Duties of Editors in a Publishing Industry


The first task of any editor is to understand and work within the publishing philosophy of his employers, to identify the needs of his readers, and assist the author to present his work in a form that is readable, comprehensive, and retrievable.

Editorial still occupies the key territory where most publishing ideas are received, created, and then developed before eventually receiving approval for publication.

Editors, therefore, are highly influential ‘gate keepers’, since it is when they choose which project will go forward for development and approval by other colleagues.

Some would even say the editor’s role is in the main “that of an experienced midwife who sees to be successful delivery of a well-conceived idea, the author’s (most of the time) for information, instruction, entertainment or amusement of the reader”.

It is the editor to whom the author’s information, enthusiasm, knowledge, demanding behavior, and emotion are addressed. How we received all that and how we handle it is the reason why the role of the editor is so influential.

Publishing appears from the outside to be a comparatively easy profession to in, surely it is easy to spot a good manuscript and, after that, one simply has to get the book reviewed and out into the market.

Working within the publishing industry we know that is not so but, because our profession does seem an uncomplicated one from the outside, and because it also appears to be rather enjoyable and interesting, when we are found lacking, we can be severely criticized.

Being competent is a serious issues issue for editors and it is more complicated and subtle than simply meeting targets and regarding productivity, planning to understand company accounts, or coming to grip with skills of marketing or digital technology – all of which are entirely necessary to the gradual broadening and developing of an editor.

Good editors need to be properly grounded in all aspects of publishing. A good grounding builds competence and competence usually leads to successful publishing. (Davis, 2008).

There are different kinds of editors in a publishing house viz:

Sponsoring/Commissioning/Acquisitions Editor (all three are often used interchangeably)

This editor’s main job is the acquisition and development of manuscripts that fit the list of his particular house. He is the one who goes out to provide the materials on which the whole publishing process is based.

To acquire this much-needed raw material, the editor scouts around for the writing talent wherever there is to be found, gets in touch with promising new writers, and attends as many conferences and seminars as feasible to make a find.

She does all these and more in full consciousness of the fact that whatever she does, wherever he goes, he represents the personality of his house.

When, as is quite often the case, the idea for a book is conceived in the house. It is the sponsoring editor, because of his familiarity with the publishing scene, who goes out in search of the right people to be into
rest in the idea for the eventual writing of the book.

The sponsoring editors also provide the initial assessment of the manuscript and may also decide to send it to an external assessor, where necessary.

Content Editor

 The task of writing/re-writing the manuscript for production is that of the content editor. Her job begins when the manuscript has been accepted for publication.

The major preoccupation of the editor at this stage is to ensure that the intention of the author has conveyed to the prospective reader in as concise, intelligible, and as readable a form as possible.

Content editing is mostly creative editing as it seeks to ensure in a manuscript a felicity of style, suiting of the matter to the manner of expression, and a general improvement of the totality of the work – be it as a textbook or a work of fiction – that elevate a book form the level where it would just be regarded as printed material.

Content editing requires creativeness, resourcefulness, and knowledgeability on the part of the editor.


Copy-editor is basically “the mechanical marking of the manuscript so that it is unilateral and literary form ready to go to a printer”.

The copy-editor ensures that there are no wrong usages – miss-pet words, missing or excessive punctuations, meaningless headings, and references to non-existent illustrations – that may hamper the reader’s concentration and enjoyment of the book.

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In addition, the copy editor ensures that all typographical and factual errors are corrected. For this paper, we shall concentrate on the job of the content editor, but first, let us go through the first steps of the editorial process.

Processing of Manuscripts

 How editors choose books to publish remains the most imperious question for people outside the publishing world and, indeed, for those inside who never get a proper glimpse of the process.

Most editors will happily admit that there were some titles that they published with success in the face of evidence that suggested an outcome to the contrary.

Even specialist publishers, who work with fairly well-defined ideas about what books are required to read for their market, will own up to having published titles that did not fit into any course-reading requirement but were titles that intuition told them that they should publish.

Very few editors are required to choose what to publish completely in isolation from other factors.

They work within the context of a list, whether it is a literature list, a legal list, etc. in any publishing house, considerable knowledge has been built up over several about what is suitable for publication within that list and, well-formed ideas about what constitutes a particular type of book that tends to sell.

Manuscripts are received into a publishing house via two avenues viz:

Solicited/Commissioned Manuscripts

Read to understand

 Unsolicited Manuscripts

Read to understand

 Writing and Rewriting of Manuscripts for Production

 Of the four recognized language arts – writing, speaking, reading, and listening – the one that I consider most crucial for a book editor to have a near-absolute mastery of, for the effective performance of his functions in a publishing house, is that of writing.

This is not, of course, to derogate the other three skills without which no editor can hope to operate optimally in his editorial tasks.

Writing is so central to the editorial task that whatever the degree of his competence in the other language arts if the mastery of his written communication is not of the highest possible degree, the editor is bound to fail in one of his principal duties.

This is namely to remove any obstacles between the reader and what the author wishes to convene, and also to save time and money by finding and sorting out any problems before the typescript is sent to the printer so that production can go ahead without interruption” (Butcher, 1981).

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The art of writing and rewriting a manuscript for production is done by the content editor. He reads the manuscript very carefully and tries as he does this to isolate the major trouble areas, those places that might require revision or outright deletion.

In theory, there is before the editor a perfect manuscript, delivered by a brilliant author. But in actual practice, this is hardly ever the case and it is the trained editor’s responsibility to detect faults wherever these may occur.

He looks for two major weaknesses in a text, namely those of writing and substance. However, it must be emphasized that the author must resist any temptation to rewrite or change the context of the manuscript to suit his purpose. All changes must be cleared and agreed upon with the author.

Writing problems

Structural and stylistic

Poor syntax

Inadequate paragraphing

Verbosity clichés


Weak logic

Problem with the subject matter of a work

Acquisition of manuscript

 This editor’s main job is the acquisition and development of ms that fit the list of his particular house. Ms is usually acquired by the editorial team.

This is always based on the immediate need of the market/society or vacuum in the company’s publishing program. The editorial goes out to provide the materials on which the whole publishing process is based.

The MS which could be solicited or unsolicited will be assessed and could be found suitable to fit into the publishing prog. Any member of staff could be in contact with the info or idea which could be publishable.

The info is passed to the editorial unit for further contact, discussion, and acquisition of MS. When the idea for a book is conceived in the house, it is the sponsoring editor because of his familiarity with the process who goes out in search of the right people with interest in the idea for the eventual writing of the book.

MS assessment

 This is the evaluation of MS acquired and whether it is in line with the needs of targeted consumers.

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