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An Invisible Art

The University of Chicago Press, on October 6, 2017, published a book, titled What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing, which has been edited by Peter Ginna. This publication is primarily about the profession of Editors of books in English. Usually, the responsibility of an editor is to make books ready for publication from manuscripts. However, this is not their only job. This publication has shed light on each and every aspect of editing books.

The most important issue in the publishing world is: What type of books should be published? The job of editors begins from finding an answer to this. According to this book, the first of the three stages of editing is the Acquisition. The task of Acquisitions Editor (often called the Commissioning Editor) is to find out new authors, new subjects or a new perspective. The achievement of the Acquisitions Editor is to find gems from the seemingly silly subjects.

Jonathan Karp has discussed this role in detail in the chapter, titled The Alchemy of Acquisitions. He has outlined 12 rules for Acquisitions Editors on the basis of his 40-year experience in the publishing industry. Karp, the President and Publisher of Simon & Schuster, has stated that it could take years for some editors to establish a real hold on Acquisition. This is such a hold that allows the editing personnel to feel that they have a right to their forms of interpretation in a book. The main aim of the editors is to encourage readers to read a book. It is important to remember that a University Degree does not help people get this hold. The desire to delve deeper into the subject and passion could only help Acquisitions Editors acquire the art.

This book contains personal experiences of Trade Editors, as well as two other types of Acquisitions Editors. Those who look for new books for academic publishing, and also those who search manuscripts exclusively for school and college textbooks. The next stage of searching new potential books is quite extensive, as it has various stages… from proposal to print. The duties and responsibilities of an editor at this stage are not clear to the majority of the people. Generally, people think that the job of the editor is to polish the manuscripts, correct some factual errors and do the proof-read. However, What Editors Do shows how diverse and extensive this stage is. The title of one of the 26 chapters that have been divided into five parts is quite startling… Open heart surgery or just a nip and tuck? by Scott Norton.

Norton, the Director of Editing, Design and Production at University of California Press, is an expert in Developmental Editing. He has also given a definition of Developmental Editing… significant structural changes or reconstructions to the manuscript of a book. According to Norton, it is up to the developmental editor to turn the manuscript into a good book, if there is slightest potential in the manuscript becoming a good book. The job is somewhat similar to the task of a director of institutional research.

The profession of an editor is not a firmly established one in India, as yet. Furthermore, the average generosity of experts in this subject is quite low. Hence, even the advice of a competent development editor seems arrogant to them. The problem is even deeper in case of university publications. In most cases, professors feel that it is the job of the publisher to print the book as it is written by them. They also believe the knowledge could be spread only when their manuscripts would be printed as it is, because they are masters in their respective subjects. However, the most important aspect of Developmental Editing is to transform the manuscript into a successful book by following a particular process, and not to leave the manuscript unchanged.

Almost every chapter of this book differs from the general bibliography. What Editors Do does not deal with an ideal situation, but judges the real situation from the perspective of a professional assistant. How much time will the development editor give to a manuscript depends on the characters of the potential readers of the publication.

Not just a theoretical discussion, but a deep insight into the subject matter is the essence of this book. Those, involved in the publishing industry across the globe, are well aware of the fact that insights could only be gained through long and deep experience. Publication of books in various Indian vernacular languages, too, has been dependent on this experience for more than 200 years. There are lots of varieties in the Publishing Industry in a multilingual country, like India. What Editors Do will certainly help Indian editors to find the essence of their profession.

Editing is, basically, an invisible art where the very best work goes undetected. Editors strive to create books that are enlightening, seamless, and pleasurable to read, all while giving credit to the author. It makes it all the more difficult to truly understand the range of roles they inhabit while shepherding a project from concept to publication. In What Editors Do, Ginna gathers essays from 27 leading figures in book publishing industry about their works. Representing both large houses and small, and encompassing trade, textbook, academic, and children’s publishing, the contributors make the case for why editing remains a vital function to writers and readers everywhere.

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