Shall we just let the cat out of the bag? Or try to. I have often been asked what I do for a living. Over years. By different people. And I never have an answer that is good enough. So let me try again.
Here are some of my daily things to do. Editing manuscripts (I do not make ‘corrections’! ugh!), look at the structure of the argument/narrative, facts, flow, details and all that jazz. Query the author when something is missing or weird. Calm the author down when he/she loses his/her shit. Track the author down in the middle of nowhere to find out where Plate 3.1 needs to be placed. Figure out the mumbo jumbo the author sends as responses and fit it into the manuscript some way or the other. Track down copyright permissions for miscellaneous items that people just assume are free to use. Explain to the author that ‘yes, you wrote that damn book donkey’s years ago but the copyright you gave away to your publishers! So deal with it!’. Run after the Production department peeps for image quality, layouts, templates, the works.
Tell the cover designer what to do since he/she is pretty dumbfounded by the brief and does not know what to do with it. Write the blurb and make the author understand why his/her work is not the only ‘pathbreaking’ stuff written on the subject in the world! Fight over that last comma. Decipher that coded piece of paper containing costings for the book. Do math (!!!!). Get contracts made and signed (study law!!!) Understand the market for the book. Explain to sales and marketing folks what to do with the book. Juggle between vendors, seniors and colleagues, and find a way in the thick of despair. Change the title of the book because you know it is bullshit. Sit on the typesetter’s head until he gives you the font he wants and the layout you want. Haggle for the lowest costs. Cover designer has disappeared off the face of the earth; find him/her.
Check proofs. Check CRCs (camera ready copies, for the uninitiated). Check again in case you missed out something. Ask someone else to check in case you still did miss something. Check cover. Check colours. Check ferros and advance copies. Curse yourself for that full stop you missed. Gloat over the amazing cover you created and will never find praise for. Shed tears of joy secretly that the book is actually out. Send copies to authors, many of whom will never give a crap about your work now that the book is done. Go crazy explaining to marketing and web people how to promote the book. Hound Production for stocks. Mumble something at the book launch about what an honour it was to work on this. Disappear into the corner hoping no one will find you and make you speak again. Scour reviews and see what they think.
Write reports, track work, fill out appraisals, meet targets. Conduct workshops and training. Study the market. Strategise. Endless paperwork. Attend to a sea of emails everyday. Find out how that book disappeared. More paperwork. And now I am too lazy to list out more so deal with it.
And as you walk around a random bookstore in your neighbourhood, you run your eyes across shelves for a glimpse of that prodigal book of yours, and smile when you do find it.
So what does an editor do? How to explain it in a line or two? I guess we’ll never know for sure.