Should Editors Get Credited in Books?

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Movies do it with credits; magazines do it in the masthead — so why not books?

It’s been a question I’ve asked myself and others in the industry and never really received a satisfying answer. The most interesting thing I’ve heard goes something like:

“Because the book is all about the author and book industry people don’t want the spotlight anywhere else. When congratulated on a great accomplishment upon the release of a new title, the editor will step back, blush and sheepishly say, ‘I had almost nothing to do with it — it was all the author.'”

As I said, no satisfying answer.

It seems to me that at a time when book publishing companies are struggling to create brands that one small way in doing it would be putting the people behind the book front and center and give them some credit for the work they do on the book. (Random House is doing this in a big way, but I’ll save that for another blog post.)

Move credits and magazine mastheads give credit to every person who had anything to do with the creation of the product. As a result, many moviegoers look forward to the next Pixar release or next Woody Allen film; many magazine readers know what they’re getting out of David Remnick, editor-in-chief of the New Yorker. Why not do the same for books?

A post today on the An American Editor blog turns the question on its head: Do editors want to be credited?

Here are some questions the anonymous blogger asks:

(a) How much control over the final product does an editor really have? (b) Can an author credit an editor without the editor’s approval? (c) What can an editor do to prevent or get acknowledgment by the author? (d) What harm or good can an acknowledgment do? (e) Who determines whether the final book is of low quality or high quality? (f) Does an acknowledgment really matter?

These questions were prompted by the concept that an editor wouldn’t want their name associated with poor work. The rest of the post goes on to discuss whether people read the acknowledgements section and whether any acknowledgement for the editor matters and how one can prevent being mentioned if one so desires.

The blogger’s conclusion:

So in the end, I come down on the side that says it doesn’t matter. With more than 1.5 million books published each year in the United States alone, it doesn’t even matter statistically. Unless the book garners a wide audience, in which case it would be a bestseller and the editor’s belief that it is of low quality matters not at all, it is unlikely that more than a few people will read the book, some of whom will believe it is a 5-star contribution to literature and some of whom will view it as a 1-star insult.

The post doesn’t really consider the existence of a masthead-like page, where editors, publishers, marketers, publicists, designers, developers, salespeople, interns and executive leadership of a publishing company and/or imprint would be acknowledged — not with a personal message from the author, but as a perfunctory measure in list form.

Read more at An American Editor

I would suggest it would have the following effect:

— Readers who cared to look would see all the people and work that goes into producing a book

— Editors, marketers, etc (especially those in the lower ranks) could point out their name in each work they helped create with pride — this creates an added benefit to working in the industry as well as an enhanced marketing channel of book industry folks who would be further incentivized to promote their titles

— Journalists who wanted to find out more about a particular book or author would have a bevy of names to contact

— Readers could learn to follow star editors or publishers who acquire and produce work they love

— Publishing companies could begin to think about their own public-facing brand in how they crafted these pages and who they included

It’s a small step, but potentially a significant one.

I’ll leave you with a story.

Last week at BEA, I had the pleasure of spending some time with my uncle Ilan Greenfield (he’s really my dad’s cousin, but that’s what I call him). Ilan was in town because he runs a small publishing company out of Israel called Gefen Publishing. Gefen mostly publishes books in English to sell in the U.S., like this one and this one (full disclosure: these books are by family members, though the vast majority of Gefen’s catalog is of course not by family members).

Visiting his booth, I noticed something interesting: The Gefen name and logo is on the cover of each one of his books.

When I asked him why this was, he said:

“Once, the New York Times did a big story about one of our books and it was great for the book. They even printed a picture of the cover. When my father read the story, he noticed that it didn’t even mention Gefen once. So we put the logo on the covers in case they publish pictures of them.”

Related: Five Thoughts From My First BEA

Jeremy Greenfield

About Jeremy Greenfield

Jeremy Greenfield is the editorial director of Digital Book World. Opinions presented here are his own. Read more of his work here.

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19 thoughts on “Should Editors Get Credited in Books?

  1. Thanks, Jeremy, for picking up on my An American Editor blog post.

    I would like to correct one point you made in your article. You mentioned, correctly, that I did not discuss a masthead-type page. FYI, a number of publishers use this masthead system to list at least some of the participants in the process. I didn’t address it in my blog because that really is not an acknowledgment by the author, even if the book is self-published. An acknowledgment usually runs “and thanks to Bill Bill for his wonderful editing and catching the many errors I made” whereas a masthead system simply lists Editor: Bill Bill. I do not think the objections to a masthead listing are the same as the objections to an acknowledgment, even if the book is low quality.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Richard.

    I totally agree with you. I tried to make it clear that your post wasn’t really about what I’m writing about. I just used it as a jumping off point.

    I also tried to talk a little bit about the difference between a masthead and an acknowledgement.

    Thanks for writing and responding!

  3. I recall many years ago being stunned when my partner of the time, having worked for more than a year as Art Director of what would become a standard cookbook, earned no credit at all – not even a tiny one-liner at the back.

    By contrast, any work I produced – no matter how small – for other titles by the same publisher had my name in lights – and quite right too. The difference seemed to be that I was a \contributor\, she was not.

    What struck me then (and now) was the eyes-down self-effacement of the in-house staffers.

  4. I believe most readers have no clue as to what editors do to polish text because they’ve never seen the before and after comparison. Writer’s are sensitive to this so most would shy away from displaying their less-than-perfect drafts to the public. Luckily for me, I found Sean Platt and he allowed me to post marked-up versions of some of his work (you can click on my name to see our site to see what I mean). I believe more editor/writer pairs need to do likewise so the general public has a better appreciation for what editors do.

  5. Some publishers of very complex textbooks do have a tradition of placing “masthead” information on the copyright page. For general adult trade, the publisher leaves the matter entirely to the author. They may choose to acknowledge as many or as few people as they wish, or no one at all.

  6. Hey, how about agents? Don’t you think agents should get their names on the covers of books, like “Deal Negotiated by ICM”? :-)

    • I think it should be up to the publisher of the book, but this is something the agent could negotiate with the publisher or that the publisher might want in the masthead anyway. And if all parties agree that this should be the case, then definitely.

      In movie credits, often many of the companies that were involved in the production of the movie are given some sort of mention. I believe these things are negotiated.

  7. Tor Books has been crediting the editor in their copyright pages for years. (It took some doing to get Editor in Chief Beth Meachum to agree to be listed – she was one of the “It’s the *author’s* book” fraternity.)

    But personally, I’m all in favor. I’d like to know who acquired and polished the book I’m reading. Sometimes I get the info in an acknowledgement placed in a preface by the author (“I’d like to thank my editor, Betty Bluepencil, my agent, Solly Sellsbooks…”), but more often, I may simply not know.

    There’s a lot of confusion on the part of the reader on what part the editor plays in a book and what value having an editor adds, and more indication that a book wouldn’t exist or be as good as it is without an editor is a good thing.

  8. A number of years ago the publisher of Levenger Press, Steve Leveen, started insisting that the name of the editor appear in the book. Full disclosure: that would be me, and I must admit I still feel uncomfortable about it. On the other hand, we also credit our book designer, which I very much enjoy doing.

    I think the credit idea is good because it lets readers see that many eyes and hands go into the making of a book–editors, proofreaders, designers, printers/programmers. This, in turn, may help to underscore the value of a book. It’s not just a manuscript that can go directly to print or to epub. The continuing undervaluation of books by those that sell them for less than the price of a latte is disturbing; showing the reader that the final product requires a collaborative effort in support of the author may help to change this.

  9. I can see internal squabbles arising over who should/shouldn’t get credited on a masthead: say, an editor who signed the contract wants his/her name on it as editor even though s/he handed off the actual editing to a junior editor; or an art director who freelanced out the design wants to credit that designer but s/he isn’t staff so the company doesn’t want that person listed by name; the production editor or copy editor who was the one who really found the massive error or solved the problem with the book but who labors in obscurity…Not only do most readers not care who edited the book, but the masthead may not accurately reflect who did that work. This is just opening a can of worms that isn’t going to be worth it.

  10. I would enjoy knowing the core team (not every person) who helped midwife the book, especially the agent, editor, and art director. I am starting to notice award winning books passing through the hands of the same people, and it would make a difference to me in the selection of what I might read. I may find that books of my taste tend to match an agent’s or editor’s taste.

  11. No, an editor”s credit is not needed. The idea that a specific editor edited a book and that is the reason I would buy it is a little silly. The arguments in the article do not even work–Pixar is the movie company and publishing houses put their names on a book so that is not an issue; a director is a creative position, an editor is not the same. This seems more about ego gratification than anything else.

  12. At a time when everyone is questioning the value of publishers, I agree it would be helpful to let people see how many people besides the author contribute to the value of a book! And, Will Ash, you may think that editors are not doing creative work, but in nonfiction publishing there are some fields and some books in which editors not only shape the end product but may wind up writing practically every word!

  13. At Eternal Press and Damnation Books, we credit the editors and cover artist on the credits page inside the book. Some retailers do ask for that metdata information as well–Amazon for one–and we fill in those text boxes. I have had authors get upset about it but not many. Most realize it’s the right thing to do.

  14. No, no, and hell no. With all due respect to their contributions, editors do not — or should not — write the book. They only clean it up. I would hate to see any incentive offered to encourage editors to go above and beyond their traditional role, for the sake of a little ego-boo. If a book needs more than light copyediting, frankly, it should go back to the author until the author learns his/her craft and gets it right. Allowing editors to meddle with the text is an invitation to mediocrity.

    Case in point: the oft-lauded Maxwell Perkins. He is often credited with “salvaging” Thomas Wolfe’s masterpiece, “Look Homeward, Angel”. The legend says that Perkins pulled a classic work out of the enormous mess that Wolfe submitted. That’s been the story for 80 years or so — until Arlyn and Matthew Bruccoli pieced together Wolfe’s original manuscript and republished it as “O Lost” in 2000. Suddenly, the world that the much-vaunted editing of Maxwell Perkins had turned a work of genius into something less.

    Again, I offer no disrespect to the editors of the trade, but assuming their contribution is as worthy of mention as the creative work of a writer is an insult to the author.

  15. Actually in Taiwan, we list all the info about these “people behind the stage,” including chief editor, managing editor, cover design…. Some even list their printing info. I have no idea why, but it somehow makes me proud when seeing my name on it.

  16. I’ve written a book, been an Executive Director on a couple of indie movies and was even on the masthead of a major magazine for awhile. I think it’s a great idea to to have something like a masthead for all the people who worked on a book.

    I didn’t do any writing, or editing, and still was on the masthead of that magazine (call it as an ‘advisor’). And as an Executive Producer on the movies, my contributions were small. But the editor of a book really helps to make the book better.

    The editor for the book that I wrote was terrific (it was a computer how-to book, not a novel). I really learned a lot from her. I was _very_ grateful for the work that my editor did, and very impressed with her skills. I would have been happy to see her name right below mine, essentially saying: look, this person contributed significantly to this book.

  17. I’ve always found the practice of excluding the editor’s name from the copyright page rather bizarre. After all, it’s been common practice for ages to include the cover and interior designers’ names as well as illustrators often inside and on the cover of the book. Editors make a significant contribution, not the least of which is the fact that the publishing house acquired the book in the first place. There’s the editing itself, but then there is also the role of the “book shepherd” as editors oversee the entire process from manuscript to shelf.

    I love the masthead idea. It isn’t just an ego boost–it’s an acknowledgement of often a year or more of hard work contributing to the ultimate form you hold in your hands. It’s important for people in the industry to have tangible evidence of the work they’ve accomplished. It’s interesting to many readers (it was my interest in who published which books that led to my own career in book publishing), and especially interesting to authors who actually care about the industry in which they’re building a career. So many would-be authors have zero concept of what it actually takes to get a book to press, and seeing such a masthead of folks involved in directly producing each book would be educational. There’s also a bit of a geeky element in that, as with films where people often follow the work of preferred directors or production teams, readers might come to recognize that their tastes align with certain editors and thus have a new way of judging what books they may want to read in a world of ever-increasing choices.

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