I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and I don’t have as much industry knowledge as I should for someone who wants to be published, so I’m posing this as a question, really.
I’ve learned from industry blogs and such – like Nathan Bransford’s, for example – that editors don’t really edit very much, if at all. Editors buy books. They receive manuscripts from agents and sometimes directly from the public (not so often, I’d imagine), and they pore over them to determine which books they want to take on. Then they pitch the books to the publishing committee of the publishing house and the ones to clear that hurdle actually get published … eventually. After much editing and back-and-forth stuff.
But the editor doesn’t really do much editing. Some, perhaps. to get the manuscript to a point of being publishable (in their opinion), but that’d be story issues or inconsistencies more than what I’ve come to think of as “editing”.
Copy editors, on the other hand, don’t get the Internet and blogosphere notoriety of editors. They, however, do what I’ve always thought of as editing. They look things over, make sure the language used flows and is grammatically correct, fix spelling and punctuation problems, and note any typos and nuts-and-bolts linguistic problems (which, in my opinion but I don’t know for sure, would include if-you-say-it-this-way-it-will-read-better suggestions, too). They are the little red-pen demons who slash and dash through the manuscript and fix what needs fixing. But they don’t see the manuscript until it’s already accepted by the publishing house and being prepared for publication, so the copy editor doesn’t seem to have a role in deciding if the book is worth printing or not. It’s already been screened, theoretically, by the agent (if used), the editor, and the publishing committee.
I’ve always wanted a job where I’d sit down with a red pen or a blue pencil and actually do the editing of manuscripts. Okay, not always, but long enough. Unfortunately, with no experience and no credentials, I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen. It is a dream, though. (Though I’ve recently learned from my buddy Sherri that copy editing isn’t as easy as it sounds; gotta be careful not to alter the original voice of the author in favor of your own by chopping/rearranging too much.)
Copy editing jobs are few and far between. I can gather experience by doing copy editing for others pro bono, but I’m not sure how serious experience of that nature is taken in the industry if the manuscript never sees print. So I continue to wonder – how do I get into that field? How can I break through the glass wall without killing someone to open a job vacancy? Hm.
So, the question is – if copy editors do editing, and editors buy books, why the heck are “editors” called “editors”? I assume at one time they did editing, but if that’s not the focus of the job anymore, shouldn’t the title be changed? Publication Acquisitions Representative, or Manuscript Acquisitions Manager, or whatever? And why the “copy” portion of “copy editor”? Why not change the title there to simply “editor”?
Seems a lot would be cleared up if they did this. It’d make more sense of an industry desperately in need of making sense.
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