Sunday, June 21, 2009

The world of book editing

The world of book editing


In an expanding publishing industry, book editors with an eye for detail are in great demand.

Does reading books for a living seem like a dream job? Then book editing may be the perfect profession for you. Book editors do primarily what their job title suggests, which is editing books. However, being an editor also involves many other activities.

According to Sandhya Rao, Chief Editor of publishing house Tulika, a typical day in the life of an editor would involve such tasks as “looking at manuscripts, working with production, interacting with authors and illustrators, and in the case of books in different languages, interacting with translators.”

Book editing has many subfields and specialisations, ranging from mystery novels to biographies. This is why Rakesh Khanna, co-founder of Blaft Publications, feels that it is wise to “obtain two skills.” As an example, he cited an editor of biology textbooks, who “should be really strong in English as well as biology.”

Also, while editors at small and independent publishing houses generally edit manuscripts as well as interact with authors, editors at multinational publishing houses usually focus on one of the two tasks. Copy editors correct grammatical and spelling errors, whilst ensuring that the book is cohesive and factually accurate. Acquisitions editors are responsible for obtaining manuscripts, selecting those which show promise and communicating with the author.

The Indian book publishing industry is flourishing, and was worth Rs. 8,000 crore in 2006. Since then it has been growing rapidly. Ms. Rao of Tulika believes that there are several reasons for this. “The industry is expanding because the market has grown,” she says, adding that “so many foreign players are coming into India because India is a huge potential market, due to the large English-speaking population.” In fact, India is the third largest producer of books in English, after the United States and Britain. However, as Ms. Rao points out, the best-selling books in India are probably textbooks; with the number of school-going children increasing every year, the demand for these books should not diminish in the near future.


The qualifications required to become an editor are not set in stone. Manjula Ramesh, Head of Production at Emerald Publishers, says that a degree in any field is sufficient, as long as you have “a very good knowledge and a good flow in English.” The same applies if you are interested in editing books in other languages. This was reiterated by Mr. Khanna of Blaft Publications, who says that “whatever language you are editing, it should be the language you’ve grown up with and the language you read a lot.” Mrs. Rao of Tulika believes that while it is better to have a “postgraduate degree in a language,” it is not an absolute necessity.

Being a book editor calls for certain practical skills and abilities. According to Mr. Khanna, the job requires an aptitude for “paying attention to various small details.” A talent for negotiating with other people, such as authors, is also beneficial. Mrs. Ramesh of Emerald Publishers adds that an editor should “be creative, should have the patience to peruse the book once or twice or even more and should have high concentration,” but above all else, they should have a passion for books.

You can prepare to enter the industry by reading books in every possible genre, editing a school or college magazine and working part-time as a freelance editor while still in college. Gaining experience is invaluable to a budding editor. Publishing houses generally provide a pleasant environment to work in. Alternatively, if you prefer working from home, freelance editing might be a good option. Ultimately, a book editor enjoys reading, is proficient in English or other languages and actively tries to discover new writing talent. If you thrive in the world of words, there’s a great career waiting for you!

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