But for the most part, they’re going to work at their respective houses, considering agented submissions, building their house lists, and growing their relationships with their authors and illustrators. The average writer will not spend a lot of time interacting with “closed house” editors unless they go out on submission with a literary agent, or have a book deal already.
Editors at publishers that accept unsolicited submissions are a bit different. They want to attract talent, so they may be more public about their wants and personalities, online and at conferences. You may be able to submit to them, so you may interact with them one day, even if you don’t have a literary agent.
When you consider the question of “what do book editors do?”, remember that, while every editor at a publishing house has their own taste and talent, they work for their publishing house. They have to keep their houses’ particular brand in mind, as well as that of their imprint, and they have to choose projects that they believe will make both artistic and business sense. That’s why it can often be a big hurdle to be acquired by a publishing house.
- What do book editors do when they work for themselves? These are the editors you’re more likely to encounter if you want to invest in your own writing craft and hire professional editing services. A freelance book editor will take on projects directly from writers, perform the service of giving feedback on the manuscript, and, usually, answer questions about the scope of work. Since they make money by providing editing, they are very willing to hear from new clients, and it’s much easier and more straightforward to work with them. For a fee.
- While most publishing house editors do not charge their authors for their services (they are paid by their publishers–self-publishing and hybrid publishing editors are an exception here), freelance editors charge for their work, whether your book ends up being published or not. They provide a service in a work-for-hire sense. The service is a manuscript critique that, they hope, you will use to revise your project and make it stronger and more successful.
Of course, you have to vet the editor very carefully and make sure they’re a good fit for you. You also should have some sort of agreement for the service that outlines the scope of work. What do book editors do? Well, that depends on what type of editor they are, and which editing services they offer.