all. Editors’ job titles may vary depending on the company, but these are the most commonly used ones.
Commissioning (or acquisitions) editor
Often, the commissioning editor is the first person who reads your submitted manuscript or proposal. They evaluate whether your work is a good fit for the publishing house’s front list, and will make recommendations to the publisher. Sometimes a publishing house has a gap in their front list, or they’ll want to take their list in a certain direction. In these instances, the publishing house may decide to commission an author to write something specific, and it’s the commissioning editor’s job to find, contract and brief the author, and ensure the manuscript is delivered as set out in the contract.
If you submitted a complete manuscript for publication, the developmental editor may help you fine-tune the bigger picture or the overall story. If you were commissioned to write something, it may be the developmental editor who works with you on your drafts until the manuscript is complete and what the publisher is looking for. A developmental editor helps you develop your story or your work so that it is the best and most marketable it can be.
Your manuscript is now finished and you’ve officially handed it over to the publisher. The next editor you may work with is a copyeditor. Look after these guys — they’re the ones that make you look good. They read your manuscript word by word and fix typos, spelling errors, grammatical errors, and inconsistency in tone and style. They also make sure that supporting character called Bob doesn’t suddenly become Rob later on (this can happen when a story is written over a long period and the writer has had a change of heart about a character’s name). The copyeditor’s work is usually done behind the scenes. Unless you remember every word you wrote you won’t see all the small changes they make, but you’ll definitely be able to see a change for the better when you read the edited work.
Project (or production) editor
Once your manuscript has been polished, a compositor (or typesetter) makes it look like the finished product. The project editor ensures the layout makes sense (the photo of that gorgeous sunset in Tuscany is sitting alongside the accompanying text, not back on page 1). They also ensure the administrative work involved in publishing a book is complete and correct and the production schedule is maintained, and they’ll organise your proof and your corrections to that proof. Be kind when these guys talk deadlines — they want your book to be there at your book launch and not in transit just as much as you do.
Before you receive the proof to check, a proofreader will make sure that all the content from the edited manuscript is in the typeset file (for example, that your bio doesn’t suddenly end when you finished university). The proofreader will match the edited manuscript against the proof line by line, so you can rest assured when you see the proof that all the content is there, saving you time to focus on the important things to check. The proofreader will also do one final proofread before the files are sent to the printer, to make sure no errors have snuck in during the proofing process.