Book Review: Peter Ginna, ed. What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing
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Peter Ginna, ed. What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. $25 paperback.
What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), edited by Peter Ginna, is a collection of twenty-six short essays offering stories of editing from various perspectives, including publishing houses big and small, trade, academic, children’s publishing, and freelancing. These essays are divided into five parts: Acquisition: Finding the Book; The Editing Process: From Proposal to Book; Publication: Bringing the Book to the Reader; From Mystery to Memoir: Categories and Case Studies; and Pursuing a Publishing Career: Varieties of Editorial Experience. The book includes a discussion of the future of editing and publishing as well as a thorough glossary of terms and a list of additional resources including books, magazines and journals, blogs, newsletters, and editing and publishing courses and programs. There is something for everyone to be found here.
Ginna’s collection is well-organized and, not surprisingly, beautifully edited; the essays flow easily from one to the next. Although each essay is written from the perspective of an expert editor in a specific type of publishing (trade, academic, etc.), authors frequently reference types of publishing other than the one they are primarily discussing. This awareness by the authors’ of the different challenges each editor faces creates a book that is not merely a collection of miscellaneous perspectives but also a cohesive exploration of editing in its many forms.
I found the first two sections, which cover acquisition as well as the editing process, to be the most comprehensive. They cover many different perspectives, including editors who work in trade publishing, at university presses, and in college publishing. They also incorporate the perspectives of a literary agent and a copy editor. Together these two sections cover acquisitions, the author-editor relationship, developmental and line editing, and copyediting. Some authors write from a more practical angle, like Jonathan Karp’s list of rules for trade editors, whereas others pack a more emotional punch, like Betsy Lerner’s encounters with authors who have been rejected by publishers or tales of fighting for books she believed in so that they find their way to the shelves. Although the tone of each essay varies, they complement one another, and the different styles help ensure that the reader remains engaged.
The third section on production was equally interesting and incorporates details about the production process (particularly Michael Pietsch’s contribution), but I wish there had been additional essays written by typesetters, designers, and marketers. Their inclusion would have added valuable perspective in the same way that Carol Fisher Saller’s essay on copyediting provided meaningful context to the section on the editing process. These additions would also help to flesh out what is the shortest section of the book.
The fourth section of What Editors Do includes essays about editing specific genres, including literary fiction, genre fiction, general nonfiction, books for children, biography, autobiography, memoir, works of scholarship, reference works, and illustrated books. The range of perspectives in this section is an asset to the book and highlights just how different (or similar) editors’ jobs can be from one another.
As someone who always enjoys books that include practical advice in addition to more theoretical discussion, I appreciated the fifth section on pursuing a career in publishing. All of the essays in What Editors Do provide the reader insights into how editors spend their time, but Katie Henderson Adams’s work goes into great detail about the work of an editorial assistant, the entry-point for many into the field of publishing. Her perspective is invaluable to anyone considering a career in publishing, perhaps particularly to an undergraduate student. I was also pleased to find essays in this section that discussed working as a freelance editor as well as editing self-published works. These additions, particularly the essay on editing and self-publishing, ensure that What Editors Do reflects the myriad ways publishing currently functions, even outside of the more traditional publishing houses.
The most important essay in What Editors Do touches on the importance of diversity in publishing—or rather, the lack of diversity in publishing. Chris Jackson’s personal and pragmatic case for inclusion is a must-read for anyone who works or aspires to work in publishing. It is increasingly important that editors, the self-described “gatekeepers” of publishing, come from diverse backgrounds, so that all readers can find themselves in the books they read.
What Editors Do is an engaging and informative book. It blends realistic depictions of the responsibilities of editors, personal anecdotes, and practical tips. It is a valuable resource for anyone thinking of working in publishing and for anyone who currently works in publishing, particularly for those early in their careers. I would also recommend What Editors Do to any reader who has ever wondered how her favorite book was published.
Johanna Meetz is the Scholarly Communication & Publishing Services Librarian at Pacific University and the Associate Director of Pacific University Press. She is responsible for publishing Pacific’s open access journals as well as books for Pacific University Press. She is also manages Pacific’s institutional repository, CommonKnowledge. She holds an MA in Library and Information Science as well as a Graduate Certificate in Book Arts and Book Studies from The University of Iowa. She also holds an MA in Religious Studies from the University of Missouri.