Jack of All Trades (and Schools and Libraries)

About six weeks ago, a friend and fellow newcomer to the publishing industry showed me this piece from Publisher’s Weekly. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Quick summary: independent editor Marjorie Braman muses on the job description of editors who still work on the “inside” (publishing houses), as opposed to freelancing. Pull quote: “…editing is no longer an editor’s main function.”

Editing is fun, but it’s not an editor’s only job.

My first thought upon reading this: Bingo! As the most junior editor on staff at Lerner, I’m a prime candidate for a jack of all trades. (At least the trades that don’t require years of experience to master.) On a typical day of working on Lerner Publications titles, I may do all of the following activities, among others:

  • creating a photo wish list, which tells a book’s photo editor what kinds of images a book will need 
  • brainstorming cover copy to run by the folks in marketing
  • making a style sheet (essentially, a list of proper nouns, made-up words, and extra-quirky onomatopoeia that our copyeditor needs to know about when she checks a book for errors)
  • combing through the Common Core State Standards to see whether/how much/in what ways Topic X is supposed to be covered in grades 1-3
  • receiving illustration sketches for a book, sending them to the author, then merging the author’s feedback with the designer’s feedback and the editorial director’s feedback and any thoughts that I happen to have in my own pretty little head, and sending them in concise, coherent form back to the illustrator
  • writing a blog post
  • some editing
So indeed, if my duties were a pie chart, editing would be a comparatively slim slice of the pie. Should that bother me? Of course, I’m a rookie, about two ladder rungs removed from doing coffee runs; not only does it make perfect sense for me to have a mix of duties, but I’m actually very lucky not to be pigeonholed into a narrow job description. Down the road, though, will I perhaps find myself no longer a rookie, but rather a seasoned editor, making acquisitions and negotiating contracts and finally mastering the mysterious art of networking, and still doing very little editing?
I’ve still got a lot to learn.

Maybe–though I think I would be unwise to make predictions. Every workplace is different, and every moment in an industry’s development demands different responsibilities of those who work in it. Plus, in case I haven’t said it enough, I’m new at this: What do I know?
Actually, I do know one thing. For now, at least, I enjoy my eclectically sliced task-pie. And I can’t really imagine not being involved in any of these non-editing activities. The way I edit a book is so intimately connected with the images that will supplement the text, with the skills and lessons we want to help kids grasp, and with the way we describe the book to the outside world, that taking those concerns away would leave me in an editing void. Which is an oxymoron, because you can’t edit in a void, any more than you can write in one. 
For me, part of the magic of editing lies in seeing how it’s intertwined with the other aspects of book-making. I consider myself fortunate that my work at Lerner allows me to stay involved with those other pieces of the puzzle, and I like to think my editing will be the better for it.