As the publishing industry continues to evolve, the managing editorial department remains crucial to the life of a book. We spoke with Meredith Dros, Executive Managing Editor of Penguin Publishing Group, for a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on in the world of your managing editors, and how their group works to prepare your book for publication.
What is a managing editor’s role in the publishing process?
The managing editor is really the traffic-control center of the book’s overall production process. Once the author and editor have done their work, the editor hands the manuscript over to the managing editor, who then makes sure it gets to the interior designer and copy editor with all relevant instructions. We check in frequently along the way to make sure everything is going according to the schedule we need to meet so that the books will be ready by their on-sale date. We also coordinate with the art department to concept the jacket or cover for the book. We monitor the plant and manufacturing costs for each title. The managing editors are also responsible for ordering advance reading copies—ranging from a very simple bound manuscript to a fully designed galley with special effects on the cover—which are coordinated closely with the marketing and publicity groups. Anyone who has a random question should go to the managing editor. If we can’t help, we will figure out who can. Each imprint handles things a little differently, but the shared bottom line is this: Managing editorial is a service department.
Has the role of a managing editor evolved in the past few years?
Things are always changing for us, which is one of the reasons I love working in managing ed. Of course, there was a huge evolution in how we do our work when electronic workflow was introduced. No more piles of manuscripts everywhere! It took a long time to convince some people that copyediting and reviewing copy on screen were going to be okay, but now this is all second nature. We keep the schedules and track and communicate all changes, and this used to be done with data entry on Excel spreadsheets with no central title database. Now, everything is in one central location. Communication is still really important, but there is no more keying titles and ISBNs into outside systems. It is a huge time-saver and cuts down on the chance of human error.
Does your work vary depending on a book’s format? How so?
It does sometimes. In the adult group, we deal with hardcovers, paperbacks, and unjacketed hardcovers—which we refer to as paper-over-board—and the workflow is similar for each of those. The biggest factor for us is if a book has art in it. If a book has photos or illustrations, those pieces of art have to be transmitted to the design group in a very specific way so they know which photo goes where—which is actually more complicated than it sounds! Especially if you have many photos, like in a cookbook. If the photos will be printed in color, that adds extra time to the schedule and extra costs to the production. The resolution of the art provided is also important to ensure that the art will reproduce well. Sometimes we ask the design team to create a map or even re-create art that has been submitted but may not be suitable for printing.
What kinds of trends are you seeing emerge regarding the printing process and book packaging?
Color in cookbooks! Cookbooks have become so gorgeous. I remember when I started here twenty years ago, cookbooks were printed one-color, two-color if they were really fancy. They would usually have an insert that showed beautiful photos of maybe eight or sixteen recipes. You could never sell a cookbook like that today. They are all full-color, fully designed, and are art pieces in themselves. I love seeing them come together.
What is one thing you’d like authors to take away from the managing editor’s process?
The managing editor has to consider everyone’s needs. Everyone’s goal is to do the best job for the book, but everyone also comes at it from an individual perspective, be they editorial, marketing, copyediting, etc. The managing editor must consider everyone’s needs and do their best to meet them all. This may mean negotiating a little more time for the proofreader and less time for production; trying to balance the costs to afford a special effect on a jacket; or talking an editor through a tricky scheduling conflict. It is not a glamorous or high-profile part of the process, and if we do our job right, you may never know we were there!
Casey Blue James is Director, Business Development at Penguin Random House.