What does an editor do?

Posted: October 3, 2014 in Random wifflings
Tags: , , , ,

I said earlier this week that I don’t do much journalistic work any more. But I still do the odd spot of editing. The Sci-Fi Chronicles was this year’s big editorial job. As it was released yesterday, I thought I’d write a little about what editors do.

Editing is a loose word for a wide range of roles. I’ve edited special editions for SFX where I’ve been responsible for everything in the magazine bar the subject matter. That is, determining the tone, planning and commissioning the contents, controlling the production process, collaborating with the designers on the look, helping source photography, liaising with the advertising sales people, then checking all aspects of it before signing it off. On Death Ray I was working under an editor-in-chief, so had less overall say and responsibility. White Dwarf was very different, its contents being dictated by Games Workshop’s release cycle.

On all of those magazines I was an editor, but the general amount of, for want of a better word, “power” I had was variously restricted. People often think editors are the sole arbiter of what goes in a magazine. This is very rarely the case. All magazines are beholden to their company’s ethos and financial plans.

We all get an awful lot of creative freedom, however, and are given responsibility to interpret the plans more or less as we see fit.  And that’s very cool, if nerve-wracking.

Editorial teams also work differently. I’ve run groups from one (me) to seven strong. Some require top-down management, some are groups of specialists reporting to the centre, some can be managed democratically.

And then editors themselves differ. Some editors are organisers, and never write a thing. Some are micro-managers. Some do a bit of everything. Some have to spend all their time networking or dealing with managerial concerns no matter their inclination. Some even have to deal with the logistics of printing and distribution. I’ve been lucky enough to dodge both those last two bullets, but if you want to write all day, don’t be an editor.

I’ve edited fiction, too. That’s the same name, entirely different job. Some aspects cross over, of course. But they are the niggly details of apostrophes and suchlike. Roughly speaking, fiction editors of all types are there to aid a writer in crafting a better story. Some only commission, and as part of that process help with the creation of the story.  Others only see the first draft, and give feedback then. The roles are ofetn split into two parts – commissioning editors and copy editors. But for some editors both aspects are implicit in the title.

The Sci-Fi Chronicles is something different again.  I was engaged to perform the middle of the process. The concept and look of the book was not mine, but I provided a contents plan to match the concept, source writers and commission the written material. I copy-edited the raw copy, but  I did not proofread the final pages or have anything to do with the design, as I might on a magazine (it looks brilliant, by the way). It was still a humongous undertaking, with hundreds of entries and a score of writers. Somewhat akin to editing a magazine, but in ways it was an entirely different organisational task.

Newspaper and website editors have a differing set of skills and responsibilities again. Then there are subeditors and section editors and deputy editors and so on. And what they do varies from publication to publication. As do their names, and numbers, and responsibility. So really, editor is a pretty useless word, if we get right down to it…

  1. tsuhelm says:

    You forgot QC Editors…and I agree Editor is a useless word!

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