Susy Flory suggested I blog on a “day in the life of an editor.”

I work best from lists, so I always have a list of to-do tasks close at hand. Every day I work down the list and if I finish that task, I cross it off. Most tasks stay on my list for several days as I like to break up my work into small chunks when I can. (Sometimes I can’t…especially if there’s a printer date for a book looming). Here then are some of the tasks on my daily list:

* If you’ve read my blog, you know I’m very big on staying in touch with the publishing industry. I work, really, in a community (as do you, if you’re a writer). A community of editors, writers, readers, and various and sundry other interested people. Staying in touch with that community is important for both editors and writers. So, for that reason, my day begins with about a half an hour of checking the blogs and the publishing news sites I like. I hope you do that too.

* At any given time I almost always have one or more manuscripts that I’m actively editing. I’m a substantive editor, so what I do is make sure the book is what we want from the author and that it “flows” well. If not, I either make some changes or ask the author to make those changes. A substantive edit usually takes me 30-50 hours depending on the manuscript. When I’m finished, I turn it over to the copyeditor for yet another edit. When an author is late turning in their manuscript, I may have to hurry my edit. That will mean spending several hours a day on it. I’d much rather spend three or four hours a day on it and then set it aside and move onto the next thing on my list. Editing requires intense focus. I can only maintain that focus for so long and then I temporarily burn out. I like to avoid that, so I love it when manuscripts are turned in on time or even early.

* Next on my list is looking at new submissions. I’m the manuscript coordinator at Harvest House, so I maintain the log on which we keep track of the solicited manuscripts we want to review. I log them into the appropriate editor and log them out when they are either rejected by the editor or contracted for publication. This takes about 45 minutes to an hour a day.

* Then I have my own pile of manuscripts to review. These are proposals from authors I’ve met at conferences or have agreed to look at by some other means. The time I spend on this usually depends on how far behind I am and how much other work I have to do. Right now I’m able to review and get back to an author within about a month. If I hold something longer than that, it’s usually a good sign for the author (but not always!). I know someone will ask how long do you spend reviewing each manuscript? There again, it depends. The longer I’m reading, the better for you. It is true, however, that sometimes I can tell within the first 30 seconds if the book will be a good fit for us. Certain genres of fiction, for instance, just do not sell well for us, no matter how well written. If I see a well-written manuscript that’s not a good fit for us, I do tell the author why it’s not a good fit and I usually suggest their next step is to find an agent who can take the proposal to a more appropriate publisher. Believe me when I say that the hardest part of my job is turning down truly wonderful manuscripts that deserve to be published, but are not a good fit for us.

* My list of daily duties includes several that aren’t work related. I have two short breaks where I go down to our “quiet room” at Harvest House and do some stretches or exercises.

* I also have on my list some very short tasks that help break up the day. For instance, I have on my list “clean desk.” That means every day or two I just take five minutes or less and try to keep my desk organized. Another short task is “clean email.” I have about 600 emails in my inbox. Most are old and I’m keeping them for one reason or another, but some of the newer ones need attention and for ten or fifteen minutes a day, I work through the accumulated email. (Most emails I respond to when I get them, but others I leave for this particular part of my day’s duties).

* On my list I have the names of the authors I’m either working with now or will be soon and as I come to their name on the list each day, I ask myself if there’s anything I need to do regarding that author. Usually it’s about checking on their progress on a project. Sometimes it’s more along the lines of writing their back cover copy or catalog copy for their upcoming book. Or perhaps “merging” their galleys or doing a “final read” check. Every manuscript we’re going to publish goes through several stages, most of which involve some sort of action on my part if it’s by an author for whom I’m the editor. Usually this part of my list is reserved for tasks that are short (5-30 minutes) and not part of the substantive edit mentioned above. There are currently seven authors on my list.

* I do also have on my list time to take a five-minute prayer or Bible reading break. There are a few other minor five-minute duties such as “tend to the plants” in my office, straighten shelves, or read from a book on writing (right now I’m reading The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers. It’s excellent. I highly recommend it–though the edition I’m reading is an earlier one than the revised edition in the link).

* Finally, there are always a few unexpected tasks that come up. Meetings, phone calls, interacting with my colleagues here—really just a lot of unpredictable duties that find their way into my day.

I usually conclude my day by seeing where I am on my list and taking stock of what I’ll be starting with tomorrow. (I don’t always make it through the entire list in one day and so I begin again the next day where I left off. I do read blogs every day though).

That’s pretty much it. I love my job, but to keep it fresh, every couple of weeks I’ll rearrange the order of my list. And, too, the names of the authors change as new projects are assigned to me.

If you’d like any more information about any specific part of my duties, ask away.

6 replies
  1. Patrick Craig says:

    Whew! What do you do for the rest of the day?? I liked what you said about taking the editing in smaller pieces instead of working on one thing for hours. When I was recording records, we would mix for about 2 hours and then go on to something else, because our ears literally wore out and we couldn’t hear certain frequencies any more. I do my writing that way – in two hour shifts, then a break and then on to something else I’m working on. Keeps my brain fresh Very informative article Nick, thanks!

  2. Michael K. Reynolds says:


    How do manage to do your own writing as well? Does that draw from a different pool of enthusiasm or does it blend into the rest of your workday? Or is it like my kids where they may be full for dinner, but there’s always room for dessert? Also, in the past, how have you scheduled in your days to accomodate your writing? This is a process I’m working through myself.

  3. Jan Cline says:

    How do you choose what to read for your own personal reading? I want to read in my genre and also read books on writing, but I don’t know what is best to make priority. Im not a fast reader like some and I have to pick and choose.

  4. Nick says:

    Michael, that’s my biggest challenge. Mostly now I work on proposals for books I want to do. I have eleven proposals complete and being shopped around by my agent. I have another 30 books on my “wish” list to write. Before you faint dead away, let me assure you that most of those will likely not even get to the proposal stage. And for the ones that do, I likely won’t live long enough to complete them. I just try to be an idea and proposal factory of sorts. Once I have a contract for a book, that acts as a marvelous stimulous. Somehow I have no problems finding time when I actually have a signed contract!

    Jan, my reading is in spurts now. I do that small amount of reading at work and then I have several books going (slowly) at home. You should see my “to be read” pile. When my daughter last counted it, there were 125 books waiting. It’s grown since then. I’ll never read them all, but I keep adding to the pile. Believe me there is no shortage of books to read in this house. I don’t always read in the genre I want to write. I just read what is appealing to me at the moment.

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