Inside APA Books: Life as a Development Editor

by David Becker

This post is part of series that looks behind the scenes of the publication process at APA Books.

Like most publishers, the publication process with APA Books begins with an acquisitions editor who works with a book’s authors or editors to come up with a book proposal and write a draft manuscript. And like most publishers, the process ends with a production editor who turns the manuscript into an actual book. Unlike some publishers, however, APA Books has development editors who review the manuscript between the acquisitions and production stages.

Development editors are the quality assurance specialists of APA Books. We engage deeply with the content of the manuscript. We give the draft manuscript a detailed read to make sure that it matches the book proposal, that the material is presented clearly and is well structured, and that the book will meet the needs of its target audience. We give detailed feedback to the authors offering suggestions for improvement, and help them navigate the peer reviews. That’s why a lot of authors like to publish with us. They know that we will work with them to make their book the best it can possibly be.

Although development editors are very detail-oriented, we are mostly concerned with the book as a whole. It’s like solving a puzzle: We need to make sure all the pieces fit together nicely to form a coherent image. This can be challenging sometimes, for instance with an edited volume in which each a chapter is written by a different set of authors, as the book as a whole can end up somewhat disjointed and inconsistent. That’s why one of the most common recommendations we make is strengthen the book’s Introduction chapter, which helps bring cohesion to the rest of the book.

One of the things I love most about my job is that I get learn a lot about various psychology topics. But I have, at best, an educated lay reader’s knowledge of psychology. That’s why we obtain feedback from peer reviewers during development. They’re the ones who make sure that the book is scientifically up-to-date and accurate. The peer reviewers are often part of the book’s target audience as well—or, for books aimed at students, are professors of readers among the target audience—so they are also in a good position to judge the book’s appeal. Our editorial intern usually sets up three peer reviews. Once they arrive, I read them and integrate their most substantial comments into my editorial review. Peer reviewers sometimes have contrasting opinions, so I often act as an arbiter in these cases, weighing in with my opinion and suggesting how the authors might address these different recommendations for revisions. This can be very challenging when two peer reviewers have drastically different reactions to a book—for instance, when one hates the book and thinks that it will need a lot of work before it can published, but the other loves it and feels that it’s good as is. When this happens, the development editor’s guidance is essential for the author.

Once the revised manuscript arrives, I write the book description that will appear on the back cover, as well as other descriptions of the book that our marketing department will use in promotional materials. I also note any recurring issues the copyeditor needs to watch out for and tie up all the administrative loose ends, which can take a fair amount of time and effort.

On average, I’m working on five or six manuscripts at once—although at one time I was working on ten manuscripts simultaneously—all of them in different stages of development. So, being a development editor means being able to keep track of lots of different details for multiple projects. And you need to be able to work fast. If I spend too much time on one manuscript, the others can fall behind, and I will be assigned new manuscripts in the meantime.

Even though the job can be stressful, it’s very gratifying in the end. Not only is it a great way to learn about psychology, but it’s rewarding to hold the printed book in my hands when it comes off press, knowing that I played some role to help shape its contents and contribute to the broader psychological literature in my own small way.

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