But I've been spending a lot of my day, nearly every day these past few weeks, giving critiques. Not all agents do this, I'm told-- some literary agents send out their clients' work as-is, figuring that it's up to the publisher to work with the author to get the work into publishable state. I suspect this no-critique technique, on the agent's part, is increasingly rare as the market gets tougher and tougher. It's hard enough to find a publisher for a book the author and I have worked very hard to whip into shape. I can't really imagine doing things another way.
I have a spiel that all my clients probably have memorized by now: I do a lot of editing, but I am not an editor. My job is to help the author get the manuscript (or book proposal, for nonfiction) into a state in which the prospective publisher can recognize its potential. If and when we sell the book to a publisher, the editor will then work with the author to bring the work into its final, polished, published form.
At the larger publishing houses, there are three different stages to the editing process, though I hesitate to even call it that. These three stages are done by at least three different people. (At smaller houses, it's more common for one person to wear more hats, as you might imagine.)
1. The editor who buys the book-- usually the person to whom I sent the manuscript in the first place-- is the acquisitions editor. This person negotiates the deal with the author's agent, essentially hammering out all the specifics. How big is the advance? Will the publisher be allowed to sell their version of the work around the world, or just in the U.S. and Canada? Who owns the film rights? At most houses, the acquisitions editor will also be the line editor. This is a somewhat nebulous task, as it really varies tremendously from book to book in terms of what's really needed. For a novel, a line editor will look at things like the plot arc, the tension, the character development, and so on. He or she will work with the author on making sure all aspects of the manuscript, large and small, are the way the author and the publisher want them-- that the finished book will be a product everyone is proud of.
2. The editing many people think of when they hear the word is the work of the copy editor. The copy editor works with the manuscript after the line editor (who's often just referred to as the editor) has signed off on it, and it's the copy editor's job to make sure that the spelling, grammar and punctuation are all in good shape. But a copy editor's work goes well beyond that, also looking at and questioning individual details like a fact checker at a magazine. The two possibly apocryphal stories I was told when I started in the publishing industry are as follows:
-when a room is described in a manuscript, a copy editor will draw a map of the room to make sure that when the bad guy fires a gun from the doorway and the bullet goes through the window, the bullet and the doorway are both in the right place.
-if a novel involves a chase scene through the Paris metro, the copy editor may pull up a map of the metro system to ensure that the characters are following an actual train line.
3. The third and final stage of edits to a book are done by the proofreader. The proofreader is working with literal proofs of the work: reviewing the pages of the manuscript all laid out for the printer. At this stage, the running heads and the page numbers are all in place; the proofreader will double-check that the pagination runs properly and will also look one more time at the spelling and punctuation. This is a fine-tooth comb type job, as you might imagine. Other things the proofreader looks for: font continuity, widow/orphan control, and anything else that will affect the reader's experience of reading the book. I am not an expert on this stage of the process, but I suspect that the rise of the e-book is complicating the proofreader's work quite a bit.
One of the reasons I try to be crystal-clear with my clients about the whole "I am not an editor" thing is that I am immensely respectful of the work that editors (at all stages of the process) do. A good editor deserves every word of the glowing praise you so often see in the acknowledgments section of a published work.
Back to the critiques, though: with many authors with whom I work, my critique of their work is the first real interaction I may have with that person. That first critique often happens before I've offered representation, and how it is received by the author tells me a lot about the author's personality, style, and our likely dynamic.
Today is the solstice, which means that after a month of warm (sometimes sweltering) weather in NYC, it's officially summer in the northern hemisphere. I've already been through my first round of blisters as my feet get reaccustomed to summer shoes, and I'm well on my way to the very important seasonal calluses. It's an accidental (and kinda painful) technique, but it works.
How do you go about thickening your skin?