So your association has a publication, now what? Do you have an editor? Do you know that you need one?

Editing plays an important role in the publishing process; some would even argue that editing is an art. You may have talented writers, but their work will never be drop-in ready.

Ever wondered what goes into the work of an editor? I mean after they proofread for errors. Sure, they’re detail oriented, but editors are more than just grammar police. Editors provide structure and direction to a publication’s workflow, and their skill set may be more diverse than you realize. Here are six things every good editor should know.

1. Reading through just once is not an option – You will read it again, and again, and again.

No matter how short or long, an editor will read an article many times before it is published. From the initial read of the manuscript, to the multiple times through before passing to graphic design, to the numerous reviews of the laid out proof, an editor is looking at different aspects of the piece each time they go through it.

A good editor knows they won’t make all edits the first time through. Every time the article changes formats, they’ll comb through it again. The eyes will catch different things at each stage in the process. 

2. Not all edits are necessary, so think twice before you change something.

Editors don’t make excessive changes just because they can. It doesn’t take much to completely change the meaning of a sentence, and that is typically not the goal. This is not to say an editor refrains from making necessary edits; good editors don’t let embarrassing mistakes slip through! But, they don’t go overboard with editorial power either.

An editor knows to go slowly and make the fewest edits possible while still ensuring the piece is something to be proud of. Make edits to remain true to what the author is trying to say and preserve their voice as much as you can. The author trusts you to transform their work into the best version of itself, not the chopped and changed version.

3. Organization is essential.

Depending on the size of the operation, an editor may work mostly alone or with a team of editors. Regardless, editors must be organized. There are many moving parts to putting a publication together; it’s an editor’s job to develop and maintain an organized workflow and stick with it. Putting in the effort up front always pays off in the end.

4. A publication needs consistency, and it’s your job to deliver it.

An editor finds and fixes areas that lack consistency. If an object is referred to as a Whatsit here, it better be called a Whatsit next time it’s discussed, not a whats-it or a Whosit! Consistency should be present in more than just word choice, too. Every detail of the layout, themes, and formatting must be considered. A published work should have cohesiveness across the details – a good editor is not afraid to get technical to make it happen!

5. Know who the audience is and how they interact with the publication.

An editor knows roughly who the readers are and how they choose to engage with the publication. Are they all subscribers? What’s the average demographic? Is there high turnover in readership? How do they like to consume the content? Are they reading a print or digital format? All of these things are significant for the editor’s decisions as they put the publication together.

6. You’re not an island and you don’t work in a vacuum.

It’s easy to feel like the success of the publication rests on your shoulders… after all, so many depend on the editor to deliver content that can be turned into a quality product. And once that product finds its way into the world, it’s not uncommon to never hear feedback. But if you constantly feel like an island in a vacuum, you may be doing it wrong!

A good editor leans on their production team and builds a system of “checks and balances.” They use resources (such as other editors or writing references) and they delegate. They break through the vacuum by keeping one foot in the world of their audience – keeping tabs on what readers are up to and seeking out feedback.

Despite the importance of editing work and how much effort is poured into it, it’s never about the editor. It’s about the publication, the authors, the audience, and quality control.

Article written by:

Kelly Wagner

Managing Editor