So what does an editor do?
Once, during the back and forth of the conceptual editing and copyediting process for his wife’s book—and in that case it was a long, involved ordeal—the author’s husband asked me something, I forget what, that made it clear he assumed I did this for all our books. I said no, that I wouldn’t have time to do that. And he said, with great puzzlement, “Well, what else would an editor do?”
Now, mind you, this is a small company. We publish about 25 books a year. To make it work—most small publishers disappear quickly, and we’ve been doing this for 29 years—each person has many tasks and works pretty hard. Can’t afford much real specialization around here. First we have to acquire manuscripts that will work for us. In our case, since we are a regional publisher specializing in Florida and the Southeast, we need to feel fairly sure we can sell enough to make it all work. True, that’s fewer than the Big Boys in New York need to sell, but our market is smaller, thus fewer potential book buyers to sell to. But we still have to go through all the steps. And the first one is acquiring. No one, and I do mean no one, really knows how many copies a book will sell before it’s out there. You get better at guessing, but you can still pick some big losers, and, gratefully, some surprise winners. Acquiring means you have to let people know you’re looking and what you are looking for, you have to have a system for receiving and (mostly, sorry) rejecting, and you have to have a lot of time to read the blasted things to see if one of them might have that certain something we are looking for. In the case of nonfiction, that it’s a topic, a writer, and a style that will work for the region. For fiction, well, who knows? It’s just really a case of ‘that certain something.’ Who knows? The editorial nose knows (or doesn’t).
And that’s where I’ll leave it today. Next time, next step along the editor’s way to a book. And by the way, as we all know, or should, the whole concept of book (and bookstore) is undeniably in the midst of a Big Shift. So I’m an old dog trying to learn the new tricks.
— June Cussen, Pineapple Press
Speaking of old dogs, here’s our dear old Max. Wish he were still here with us. We will never forget him.