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Editors - Types of, Trends

publication publishing journal book

Editors are people who prepare the writing of others for publication. They may supervise a range of functions, from planning content to preparation for a press run or website launch. They make long-range plans, consider ideas, solicit authors, make assignments, schedule manuscripts, order illustrations and photographs, have copy typeset, read and correct galley proofs, and correct final proofs. The specific activities of editors vary given the nature of the publication or publishing firm for which they work. It is possible that the title “senior editor” in one firm refers to a person who must edit manuscripts, while the same title in another firm refers to an executive who assigns work to other editors, selects material, or gives directions to staff.

A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required, and a specialization in the liberal arts is preferred. Depending upon into which area in publishing one wishes to enter, additional areas of study may be required (e.g., marketing, production, business, or journalism). Several universities, including Denver University, offer short-term, non-degree-granting courses in publishing.

Types of Editors

There are many types of editors. Some editors handle managerial or administrative tasks, while others are more “hands-on” in their work. Editors can work for a company as a regular employee or as a freelance, or contract, employee. There is considerable overlap between editorial duties as one moves between demands of book, journal, and news publishing. However, there will also be duties that are unique to each of those areas.

A managing editor is responsible for the content and quality of the publication. Managing editors ensure that staff writers and freelance writers complete their articles on time, they check on the art layouts, they proofread materials, and they sometimes write materials themselves. Managing editors also have managerial and budget responsibilities. Managing editors are found in the worlds of books, journals, and newspapers.

An acquisitions editor works with authors whose book manuscripts he or she is interested in publishing. If the publishing house also publishes or distributes journals or monographs, the acquisitions editor will work with the editors of those journals or the board members of the sponsoring organizations. A financial or marketing background is often required.

A sponsoring editor, who is sometimes the same person as the acquisitions editor, has the broadest, most general responsibility for a book once it has been accepted. As the liaison between the publisher and the author, everything done to the book by other departments, including jacket design, promotional copy, copyediting, and press proofs, must be signed off on by the sponsoring editor. The sponsoring editor is the author’s advocate from the day the book is signed until the book goes out of print.

Contributing or guest editors appear in series, journal, or newspaper publications and may have their names featured on the publication masthead. A contributing editor may receive a regular salary, an honorarium, or no compensation.

Copy editors edits for the overall style or tone of the publication after a manuscript or article has been accepted for publication. Articles often have to be revised, corrected, polished, or improved for clarity, but the amount of copyediting can vary from one manuscript to the next. If, for example, the editor wants to avoid the use of jargon in a publication, the copy editor may make drastic revisions. However, if it is agreed that an author’s style is to remain “untouched,” then the copy editor will review the material only for grammatical and spelling errors.

Although a good editor publishes important, useful, and original works that contribute to an existing body of knowledge or expand knowledge and insights about a discipline, nowhere is this gatekeeper role more apparent than in the role of the academic or scientific journal editor.

The scientific journal and its de rigueur practice of peer review began in 1753 with the British Royal Society journal Philosophical Transactions (Merton, 1973, p. 463). Journal editors and the referees who advise them must offer critical evaluation, constructive criticism, and a thorough review of manuscripts in order to ensure quality. To do this, a journal editor needs to have access to a broad range of reviewers in a variety of specialties and methodological and theoretical orientations in a discipline.

Photo editing is very different from text editing and is found in all publishing areas. Because images range from the very powerful to the purely informational, selecting the best photograph to illustrate a particular piece takes skill. A good picture editor also guides projects through the publication process. Just as a manuscript editor can improve the quality of the materials produced by a writer, a good photo editor can improve the quality of the illustrations through judicious selection of images.

A freelance editor may find himself or herself “ghosting” (i.e., writing without credit) for another author, writing critiques of manuscripts, helping authors write nonfiction proposals, or working as an agent for another author. Freelance work is often found through agent, editor, and author contacts that a person may have acquired during previous employment or through referral agencies.


Successful book and journal editors see the development of trends and plan for publications to emerge just when readers (and the market) are most receptive. However, the work of “breaking issues” is complicated by the fact that these editors often work a year or more in advance of actual publication dates. In the life of a newspaper or news photo editor, “breaking issues” occur on a daily basis. It is up to them to decide quickly, perhaps in a matter of minutes, what to publish and how to frame it. A good editor knows how to package and deliver a product that generates a profitable revenue stream.

Changing trends affect not only the content but also the mechanics of publication. Technology continues to push its way into the editor’s daily routine, from layout and production systems to the rise of electronic publishing, with its access to information archives, real-time dissemination of conferences and forums, and widespread distribution of publications.

Edmonds, Helen Gray (1911–1995) - History of African Americans, the U.S. South, and Modern Europe [next] [back] Edison, Thomas Alva (1847-1931)

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