Burning Questions about Book Publishing: What does an editor do all day?

by Ruta Rimas

Book editors. Writers imagine them as elusive, mysterious creatures who hold in their hands the power to make writers’ dreams of publication come true (and also crush those dreams into oblivion).

Editor? Or Sasquatch? Both are equally mysterious.

Is it true?

As an editor myself, I’d like to dispel some of those myths and misconceptions about the daily work of a book editor right away.

  • Editors read all day at work.

Sadly, this is a big, terrible lie. Editors read on the train, after work, on the weekends, sometimes in bed before falling asleep. Very little reading happens at the office.

  • Editors love to reject manuscripts.

Passing on a project is actually the hardest part of the job. It doesn’t feel good to tell someone who bravely poured their heart onto the page that you aren’t interested in pursuing their work—even with a buffer (the writer’s agent) in place.

  • Editors hole-up in their offices, talking to nary a soul, while scribbling giant red x’s across manuscripts, laughing maniacally as they tear apart the books they’ve acquired.

Mostly untrue. But I can’t say I don’t find joy in slicing and dicing…

So what is it that a book editor does if they aren’t reading and/or destroying the hopes and dreams of writers all day?

It helps to think of an editor as a project manager. An editor is the point-person and in-house voice for the books on their list, whether those books are freshly acquired or a few years old. Publishing houses work years in advance, so right now, I’m working on projects that go on sale in the summer and fall of 2020, for example. At any given moment, I have my hands on 15-25 books, in varying stages of publication development.

Accurate depiction of the paper stack in my office.

That is, I may be hobbling together editorial notes for a novel that is 18 months out from publication or I may be reviewing copyedits for a novel that publishes in a year or rewriting back cover copy for a repackaged (meaning, new cover design) paperback edition or offering feedback to an artist on interior sketches of a picture book. All in the same day!

Throughout the book’s life in the publishing house, an editor presents it at various sales, marketing, design, and editorial meetings and is the primary liaison between departments throughout each stage of project development, as well as with agents, illustrators, and authors, and other industry professionals.

Contrary to popular belief, many book editors are not quiet, reserved, bookish recluses. They are highly social, sales-oriented people who are great at public speaking. They have to be, as they are required to talk about their projects in public on a frequent basis.

A typical day as an editor doesn’t exist, but there is one thing an editor can always count on: meetings (sales meetings, production meetings, cover design meetings, agent meetings, author meetings, marketing and publicity meetings). In between meetings, editors are generally putting out fires that are lit after a book has been developmentally edited and is already in its latter stages. Some of those fires include issues/questions about:

  • Marketing/publicity (some books have bigger budgets than others and part of an editor’s job is explaining those decisions to agents and authors and also brainstorming how to enact a grassroots effort).
  • Incorrect metadata feeding to online retailers (most publishers function with automated digital sweeps of metadata like book covers, descriptive copy, author names and bios, etc., and sometimes old data gets picked up).
  • Coordinating materials like advanced readers copies (ARCs) for delivery to conferences and festivals and figuring out a plan if those materials won’t be ready on time.
  • Talking through cover design/editorial notes/digital ideas with authors.
  • And more.

New and unusual questions, scenarios, situations, problems pop up ALL the time. It’s never a dull moment in editorial.

Burning Questions About Book Publishing: What are good resources for keeping a pulse on the industry?

By Ruta Rimas

The business of book publishing can feel so far away from the reality of writers. Maybe you imagine an editor sitting at her desk, surrounded by stacks upon stacks of paper (real or virtual), casually crushing dreams as she rejects manuscript after manuscript. Truth be told, very little of that type of work goes on during business hours; the dream-crushing is done late at night, on subway or train rides home. Luckily, that’s when the dream-making happens as well.


When a writer publishes their book, it can take a year or two for it to get to market. In the meantime, information and news about the publishing world might seem like it bounces around at light speed. What are editors buying next? What manuscripts just sold? What’s the juicy industry gossip? How can anyone keep up?!

Well, in my attempt to answer that, I thought it might be time for a straightforward post that provides a few resources for anyone who wants to keep better tabs on the goings-on of book publishing. Below is a list of sites that, as an industry professional, I often turn to when I need intel. Because here’s a secret: it’s nearly impossible to keep up with everything that’s happening, even for those of us who work within the industry.

Industry News Sites

Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/

This publication is both in print and online and is the quintessential publication for the industry. Some online content is free, like this article (https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/international-book-news/article/79125-man-group-pulls-out-of-booker-sponsorship.html). Big book deals are announced, industry news is shared, and the best part? Loads of book reviews. It might worth it to invest in a subscription for the wide range of information, depending on where you are in your writing career.

Shelf Awareness: https://www.shelf-awareness.com/about.html



A FREE (!) website and FREE (!!) bi-weekly newsletter with the top 25 books of the week, as selected by booksellers and librarians. Also included is book news, interviews with authors, and more publishing-based articles.

Publishers Lunch: https://lunch.publishersmarketplace.com/

Publishers Lunch is similar to Publishers Weekly, meaning some of the content is behind a paywall and requires a subscription, and some is free, like this recent article: https://lunch.publishersmarketplace.com/2019/01/newbery-to-medina-caldecott-to-blackall-and-more/

You can also sign up for daily Publishers Lunch emails for FREE. From their website: “Publishers Lunch is the industry’s “daily essential read,” now shared with approximately 45,000 publishing people every day. Each report gathers together stories from all over the web and print of interest to the professional trade book community, along with original reporting, plus a little perspective and the occasional wisecrack added in. Daily Lunch is e-mailed daily to qualified book trade professionals. Deal Lunch is e-mailed occasionally, sharing about 10 deal reports from the previous week (or roughly 5 percent of reported deals).” https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/lunch/subscribe.html

These three sites and newsletters can help orient you within the book publishing business, from the who’s who of editors, to buzz-worthy books, to bookstore openings and author events. They’re a worthwhile investment, even if only in the time it takes to read one of the free newsletters. Knowledge is power, after all, and these publications provide a ton of great information.

Burning Questions About Book Publishing: Literary Agents, Part Two

by Ruta Rimas

Thank you to those who submitted questions for me to answer about book publishing at the Get Lit Salon on May 20th. There was one common theme  – agents!

In this post, I will tackle PART TWO of the agent-related questions. You can check out PART ONE here.


How do I find the agent who is right for me?

There are many online resources to help you find the right agent for you, but you might want to start by picking up your favorite book – or a book similar to the one you are writing — and flipping to the acknowledgements, where many writers choose to thank their agents. Then, hop on the computer and dig deep. Who else does the agent represent and what type of books do they take on? Where have they sold books? When was their last sale? If they are active on social media, particularly Twitter, which is a hotbed of literary discourse, have a look at what they talk about as it pertains to books. Your best tool is knowledge.

This “Acknowledgements” page is included at the end of AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

The research stage is hard work. Here are a couple of online resources that can help:

You may want to keep a running list of those agents and agencies who you are interested in querying, and then, when you are ready to submit, cull the list to a handful so that you take a targeted approach. Be professional, polite, and show that you’ve done your research when you send out your query. You shouldn’t, for instance, send a cookbook proposal to someone who represents mostly literary fiction. Be sure to follow the agent’s submission guidelines.

When should I submit my query to an agent?

You should begin researching and compiling names of those who you think might be a good fit when start to feel ready to sell your work! Once you are happy with your full manuscript, draft a query letter (here’s a great resource for that process). And once you draft your letter, have a trusted friend read it before you send it out. Then send out the letter, usually via email, to your curated agent list.

If you are a nonfiction writer, the timeline might be slightly different: many agents will accept a proposal and sample chapters for nonfiction.

ALWAYS check submission policies. Most are posted online. And, patience is going to be key. It’s hard to send out that query without falling into the trap of the over-eager. Be professional, patient, and kind in any communication you may have.

The next column in the Burning Questions about Book Publishing will address what happens when an editor wants to buy your book and takes the project to their acquisitions team. Stay tuned!

Burning Questions About Book Publishing: Literary Agents, Part One

By Ruta Rimas

Thank you to those who submitted questions for me to answer about book publishing at the Get Lit Salon on May 20th. There was one common theme – agents! At my day job, I regularly work with literary agents, so I’m excited to offer insight into the work that these publishing professionals do.

To keep this post short, I will break the column into two parts with the second part posting in late June.


Do I need an agent?
If you want to traditionally publish your book, it is in your best interest to find good representation. Many publishing houses are closed houses, which means that the acquiring editors are only able to evaluate projects submitted via an agent. Some smaller houses accept unsolicited (unagented) projects, though policies are shifting all the time. Thankfully, many publishers share their submission policies online.

This book is a great resource for learning more about agents.

What makes a good agent?
A good literary agent is a business partner. A good agent considers you a long-term client and will invest in your career. Some agents help you edit and refine your work, polishing it for submission. A good agent writes a great pitch for your project and then, using their network of editors, curates a list of editors to submit and who they think will be a good fit for your book. The commission an agent receives – generally 15% of the advance, royalties, and subsidiary rights deals – is well worth it.

A good agent tailors their strategy to your project’s needs. For example, a good agent will be able to evaluate which publishing house and what size house might best support your work. Not all houses publish every book the same way, and a good agent will help you navigate that terrain. Sometimes a regional publisher or small press is best for your work, and a good agent will know that.

A good agent negotiates the best terms for your (complicated) book contract including the basics: advance, royalties, territory, and subsidiary rights. The guest speaker for the Get Lit May salon, Diane Lapis, spoke about how her agent was able to push for better terms for her book, Cocktails Across America.

A good agent knows the ins-and-outs of the business of publishing, and advocates for you with your editor when it comes to things like marketing, publicity, distribution channels, and more. A good agent knows how to manage pie-in-the-sky dreams while being realistic with you about how your project fits into the overall literary landscape.

Stay tuned for part two of this post, which will address: How do I find an agent who is right for me? When should I submit a query to an agent?