Ask Bethany House: What Does a Line Editor Do?

Welcome to the last Ask BHP post of 2015! We’ve already talked to one of Bethany House’s copy editors, Elisa. This week, we have Karen, one of our fiction line editors, on the blog to talk about her part in the process of getting great books into your hands. (Be sure to check out the rest of the Ask Bethany House series covering common questions readers ask us.)


Hopefully when you’re done with this series, you’ll know that there’s much more to editing than fixing grammatical mistakes. But this is still amusing.

Amy: How would you explain your job to someone not familiar with the publishing industry?

Karen: As a line (also known as developmental or substantive) editor, my main responsibility is to work with fiction authors after the first draft of their contracted manuscript is submitted. Often with input from other editors and reviewers, I compile an editorial-comment document, outlining strengths of the story as well as areas we believe need to be revised and fine-tuned. The author and I use that document to discuss revision possibilities and objectives, and after the author had submitted the rewritten manuscript, I complete the first edit.

At this first-edit stage, though many of our concerns have been addressed during the author’s rewrite, I edit the story to enhance big-picture elements like pacing, clarity, plot and character arcs, character development, etc. Though most books receive a copy edit, I also correct/revise typos, grammar, writing flow, and the like, if I notice them.

I am very collaborative and much prefer working through the more significant editorial issues with an author rather than making the decision/revision independently. Of course I make numerous editorial/revision decisions on my own in every manuscript (always taking care to stay true to the author’s vision and voice), but I often find the best solution for larger concerns comes from collaboration (both with the author and with other editors).

Fiction line editors at Bethany House are also responsible for managing each book project through later revisions and corrections from proofreaders and the author, either entering the corrections ourselves or, once the manuscript has been paged, combining the corrections and sending them to typesetters/designers—who enter the corrections in the paged book—and then making sure the revisions have been correctly entered.

Amy: What happens after the work you do with the manuscript?

Karen: After I work with the author on the first edit, the manuscript is copy-edited, proofread (usually three different proofreaders), and reviewed twice by the author—first as a Word document and then as Paged galleys (a representation of what the actual book pages will look like). Once all the corrections have been made, checked, and checked again, the book is off to the printer. The process is more complicated than that, but those are the essentials.

Amy: What is one of your favorite parts of what you do, and why?

Karen: There are so many things I enjoy about my job, but I think the most exciting and fulfilling aspect of my job is working with every author to enhance the wonderful story they have already created. Though the stories are theirs, and theirs alone, I like to compare myself to a loving aunt, standing alongside and supporting proud “author parents” as they send their “book babies” out into the world. I guess that is a bit corny, but it is exciting for me.

Amy: That’s not corny at all! (I always think of myself as the teachers of those book babies—I have several at once when they’re a little more mature and their “author parents” have sent them out into the world.) So, any words of advice or encouragement for those who might want to become editors someday?

Meet Karen...she's the best!

Meet Karen…she’s the best!

Of course, schooling experience is helpful—often whether applicants have schooling in a clearly related subject area is a natural selection cutoff for potential employers. And any publishing/editing/writing craft classes you can take or experience you can get is beneficial. But more than that . . . read, read, read—anything and everything, but especially from the publishing area you are hoping to get a job in someday.

It is not enough for you to simply like a book, or dislike it. Analyze the books you read, figure out what is working and what is not working—why, and how could they be improved? Being analytical, whether by nature or through practice, and learning to communicate concerns clearly and graciously, is very helpful skill for people interested in becoming a line/substantive editor. I like to think such a trait allows me to effectively help the authors I work with create more logical, intriguing plots and consistent, compelling characters.

If you are interested in a job with Bethany House (and I expect this is true of any publisher), you can’t have read too many of our books—it is a plus when you can name favorite books you have read and articulate what you have appreciated about them. And read a broad range of books, even genres you are not particularly drawn to. In most publishing houses, there are many genres you might work with. We all have our genre preferences, but we don’t often get to focus solely on our favorites. Analyze what works in every genre, and learn to appreciate what individual genres have to offer.

Before I started working at Bethany House, other than a few of the classics, I had read few fantasy/speculative books and had little interest in that genre. But soon after starting at BHP, I read Kathy Tyers’ Firebird series and was hooked, and since then I have been blessed to edit several fantastic fantasy/speculative books and series. Learn to appreciate well-drawn characters, compelling plots, and captivating writing regardless of the genre a book is categorized by and your potential as a valuable asset at any publishing house will increase.

Thanks so much, Karen! To get some practice with those analyzing skills, tell us about a book you loved and one specific reason why you loved it!

3 thoughts on “Ask Bethany House: What Does a Line Editor Do?

  1. I’ve loved the Ask Bethany House series and the practical, helpful information it has provided. Thanks for articulating the job of the line editor so well, Karen! You and the other line editors are able to take a manuscript to its full potential which is such an appreciated, specialized, valuable skill. Your artistic collaboration with an author is what makes a book shine. Thank you!

  2. I love these blog posts, Amy! I always get excited when I see it’s an “Ask Bethany House” day!! 🙂 It’s even more exciting to see a familiar face (hi, Karen!).

    It’s hard to narrow down just one book and why I loved it, but the first that jumps out in my mind is A Candle in the Darkness, by Lynn Austin. The story is written in first person, which I normally don’t care for, but in this case, I became a fan! From the first page, I was hooked. It starts in the middle of the night, in Richmond, during the midst of the Civil War, and the heroine is sure she’s about to be arrested, so she sits down to recount her story on a piece of salvaged wallpaper so others might understand why she did what she did. I couldn’t read the story fast enough! Lynn is a master storyteller and the entire book is a work of art. It’s among the first five books (or series) I give to a reader who might be new to Christian fiction or historical fiction (the others are Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers, The Secrets of Pembrooke Park, by Julie Klassen, Abram’s Daughters, by Beverly Lewis, Rebellious Heart, by Jody Hedlund, and The Colonel’s Daughter, by Laura Frantz).

    Looking forward to the next installment of a Ask Bethany House. 🙂

  3. I loved The Rose of Winslow Street by Elizabeth Camden – besides having nontradtional subject matter (Romanian GUY perfumer, dyslexic heroine), the conflict was captivating, not because they argued a lot, but because both parties were in the right. I never could decide who was ‘more in the right,’ if such a position can exist.

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