As part of continued attempts to de-mystify the publishing process I thought I’d write about a typical day as an editor, inspired by Juliet’s brilliant post about her day as a literary agent.
The wonderful thing about working in books is that each day is genuinely different, and working across a range of titles and authors as I do means I am constantly dipping in and out of different worlds (which given the current reality is so grim, is more of a privilege than ever!) I’ll take a typical Monday to demonstrate what the day might look like on an average week.
On Mondays I am now working at home due to the pandemic, but we’re continuing our meetings as usual. I start the day with an informal team catch up, put in to ensure we all stayed connected even at home – we try to just recreate the office atmosphere a bit and ask about our weekends etc. After that, I’ll go to a metadata drop-in session and check on my key titles for one of the divisions I work across, asking our pricing and analytics teams whether I need to make any changes to a key title. I’ll usually look at titles that are either in a promotion, or are about to be published, and make sure that the information we’re giving to retailers such as Amazon is as up to date and relevant as possible. We add subtitles, add search terms that we think readers are looking for (e.g. ‘best books of 2020’ ‘Christmas books for mums’ – that kind of thing), and add comparison titles and authors. We try to be savvy about keywords to try to move our authors up within the Amazon rankings – in search of that little orange bestseller flag! As a commercial fiction editor I am constantly watching the Amazon charts like a hawk, and sometimes we will be tweaking the metadata on a daily basis.
Following that, I’ll go to our editorial meeting where we discuss new submissions we have had in and update the rest of the team on whether we are thinking of progressing them or not. We look at the pitch, who the author and agent are, what rights are on offer, and discuss whether this manuscript could fit on our list and why. It’s nice having visibility of what the other editors on the team are looking at, and we all try to provide opinions on each others’ submissions where we can. Our editorial assistant logs all the minutes so we can keep a record of what we’ve rejected or what we’ve taken forward. If there is anything I want to take forward, I’ll need to take it to an acquisitions meeting. We have those on Wednesdays, and beforehand, I will create a vision document that outlines my plan for how I’d publish the novel, send that round to key members of staff from different departments (marketing, PR, sales etc), and ask the financial team to run a profit and loss report for me. In the acquisitions meeting, everyone including senior exec members will look at this and we’ll make a decision about whether I should offer on the book or not. If it’s a yes, the negotiations begin with the literary agent! Acquiring new books is one of my favourite parts of the process. It can be a bit of a whirlwind, so if something comes in that needs immediate attention I try to read it in the little gaps between meetings and then after work.
Later on a Monday afternoon, I have a catch up with my other team, a one-to-one with my manager, and then a Progress meeting with our production department. This is where we check whether titles are on schedule – all books have to go to print a certain number of months before they publish, and there are multiple stages in between! I’ll update the production team on the status of my authors’ books – so the covers, the edits, the timeline – and we’ll make sure everything is in order or discuss what to do if not (sometimes a ‘crash schedule’ has to be created if an author or someone else is running late!). I also then have a one-to-one meeting with one of my direct reports, and discuss any problems or issues they are having, making sure they are OK and chatting their workload etc through.
Around these meetings, I’ll be answering emails. I’ve just had an Analytics thing through from Outlook and it’s informed me that I sent 1,939, read 4,370 emails and had 209 chats and calls in the last 4 weeks. So there are quite a lot of emails. Today for example, I’ve emailed an author about the delivery of their second book, answered an author query about royalty statements, emailed our design team with a cover brief for a new title, spoken to our Digital Sales team about putting more books into our Kindle Unlimited program, emailed our marketing team with a raft of quotes for an upcoming debut (yay!), checked in with our American team about some backlist titles that we want to reissue, and emailed an agent to (sadly) reject a manuscript that I really enjoyed but felt was too close to something already on my list – to name just a few. Then there are lots of meetings that are just internal to my team – brainstorming copy, looking at competitor research, discussing publication dates, sharing interesting things we might have seen from other publishers, getting materials ready for our international teams etc. The emailing is all done around the meetings. I’m also reading and making structural notes on a new book from an existing author, but need to devote some proper time to it so will likely do it later this evening once the working day has finished – it can be quite hard to find time to edit during the 9-5 now. On other days, I might spend time going through an author’s copy-edits, writing cover copy for a title, brainstorming with the team about a new crime competition we’re hoping to run, line-editing a manuscript, or speaking to an agent on the phone about an exciting new submission.
The rest of the week is pretty jam-packed with meetings, too. There’s the cover art meeting (again one I enjoy!) where we look at new designs for upcoming books, and discuss them as a team; the task force meetings which we have for key brand authors or particularly high-priority books, calls with our US team (or with other foreign publishers during a Book Fair week!), sales meetings where we look at the weekly ebook, audio and physical sales for our latest batch of published authors, and then I also have quite a lot of one-to-ones with those who report to me. In between all these there are ad-hoc meetings – for example, this week there’s one to discuss an audio narrator for a key title publishing in 2021, a brainstorm with our Head of Marketing to discuss a plan for the proofs of a thriller brand author, and an author and agent meeting to discuss upcoming plans for their latest release. A lot of my time is spent being collaborative, but to be honest I love being part of a team and really miss talking to people now that we’re at home, so I don’t really mind this.
Sometimes there are days when I will need to drop everything – if an exciting new submission comes in and the agent wants an overnight response, if there’s a problem within the team, or if there’s an author who needs to urgently discuss their edits or their publishing plan. My priorities are making sure my authors and the team are happy (as well as publishing some good books, of course!) I always have Amazon open in the background so I can obsessively check the rankings of my titles, I usually have Twitter too in case I need to post about a new book or check out a new author, and I will have either Nielsen Book Scan or our internal sales platform up in case I need to call sales figures to hand quickly (this happens a lot!).
At about 12.30-1pm I try to have some lunch (often at my desk!) and I have a CONSTANT stream of coffee pretty much all day. On sunny days I might try to nip out for a walk but I tend to exercise in the morning or in the evening now. It’s quite sedentary being at home so I try really hard to make sure I go for a run or do a boxing class every day if I can.
In the evening I leave my laptop in my ‘office’ and I might do some submission reading on my Kindle before dinner, that’s if my new kittens will let me! Usually though they demand my attention so I start playing with them and get a little distracted…
I hope this post is useful / interesting to those wanting to work in books! During the pandemic I felt like I was forgetting why I love my job, but now that I can go into the office twice a week my love for it has come back. There’s nothing like seeing a finished copy of a book you’ve worked on on the shelves, and the thrill of finding a new voice just never gets old. I also love that some of my authors are now on their third/fourth/more books – building their careers is just as important to me as acquiring big debuts.
My kittens are climbing on my keyboard so I had better sign off…
6 thoughts on “A day in the life of an editor”
Thank you for writing this Phoebe! It really gives me an insight into your job and how much you have to do daily. I can understand more why Editors don’t reply to my simple messages about advice breaking into the publishing industry 🤣🤣 I never imagined you’d have to work with the other departments that much especially rights and sales. But it’s much clearer in my head now. Thanks again!
Really enjoyed reading this piece and the insight it gave into the publishing world. It seems hectic, but I bet you wouldn’t want it any other way!
Thank you for sharing all this! Can you talk a little more about what this entails: “I will create a vision document that outlines my plan for how I’d publish the novel”? I’ve had a few passes lately saying “I don’t have a vision for how to publish this well,” or similar. What exactly does that mean?
Thanks again, I so appreciate your insights!
Hello! So basically as editors we create vision documents in house to show the sales, marketing and PR teams and the senior management how we might publish the book. These include a one line elevator pitch, comparison book covers that give an indication of where your book might sit in the market and what the overall package might look like, the kind of sales targets we might aspire to for your novel, the kind of authors we might want to blurb for it, what shops we might see it selling in (eg supermarkets, Waterstones, online) etc. If as an editor I am struggling to create this document it shows me that perhaps I don’t have a clear enough vision to publish your book. An editor has to see a clear path to publication – we basically need to be able to visualise a jacket and title, know where we would want your book to sell, know how we would describe it and what makes it stand out. So sometimes I don’t feel strongly or passionately about a novel to be able to do this. But it doesn’t mean the book is bad! I’ve read good novels but not personally seen a route to market. Does this help?
Thank you! That helps a lot!