Editing, specifically book editing, is simply the conception, planning and specifying of the contents of a book, in cooperation with the author, for the purpose of transmitting the author’s message to the reader in the best, most satisfying and most profitable way possible (Festus Adesanoye).
The editor’s main role is that of an experienced intermediary who ensures the successful delivery of the author’s ideas for the information, education, instruction or amusement of the reader.
The editor sees to the development of the manuscript; the selection, preparation and styling of the manuscript; and the organisation of the entire editorial process.
When selecting or rejecting a manuscript he/she puts a lot of factors into consideration:
- a) Does the manuscript fit into the list of his publishing house?
- b) Does the manuscript conflict in any way with the books already accepted by his publishing house?
- c) Are the lists of manuscripts in his publishing house already crowded with similar texts?
- d) Is the subject matter of the book one which has proved unsuccessful for the particular publishing house in the past; and
- e) Most importantly, is there a ready market for the book if eventually published?
It is not until all these factors have been carefully considered – the literary sophistication of the author has very little to do with the publishability or not of his manuscript – that the editor decides, regretfully, to decline.
Unlike the popular picture painted in the mind of an author, of a hard-to-please editor, gloating over all the manuscripts he rejected; is the more real imagery of an experienced professional, seeking to make objective book decisions, acceptable for public consumption and for profitability.
The editor, indeed, tries to make the process of rejection as painless as possible to the author, and he achieves this by writing as gracious a note as is possible in the circumstances.
Here is a sample of a letter of rejection fashioned by the editor of a Chinese journal:
We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of a lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that, in the next thousand years, we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity (Cited in Festus Adesanoye, The Book in Nigeria).
It is true that the standard rejection note is not as ebullient in tone as this one, but the real goal of the exercise is to say ‘thanks, but no’ in the most pleasant way possible.
Modified from: Festus Adesanoye, The Book in Nigeria: Some Current Issues, Ibadan University Press, 1995.