Our friends at Level Ground Comics recently opened applications for new editors, so I thought this would be a perfect time to discuss what the role of a comics editor actually is. Whether you're interested in becoming an editor yourself, or you're simply a comics artist hoping to be published one day, it's important to know what editors do and how to work with them.
Please note that all publishers work slightly differently, so this information may not apply to everyone, but this is what I've learned to generally be true based on conversations I've had with editors and other publishing professionals.
So what exactly is the job of an editor? Well it depends what kind of editor you're talking about! There are many different kinds of editors involved in comics publishing, such as acquisitions editors, developmental editors, managing editors, line editors, proofreaders, and even freelance editors. Depending on the publisher, a single editor may take on all of these roles, some, or just one of them. So let's go over them all!
Acquisitions editors acquire works for publishers. Essentially, acquisitions editors are the people who give you jobs! They look through pitch packets and select stories for publication. They hire freelance illustrators, colorists, and letterers to work on existing projects, and they attend cons, expos, and other events looking for artists to possibly work with in the future.
When working with acquisitions editors, it’s important to always be polite and professional. Harassing an editor can get you blacklisted from the publishing industry, so take this very seriously. I also recommend that you treat your professors and peers at SCAD like they are acquisitions editors. You never know which of your classmates could be an editor in the future, and you want them to think highly of you.
When seeking publication, you should not send cold submissions directly to acquisitions editors. Make sure to send your pitch packets and portfolios through the correct channels, or the editor most likely won’t look at your submission. Additionally, acquisitions editors look at pitch packets, not completed comics. If you submit a finished comic to an editor, they have nothing to edit, and therefore they are extremely unlikely to acquire it.
This is what people typically think of when they think of an editor. Developmental editors collaborate with writers and artists to further develop their story. The developmental editor that a writer/artist works with is typically the same acquisitions editor that acquired the story. The developmental editor checks in with the writer/artist at various stages in the comic production process to offer feedback on how to improve their work. For example, the developmental editor may check in with you during the thumbnailing stage, the pencilling stage, then the inking stage, etc. Most of their communication and feedback will be given over email.
When working with a developmental editor, it is important for you to carefully consider all of their critique. While you are not required to take all of your editors' feedback, it is a red flag if you don’t take any of their feedback. Remember that your editor is there to help you improve, and you can’t improve much if you don’t take critique. On a similar note, do not talk back to your editor if you disagree with their feedback. It comes across as very rude.
In general, proper communication is key. Listen to your editor, and they will listen to you. For example, if you need a deadline extension, they may be able to grant it to you as long as you communicate in advance that you’d like an extension. Above all, don’t ghost your editor. If you refuse to communicate at all, your editor will likely terminate your partnership.
Managing editors manage the production of a book or comic. They decide the comic's production timeline and set deadlines. They also take care of important administrative tasks like making sure each edition of your book/comic has an ISBN number, and submitting your book to the Library of Congress if you publish in the USA. They are an essential part of any publisher.
Line editors edit prose at the sentence-level. Line editors do not edit your story structure. They edit for things like spelling and grammar, as well as word choice and sentence structure. In comics, a line editor will edit all of your dialogue and captions. Their goal is to make your sentences as effective as possible.
Proofreaders check for any last-minute changes that need to be made before a book or comic’s publication. This is the very last step in the editorial process. Proofreaders check for any small mistakes that may have slipped through the cracks. These are usually spelling and grammar errors, but in comics, proofreaders will search for flaws in the artwork as well. Proofreaders may even review an actual printed copy of the comic to check for printing errors as well.
While most editors work in-house at a publisher, there are also freelance editors you can hire if you wish to self-publish. They typically do all the same work an editor at a publisher would do, but they work for you instead of for a publisher. I highly recommend looking into freelance editors if you intend to self-publish, as they can be an invaluable resource.
Do any of these editorial jobs sound interesting to you? Then maybe you should become a comics editor! If you are a current student at SCAD interested in working in comics publishing, I recommend joining Level Ground Comics. LGC is a student-run small press publisher with a mission to level the playing field between beginner and professional artists, and they help students gain editorial experience along the way. Check out their Instagram, @levelgroundcomics, for more information.