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What do acquisitions editors, production editors, and copyeditors do?

Acquisitions editors, production editors, and copyeditors intervene at different stages of the publishing process to ensure that a press is publishing the very best books that it can. Related and overlapping titles can include acquisitions editor, commissioning editor, or just-plain editor (in commercial trade publishing), and can indicate different levels of responsibility, such as senior acquisitions editor or executive editor, and production editor or managing editor. Some presses might use the term project editor instead of production editor.

In most cases, an author’s relationship with a publisher begins with an acquisitions editor (AE). Each AE at a press typically has several areas of acquisitions in which they actively solicit proposals, represent their press at conferences, and evaluate unsolicited submissions. AEs evaluate the submissions and proposals they receive and, for well-executed projects that seem like a good fit for the editorial profile of their press, provide big-picture structural and/or stylistic feedback and manage the peer review process. They present promising projects to internal and external decision-making committees and are an advocate for the project within the press. If approved, the AE will typically be the one to make a contract offer to the author. When a contracted author delivers their final manuscript, the AE confirms that they have followed the appropriate manuscript preparation guidelines, reviews documentation for third-party permissions, and prepares the manuscript for transmittal to a production editor.

In many cases an AE administers one or more series, each of which may have one or more series editors. A series editor is a professor or other expert who helps define the scholarly or editorial direction for a series, solicits and evaluates projects, and acts as a champion for books published within the series. The exact duties of a series editor will vary by press and by series.

Once an AE and the author agree that a manuscript is final, a production editor (PE) takes over as the in-house shepherd of the project. In most cases, the PE is responsible for: applying style codes to the manuscript and preparing it for copyediting; hiring and managing freelance copyeditors; sending the copyeditor’s markup to the author for review, integrating the final corrections to the copy, and transmitting the manuscript for design and typesetting; sending layout proofs to the author, reviewing the author’s corrections, proofreading the author’s index, checking updated proofs to confirm that all changes were made correctly; copyediting and proofreading jacket copy and late additions to books such as forewords; incidental copyediting and proofreading, such as for seasonal catalogs; and maintaining house style guides. For some projects, a PE may also serve as the copyeditor.

Copyeditors (CEs) are typically freelancers who are responsible for ensuring that manuscripts adhere to house style guidelines. They edit for spelling, usage, grammar, and style; are attuned to best practices in bias-free language use; and watch for and query missing documentation of sources. A CE’s queries to the author or PE may include questions about the author’s intended meaning or suggestions for changes that are not essential but may improve the clarity or subjective quality of the text.

For more information, see “What is the role of the copyeditor?” and “What is the difference between copyediting and proofreading?” on the Ask UP site.

—University of South Carolina Press, November 2021