This Is What It's Actually Like To Be A Book Editor

by Kerri Jarema

If you're anything like me, you're a readers who is super interested in book publishing, and what goes on behind the scenes of your favorite books. The books we hold in our hands have all had massive journeys — from the author sitting at their computers or notebooks banging out the words, to you holding that brand new crisp hardback in your hands.

There are literary agents and book packagers and so many more people who get a book from A to Z. But one of the most well known of these people is probably the book editor. These are the people who help take an author's work from good to great — the people who get it ready to hit the shelves (and, hopefully, the bestseller list.) But, whether you're just interested in learning more about the industry or you actually want to break in yourself, you might find yourself wondering what, exactly, a book editor's day to day looks like.

So we went right to the source to find out. You might recognize Rhoda Belleza's name from the cover of her popular YA fantasy book Empress Of A Thousand Skies. But did you know that she is an editor at Macmillan offshoot Imprint, too? She has worked on a ton of anticipated upcoming titles including The Wicker King by K. Ancrum; Ink, Iron and Glass by Gwen Clare; A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney; and Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Pérez.

"My day job as an editor can be pretty varied, but I’d say everything I do falls into three major categories," Belleza says. "Editing the book and supporting the author; advocating for the book and author; and networking and finding new content. There’s not really a typical work day because it’s so dependent on what deadline I need to hit."

Want to know more about how each of those major categories plays out during a work week? Keep reading below to find out.

Rhoda Belleza

Editing The Book And Supporting The Author

"This varies wildly from project to project, but when I acquire a book I read it closely at least four times, over the course of working with the author on it—and then I review all the rounds of changes once it’s copy-edited and then proofread. I read it once to decide if I want to buy it, a second time to consider structural and conceptual changes with the author, a third time for deep character work and scene-by-scene suggestions, and then a fourth read to polish everything up. Sometimes more than that, but never less," Belleza says.

"It’s emotional work for the author; they have to trust me, but more importantly they have to trust their own instincts. It’s an intensely creative process, and every time with every writer, I feel like we’re holding hands as we run deep into revisions and emerge to tell the tale."

Advocating For The Book And Author

"This requires a lot of creativity, and just as much investment and gumption as the actual editing. We have an amazing sales team to sell the book, a marketing team to market the book, and publicists to publicize it—and from the very beginning I want to let them all know how much I love my books. From the very first acquisitions meeting, I’m talking up a book and bragging about the author," Belleza says.

"I pretty much never let up from there. I also have to write cover copy and catalog copy, deliver presentations to librarians and others, and present my books for each season to all our different groups. I won’t even go into the acquisitions meeting that kicks everything off, but I did write a Tumblr post about it."

Networking And Finding New Content:

"I read a lot of submissions. Agents send me their clients’ manuscripts, and I read through them to see if the books are the right fit for me and my imprint. I meet agents in a variety of different ways, but a large part of my job is taking lunches and attending industry events and conferences where I get to nerd out with other book people. We’re storytellers and story-shapers and story advocates, and that unites us. I’m meeting with agents to get to know their taste and vice versa, and I’m meeting writers—already published and aspiring to be published—to give and get their perspective on what can be done better," Belleza says.

"I dedicate time to finding #ownvoices writers and diversifying my list, and that means looking outside traditional publishing circles too, and connecting with folks directly through social media channels. There are a lot of self-taught writers and entrepreneurs I’d like to have conversations with, because as much as I love publishing, the industry has challenges like any other—and it needs to be a lot more inclusive. So I’m looking to outside advocates and critics to figure out how to do my part. This is pretty boiled down; there’s a lot I’m not capturing, and an insane amount of paperwork details I won’t bore you with."

Follow along with Rhoda on social media, and stay tuned to Bustle for more of her thoughts on book editing and breaking into the publishing industry.