Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed: Assistant- Associate- Senior- Executive- Editor -in Chief -ial Director etc etc

Could you explain exactly what an Editorial Director does? Where does she fit in with the general hierarchy of a publishing company? (I assume she is more senior than a Senior Editor, but is there anyone more senior than her?) Does an Editorial Director have to go through a committee to acquire, just like everyone else, or is she more autonomous?
Ha-ha! I will never tell. The industry is conspiring against you to make this information inaccessible!

Ok, I don't mean that. But I can't tell you the answer, because what an editorial director does, how she fits in the hierarchy of the company, and how she acquires will vary unpredictably from one house to another.

So if I told you what "editorial director" means at my house, my colleagues might be able to figure out which house I work for. Every company uses titles to suit their specific needs and interprets titles according to bureaucratic whim. There's no communal chart for what a particular title means in publishing.

Perhaps some of my publishing readers could give anonymous examples in the comments of what "editorial director" means at their houses.


anonymousme said...

In my bitchy experience, the Editorial Director is the person you never want your agent to send your ms to. She will not ever read it or respond. Not after status checks. Not after months of patiently waiting. She is too busy, or maybe just thinks she is. Regardless, she doesn't care what you think of her, because she is not the eager and willing assistant, trying to build bridges.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, "editorial director" means "I got a new title instead of a raise this year."

Anonymous said...

I too would like the breakdown of a publishing company's editorial staff hierarchy. You hint at it in your title but suggest no clues in your post, only snark and self-adoration. Let's get to the facts and leave yourself out, please. Editors remain in the background, the talent you find and work with stay in the front. Editors are paid to service the talent. That's the way the real hierarchy goes.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Yeah, EA. Please remember, you are the lowly slave and must go and do our bidding.


'It takes all kinds' is more than a bad cliche.

Tara McClendon said...

Maybe it was a trick question to trick you into identifying yourself.

Anonymous said...

Woah! Self-adoration? Which bit was that? I think I missed the snark, too.

Does somebody need a hug and some chocolate?

Anonymous said...

Editorial Director falls somewhere over Senior Editor, and is often a sort of "Executive Editor Plus," but not quite Associate Publisher. Depending on house, this might just be a title, or they might manage the day-to-day business of the list (or a portion thereof, say, only hardcovers) so that the publisher is freed up from having to discuss every single P&L, cover change, etc.

Anonymous said...

To service them?! Urk. That is way TMI.

Literaticat said...

You hint at it in your title but suggest no clues in your post, only snark and self-adoration. Let's get to the facts and leave yourself out, please.

Anon 9:20, this seems like a bizarrely bitter comment to a completely benign post.

All EA said was, I can't tell you how it works at my publisher because I am anonymous, and maybe others will be able to share in the comments. I don't see the snark or self-adoration there.

BUT ANYWAY - in my experience (though of course every publisher does it differently and things do change) it goes something like Publisher - Editorial Director-Senior Editor - Editor - Associate Editor - Assistant Editor (with perhaps some gradations in between, and in some places Publishers and Ed directors acquire, in some they don't).

The higher you go up on the 'food chain', the less hoops they have to go through to acquire. All of the deals I have made where a good offer came in less than a week, came from a publisher or senior editor.

HOWEVER, those people are also the busiest, may not have time to nurture new talent, and may not acquire much because their rosters are full with people they've worked with forever.

The lower you go on the chain, the more likely that the editor is "hungry" and will be looking to acquire - but also the more powerless they are about negotiation and the more rigmarole they'll have to go through to make an offer.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering this as well, since my book is out on submission now, and a number of the editors are editorial directors. I thought this was good, since they had requested the ms, but maybe not so good? I was hoping that if they liked it, they could just buy it without having to jump through a lot of hoops.

Go away google said...

In the UK at least, Editorial Director can sometimes mean 'Person with a lot of clout who runs the department' - that was the case at my last two full-time gigs.

But if you address your submission to them, they'll likely to bung it to someone else for consideration.

Editors are paid to 'service' the talent? We could all think of a few things to say about that. The trouble is, editors *are* paid to keep quiet about certain things. So we do.

Anonymous said...

Where I worked (children's book publisher), the Editorial Director was the big cheese--a sort of uber-editor in charge of the whole imprint, who only edited the big names, and maybe didn't even do much of that anymore. She schmoozed a lot with authors, trying to keep them happy, esp the ones who wanted more money or threatened to jump ship etc. Usually she didn't sit in on the routine meetings, but had to go to lots of meetings with even higher ups. She was kinda scary and I only dealt with her when we did a run-through of slides for sales conference and things like that. (I wasn't an editor.) I think her title was publisher also. Basically she was at the top, then there was an associate publisher, then a bunch of editors, then assist. ed, editorial assistants, then interns.

J. L. Bell said...

“Assistant Editor” - continues to assist an editor, but now does not receive overtime pay and will be judged on how well she manages to acquire titles in between other duties.

“Associate Editor“ - no longer assists an editor, but has no one assisting her.

“Editor” - Associate Editor who has done well enough to get a promotion, but still has no assistant or budget control.

“Senior Editor” - Associate Editor who has done well enough to be hired by another house with a snazzy new title; usually in her late twenties.

“Executive Editor” - has earned the dubious distinction of being involved in budget meetings.

“Editorial Director/Editor in Chief” - even more dubiously involved in all budget meetings.

“(Associate) Publisher” - real power: being able to tell Marketing what to do. Sometimes.

sarah mccarry said...

We only service the talent if it buys us cocktails and a nice steak.

EM said...

At my company the editorial director is the head honcho: reports to the associate publisher, but definitely freer with clout and influence. When I started here, though, the senior editor was the head honcho. Now I am senior editor, and I honch nothing.

Parker said...


Are you really anonymous to everyone? Is there no one in the whole world who knows your secret identity?

Anonymous said...

I've worked at two houses one big one small, and in both cases there was some degree of committee when it came to acquisition. At the bigger more involvement with sales and marketing, at the smaller with editors and company owners. I think one person getting to greenlight something is rare. At least in my experience (which, granted, is limited).

Carol Coven Grannick said...

I think this post is so important. To extend the thought...I think we crush our dreams when we greet the built-in, natural difficulties of the writing life with pessimistic thinking, whether that thinking's about an editor or ourselves. We can change that, too - and that helps to keep the dreams alive.

True Story said...

I had an "in" once at a big house, I knew a guy (a client of mine)who offered to read my first novel. He thought it was good, so he sent it to the Editorial Director at that house and she had the ms for several months. Finally, he got instructions from her to tell me to send my novel to an editor at that house. I was so excited; I thought the Editorial Director approved it and told me to send it to this editor. After months of waiting, I got a rejection letter from him. Very nice, but I was determined to find out who this editor was. I finally did: he was the assistant of the Editorial Director! Why didn't she just pass the ms along to her own assistant, rather than getting my hopes up and having me send a new one there? I never found out the answer, but she's now a big wig at some other house. Editorial Director, my ass.

Anonymous said...

I know of one very good editor who became editorial director at a major house, and hated it because, s/he said, she was no longer dealing with authors and their books, but only editors, and editors present all the problems that authors do, but none of the rewards. S/he is now a hugely successful agent.

Anonymous said...

Executive Editor is the lucky person who gets to fire an editor when the publisher demands staff reduction.

Rachel said...

This is such a relief. I've been writing a book with a character who works at a smaller publishing company and waffled on her title and her boss's. Now I won't feel so stressed about getting it right.


Anonymous said...

My editor is not the boss of everyone, but the boss of many people. I'm sure he could probably have acquired my book without broad consent from Acquisitions. However, he was assiduous in cultivating the support of first his editorial staff and then the sales and marketing team, and I'm very grateful he invested the time and energy.

As a result, everyone read the book before it was acquired. The person who presented my book at ALA was not my editor, yet she had as much affection for the title as I would expect from the person who actually worked on it. A few months after the book came out, another editor from his department took my book along to a conference and read it on the plane. He found himself explaining to his seat mates why he was crying, and one of them turned out to be an elementary school teacher, so he gave her my book for her library. A thousand dollars will not buy you publicity this good. That's what the acquisitions process is for. If you can't get buy in from a dozen people who adore kids books, you'll never get buy in from booksellers who may or may not love kids books.

I am lucky, certainly, and yet I think my experience is not so unusual. There may be a few dorky mean editorial directors in the business, but I have yet to meet them. I think most of them are as hard-working and cautious and passionate as mine. They aren't looking for things to hate, they're looking for stories to love and people they can work with

Nicky said...

At my company, the editorial director is the head of the entire editorial staff. She answers only to the CEO. I think she and the CEO make the final decisions together on which proposals to accept. If you send a proposal, unless the director has specifically requested it, it goes to another editor for review. If it's not godawful, it goes to the director. If she thinks it has potential, she talks to the CEO. I'm always tempted to "lose" the work of people who are pushy, rude, mean, etc.

Anonymous said...

Publisher - oversees some authors but rarely acquires (unless it's a high profile or pet project), gives the final word at acquisitions meeting. Speaks on behalf of the division.

Editorial director/editor-in-chief - oversees an imprint or certain type of book, second in command after the publisher (or associate publisher). At my house they still do attend all typical meetings and acquire extensively.

Senior editor/editor - Acquires on her own, has an assistant (at my house definitely not late 20s - most people only make it to associate at that point).

Associate editor - acquires on her own, no assistant. Tries to prove her worth by acquiring projects that will do well, but also has time to work with authors.

Assistant Editor - Continues to assist, doing all duties of an EA, but also starts acquiring (a bright spot in the muck of admin). Hopes for the day when she no longer needs to assist and can fully focus on her own list. Has actually been editing under boss's name for years, so very skilled at this point.

Editorial assistant - Entry level, mostly administrative with some editorial responsibilities; essentially putting the time in for 2-3 years before being allowed to do more interesting stuff. May actually be editing (with boss overseeing) but won't get credit for it.

Unknown said...

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Jacob Weber said...
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