What Does an Editor Do All Day?

Have you ever labored intensively for weeks, even months over what you are sure is a one-in-a-million book idea, worked up your nerve to send it to a real, live editor (or “publisher”), and waited . . . and waited? During that time of anguished anticipation, did you sit idly by your computer, wondering what on earth that editor does all day? Don’t worry — you’re in good company!

Now, I can’t speak for ALL editors. However, I can say that while the percentages may shift a bit, the basic activities are fairly common to all. It’s also good to keep in mind that at any point in time editors must be working on projects in different phases of development, spanning over a year (2-3 seasons) And so, I’ve created this little graphic to break down a typical work week:

A Day in the Life of an Editor35% Editing: This is for contracted books in the current season, from the “big picture” developmental edit and review of copyedit, author corrections, and various rounds of proofs.

30% Meetings: Creating a book out of a manuscript is a team effort, and it’s the editor’s job to communicate the content of the book to the rest of the team. Depending on the week, more than half our time is taken up with scheduling, prepping for, sitting in, and recovering from book-related meetings. Thirty percent is average.

10% Phone Calls and Email: I seldom boot up my computer in the morning without having at least 20 emails that require immediate attention. By phone I discuss ideas, negotiate contracts, and talk writers off ledges.

10% Reports: Tracking, documenting, and otherwise communicating the status of each of my projects at all stages of development. We use two in-house software packages that must be routinely updated and consulted, to ensure that each book stays on schedule.

10% Virtual “Fishing”: This is one of my favorite parts of the job: Surveying the landscape, identifying up-and-coming “influencers,” and persuading them to write books for us. This is sometimes done in person (which is why many acquisitions editors travel a lot), but just as much via computer. Hence the “virtual”.

In the graphic, “slush pile” has the remaining dedicated space . . . in reality, it actually shares space with two other activities.

2.5% Water Cooler Time: In-house informal chats, prayer breaks, and other team-building efforts. For those who telecommute, this has to be done a bit more creatively . . . but no house can survive for long without community.

2% Filing: If you looked at the state of my office, you would understand this is a generous estimate.

.5% Slush: This is the actual amount of time spent on unsolicited manuscripts. This should give you a good sense of why (a) so many proposals get form rejection letters and (b) by your proposal needs to pass the “7 Second Test” to get more than this.

What’s the Seven Second Test? Come to the Catholic Writer’s Conference Live at CMN to find out!

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