What is an Editor?

An editor is a critical reader and a lover of words, whose job is to polish and refine a story or an article. Editors are used in various industries and for many types of products, such as magazines, newspapers, blogs, and books.

Editors are responsible for checking facts, spelling, grammar, and punctuation. They are also responsible for ensuring that an article corresponds with in-house style guides and feels polished and refined when done. There are also times when editors need to step in and cut out what doesn't fit to the purpose of the story and guide the attention towards the areas that the reading audience should focus.

What does an Editor do?

An editor supervises a range of functions in a publishing house and has many tasks that need to be accomplished before a book is ready to be launched.


When it comes to books, an editor is seen as a gatekeeper between the author and the audience. An editor has to take a dual sided point of view in order to keep both parties happy. Authors know their stories inside and out, and have had a strong personal relationship with their manuscript for months or sometimes years. Audiences, on the other hand, have no emotional attachment to books that they have not read yet and are quick to judge any novel that they pick up to read.

An editor needs to edit a manuscript while considering both points of view. The manuscript may need changes that will keep the audience pulled in and interested for the length of the novel. However, any changes that are made must feel like the author's authentic voice in order to keep the author happy with the new and improved manuscript.

Editors are responsible for a range of functions in a publishing house and many phases of editing need to take place before a book is ready to be published. When people hear the word “editor” they usually imagine someone who spell checks and is a stickler for grammar. While this is true to some extent, a lot more goes into editing a manuscript than just that. Before and after a manuscript is picked for publication, there are many alterations and decisions that need to be made. These are made by the following types of editors.

Developmental Editor
When an author has an idea for a book, he or she often seeks out the help of a developmental editor. This type of editor helps an author develop a book from an initial idea, outline, or draft. There is typically much more personal attention given to the author at this stage, and by this type of editor, than during any other editing stage. Developmental editors look at the structure, focus, and content of a potential book. They look at the most marketable way the content can be presented, and help guide the writing in that direction. Any inconsistencies, such as tone, or target audience, are addressed during this time. The developmental editor will work with the author to meet the requirements of the publisher, sometimes through many drafts.

During this stage of editing, the developmental editor focuses on producing a manuscript that can be acceptable enough to progress to the next step. While content, organization, and presentation are all important factors, honing in on things like character development, getting the setting right, and clarity of plot, are also crucial. The developmental editor may suggest additional research to be done to “flesh out” certain parts of the material to get a clearer picture and to create better flow. Comments are made on style, structure, and flow of information. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are also checked along with URL links, captions, graphics, footnotes, references, photos, tables, quotes, bibliography, and citations. This type of editing is the most invasive, so the editor works closely with the writer to be sure that he approves changes and the author's original voice is preserved.

Substantive Editor
A substantive editor can offer help to both fiction and non-fiction writers. These types of editors do not typically work with a writer from the initial stages, but will look at a manuscript after the writer has completed several drafts with the developmental editor. Small details will be looked at, as well as the overall feel of the manuscript. Any points of weakness will be addressed, and suggested options to improve and strengthen the manuscript will be offered.

Fiction writers can greatly benefit in having this type of editor look at improving the strength of their manuscript with things like: plot, dialogue, story elements, characterization, scene order, setting, voice, point of view, word choice, syntax, pace, and sentence structure. Non-fiction writers can also benefit by having a substantive editor look at things like: structure, consistency and flow, proper progression of sections, and whether the information presented is substantial enough for the audience.

Acquisitions Editor
The next editor a manuscript hopefully goes through is the acquisitions editor - writers, as well as agents, will typically submit their manuscripts to the this type of editor. Acquisitions editors find new authors and decide whether the manuscripts submitted would be profitable choices in the long run for the publishing house they work for. He or she will promote the chosen authors, make a pitch to the house to publish the manuscripts, and facilitate communication between the publisher and the writer. The acquisition editor also manages all the budgeting, marketing, and contractual decisions.

There is typically a lot of competition with other acquisition editors to bring in new authors, therefore it is often a challenge to get an author accepted into the publishing house. Once accepted, the acquisitions editor will often follow a manuscript from that point forward until publication in order to ensure the story is in line with the publisher's vision.

Line Editor
The next type of editor is the line editor. This editor will go through a manuscript line by line and find grammatical and spelling errors that may compromise the quality of the material. The line editor will also make sure that word choice contributes to the overall tone of the book.

Line editing sometimes overlaps the areas of developmental editing and copy editing, and in some publishing fields the line editor and copy editor positions are combined into one. However, this type of editing goes beyond just checking for proper grammar. A line editor's main focus is to be deeply in tune with the author's voice and to make it come to life. Paragraph and sentence structure is the main focus of line editing, ensuring ideas are expressed with both strength and clarity. Instead of 'fixing' the author's voice, a good line editor will make the voice stronger and sharper.

Copy Editor
The copy editor is one of the last people to go over a manuscript before it is ready for print. He or she will examine the document for inconsistencies in theme, style, and factual information. Permission is checked for copyright material, ensuring there will be no legal conflict. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are also scanned again. The main purpose of the copy editor is to make sure the text that is used is clear, will maintain the interest of the reader, and maintain in-house style rules.

“Style can include the specifics of any particular publishing company, as well as the type of guide being used, such as the Chicago Manual of Style,” says Ciara Larkin, a senior copy editor in book publishing at Thomson Reuters.

There’s no getting around attention to detail, says Jenna Rose Robbins, an editor, writer and web consultant at Siteseeing Media & Web Consulting. “And some people just can’t be taught because it requires a specific type of focus,” she adds. “I know some amazing line editors who are terrible copy editors.” You need to know Associated Press and/or Chicago style. “This is just something that has to be learned, like memorizing the periodic table of the elements, only in more detail,” Robbins says.

Production Editor
In the home stretch, the edited manuscript goes to the production editor who oversees the transition between manuscript and published book. This is the last person to review the material before print. This type of editor manages the typesetting, artwork, and budgeting, and ensures quality is met in all other areas of editing. Production editing is a multi-faceted role that requires a mix of editorial and project-management skills.

Being a production editor is all about quality control, and differs from other editors in the scale of the changes being made (micro vs. macro). A production editor deals with small-scale, non-substantive changes, while other editors look at larger-scale, substantive changes. Production editors are also trained in other quality control checks that include: proofreading, copyediting, extensive formatting checks, and more. In summary, a production editor is responsible for catching any small errors, whether that’s a typo, a grammatical error, or an odd layout issue.

An editor checking for errors.


Editor In Chief
All the operations of managing a newspaper or a magazine are the responsibility of the editor in chief (also known as the executive editor or editor at large). The editor in chief is responsible for the look of the product, the type of content produced, the number of articles that need to be written, and for ensuring that each issue is released on time. He or she also oversees all department editors (as well as the hiring and firing), and has the final say on what gets published.

The editor in chief is responsible for creating an editorial board, which is basically an outline of what needs to be included in the newspaper or magazine issue. Every issue has it's own board. When all articles and images have been submitted for an issue, the editor in chief will review everything for accuracy and will make any necessary changes to the layouts and to the design.

Engagement Editor
An engagement editor has the job of identifying stories that are going to resonate with the newspaper's or magazine's audience. Engagement editors also discover the best strategies and tactics in which to deliver those stories. They work with the editorial team to recommend an angle or an idea, or identify trending stories that are primed to take off with a specific audience.

This is often done by using social media and analytics tools. Examples may be what’s leading CNN or FOX News, or what people's Facebook newsfeed is for the day. Ultimately, engagement editors need to ensure that the stories they are presenting are staying true to what the company's brand is, and what the audience is able to resonate with.

Managing Editor
The managing editor is responsible for enforcing the policies that have been set out by the editor in chief, and supervises the day-to-day operations of the publication. Both the managing editor and the editor in chief are actively involved in choosing the topics of interest they think their readers will find compelling to read, and to make sure all sides of a topic are reported on. Often, these topics of interest will be presented to them by the engagement editor and the editorial team.

Once a decision has been made on what the topics will be, the managing editor will take over and assign articles to the writers, answer questions, suggest ideas, keep things on schedule, and eventually approve articles and stories for final copy. At times, the managing editor will take on the writing of one or more of the stories, and may even be responsible for a specific section of the newspaper or magazine.

Copy Editor
The copy editor (or sub editor) for a newspaper or magazine checks the facts, spelling, grammar, structure, and punctuation of articles, stories, and captions. He or she may write headlines or introductory paragraphs, arrange the layouts and sidebars, review photos, make sure captions match the photos, and suggest word changes to prevent any legal issues. Copy editors are also responsible for making sure that articles and stories match the in-house style guides.

Are you suited to be an editor?

Editors have distinct personalities. They tend to be artistic individuals, which means they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive. They are unstructured, original, nonconforming, and innovative. Some of them are also enterprising, meaning they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if editor is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of an Editor like?

An editor's hours are generally determined by the production schedule, and by the type of editorial position they have.

Advances in electronic communications have changed the work environment for writers and editors alike. Editors are able to do a lot of their editing from their homes, but most salaried editors work in-house, dealing with production deadlines and the pressures of trying to produce accurate work. This is advantageous because they get to learn how the production works from the inside. With experience, editors will know what they can handle and what projects might be too much.

Schedules and budgets are tight in a publishing house so a lot of employers don't want to risk new freelancing editors. They may be less likely to hire someone with no in-house experience.

Editors are also known as:
Copy Editor Newspaper Copy Editor Sports Editor News Editor Features Editor Assignment Editor City Editor Aquisitions Editor Developmental Editor Line Editor Production Editor