Insights on working with editors: An interview with Elsa Peterson
Elsa Peterson has more than 20 years of experience in textbook and academic publishing as a freelance permissions editor, picture researcher, and developmental editor. Her most recent in-house position was as a senior developmental editor for psychology with McGraw-Hill Higher Education. Peterson recently authored a brief and accessible guide to copyright in the context of publishing titled Copyright and Permissions: What Every Writer and Editor Should Know (New York: Editorial Freelancers Association, 2012). She has also authored numerous articles about the business and craft of editing, and has presented TAA audio conferences on editing and copyright.
Peterson spoke with TAA about the roles of editors and where they fit within the authoring process.
TAA: Can you describe the different editorial services you provide?
Elsa Peterson: “I primarily do developmental editing, which involves working closely with an author to bring the vision for the book to fruition. Development is a long-term process that usually begins with the author’s proposal and extends through the turnover of the manuscript to production. When I do permissions editing, my task is to identify all the material in a manuscript that is under copyright, find the rights holders, and secure their authorization to use the material. Similarly, picture research involves clearing permission to reproduce photographs and works of art; it also includes a creative dimension in helping the author to select the most effective visuals to convey the concepts being presented.”
TAA: Does an author generally contact a freelance editor to help in preparing the work for submission, or is it more common to work with an editor after the work has been accepted? How can an author go about finding an editor?
EP: “Textbook publishers generally assign editors after a contract is in place. To get the contract, of course, the author signs with an acquisitions editor. After signing, the author usually works with a developmental editor, who assesses the project in the context of the market, helps to bring out the best in this particular book, and prepares the manuscript for turnover to production. During production, the author will work with a copyeditor. A permissions editor, photo editor, and proofreader will often work behind the scenes, but they may also have interaction with the author.
In the case of journals, I’ve found that many authors hire editors before submitting articles because journals tend to provide less author support than textbook publishers; they expect submissions to be perfect or nearly so. Authors of trade nonfiction may also benefit from hiring an editor, not only for manuscript editing but also to help craft a strong book proposal to attract the best possible agent or publisher.
For authors who want to hire an editor, I would recommend looking for someone with strong developmental and line-editing skills and at least 3 to 5 years’ experience in the publishing area of interest. Authors may also want a permissions editor to look over a manuscript before submission to spot any material that has a high risk of being problematic. To find an editor with a given skill set, one can use the Editorial Freelancers Association’s online ‘Find a Freelancer’ tool at http://www.the-efa.org/dir/search.php
TAA: Are book editors usually qualified across the board, or do they specialize in specific areas?
EP: “I think it’s good to keep a balance between specializing and branching out. My academic background is in music history, but early in my career I got a lot of positive feedback for my work in psychology, which led me to gravitate to the behavioral and social sciences in addition to the arts and humanities. I also do a fair amount of editing in business subjects, and I’ve sometimes enjoyed the variety of editing a memoir or a how-to book. However, I don’t accept work in the ‘hard sciences’ because I simply don’t have the requisite subject matter expertise.
There is a potential disadvantage to working with an editor with an advanced degree in your discipline, as he or she may have a different orientation or viewpoint from your own. This may make it difficult for the editor to refrain from imposing his or her opinions on your manuscript. Being human, we editors sometimes have to remind ourselves ‘It’s not my book,’ and this can be more of a challenge if we’re harboring thoughts like ‘It could have been my book if only…’”
TAA: Returning to the broader subject of editing, can you give an idea of the different types of editors available and the services and support they offer?
EP: “Wow! A complete answer to this question would fill an entire issue of The Academic Author. What I can provide is a table describing some common editing categories and their major functions.
|Developmental Editing||Perform a wide range of tasks varying by project, such as reading and summarizing reviews, compiling a market comparison of competing books, assessing manuscript structure and length, evaluating pedagogical features, and line editing (see below).|
|Line Editing (a.k.a. Substantive Editing, Content Editing)||Provide corrections and improvements in organization and presentation, style and tone, content coverage, consistency, and mechanics (see below). Check facts and cite sources for any factual queries.|
|Copyediting||Ensure correct and consistent mechanics (grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc.). Check sequential numbering of figures, tables, endnotes, etc. Implement house style and usage guidelines. Code manuscript for production formatting.|
|Proofreading||Ensure that compositor has correctly implemented copy editing corrections. Correct or query any mechanical errors not previously caught. Ensure accuracy in format, layout, and implementation of design specs.|
TAA: How does permissions editing tie in with your focus as a developmental editor?
EP: “Knowledge of permissions puts me in a strong position as a developmental editor because development happens at the very beginning of a project. If an author intends to include many quotations, figures, tables, cartoons, or photos, I can help identify any that may be difficult or prohibitively expensive to obtain. I can also query the sources the author cites if any appear to be secondary sources rather than the actual rights holders for the material.”
TAA: How did you become interested in copyright and permissions? Will your new book be of interest to TAA members?
EP: “I began working with intellectual property in the early 1980s at European American Music, where I had a wonderful boss who challenged me to learn everything I could about copyright law. Over the years I have taught classes in copyright for various continuing education programs, and I always find it rewarding to demystify the wonderful world of intellectual property.
My book, Copyright and Permissions: What Every Writer and Editor Should Know (New York: Editorial Freelancers Association, 2012), is a concise, reader-friendly guide to copyright in the context of publishing. As the subtitle indicates, this is knowledge that every writer and editor should possess. The book covers the essentials of what copyright is, dispels common misconceptions, and assesses how intellectual property has changed—and remained the same—in the digital age. It also includes a guide to permissions editing, which should be valuable for authors who set out to secure permissions for their own publications as well as those who need to work with a permissions editor.”
TAA: What are your favorite TAA benefits?
EP: “I enjoy the e-mail conversations on the textbook listserv. Members often raise questions to which I don’t know the answers, so I learn a lot from reading what others have to say. Sometimes there’s a question I can answer, and it always makes me feel good when I can help someone solve a problem or gain new knowledge.”