(a panel from Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki’s fabulous graphic novel This One Summer)

When you typically think of an editor, the picture that comes up in your mind is someone sitting at a desk writing notes on a manuscript.  I feel like this is just cultural conditioning — the same way that when you think of an apple, what generally comes into your head first is round and red even though apples can be yellow and green and pink and other delicious colors.

Like Rose in the above picture, what our mental picture says is, editors are people who sit and write notes.  Basically, they spend their job reading and responding to books.

In today’s publishing industry, that’s not necessarily an accurate assessment of what an editor’s job is.  It’s definitely not an accurate assessment of the entirety of an editor’s job here at First Second.

That’s not to say that sitting at that desk and editing manuscripts aren’t important.  They are.  They’re a vital part of what editors do, and an essential part of our publishing process here at First Second.  The editorial process, dialogue between an editor and an author about how to make their book the best book possible, is one of the cornerstones of our publishing program at First Second.

But a lot of the time, an editor’s job can feel more like the project manager — the captain of the ship of the book EXCITING NEW GRAPHIC NOVEL.

Within a publishing company, there are lots of people who have to help out with the process of publishing a graphic novel before it goes on sale.

The book needs to get presented to the Acquisition Board before it’s even acquired.  It needs to be spec’d out by production, and the size, paper stock, and cover stock need to be chosen so the price can be figured out.  It needs to go to a designer to be laid out, and possibly lettered.  It needs to go through the managing editor to go to a copy editor and a proof reader so everything is spelled correctly.  The cover needs to be assembled and passed by the Cover Approval Board.  The marketing team needs to read it and figure out how best to market the book, and put together plans for that.  The sales team needs to read it and figure out how best to sell the book, and put together plans for that.  Throughout this process, all these people may need feedback on their different bits.

The editor is in charge of presenting and representing the book as accurately and positively as possible to all of these people so that they’ll all be able to make their parts of the publishing grandfather clock function as smoothly and as accurately as possible so that at the end, the book comes together in a way that the author, the editor, and the publisher are all happy with.

This can involve a whole lot of conversations — conversations about font choice, about cover design, about trim sizes, about marketing plans, about local author contacts, etc.  The editor is the first person that anyone at a publishing company comes to when they have a question about that editor’s book, because the editor is the one who knows the book best (and also is probably just down the hall, as opposed to the author, who’s probably in another state or something).

On the other end of things, the editor is in charge of presenting all of these conversations — as well as the normal general procedure of the inner mechanisms of the publishing process — to the author, who’s wandering around in another state wondering why her publisher is making such mysterious decisions about her book and what she can do about it.

At last count, we here at First Second had something like sixty books signed up that are not yet published.  And that’s as well as the books that we’ve already published that need attention for things like reprints, e-books, events, conferences, awards, re-packaging, and just day-to-day questions from authors.  At any given point, we’re in a ‘crunch mode’ for ten to fifteen of these titles, working to get them to the printer in the next several months — and that’s the point after which the content editing (the part with the sitting at the desk and reading and making notes) has been completed.

So at any point, an editor will be working with tens of authors — hundreds of authors, even — who all have questions and suggestions and want more information.  And an editor will also be working with as many in-house people, who have the same (and different) questions and suggestions and need more information.

So while an editor certainly can (and does!) spend a significant amount of time reading, writing notes, and dealing with creative story-telling challenges, it’s frequently the case that as much — if not more — of her time is spent wearing that ship’s captain/project manager’s hat.