My Life as a (Rookie) Editor: So What Do You Do Again?

Since I officially became a freelance manga editor only a few weeks ago, there’s been a holiday season (think Christmas-style.)  A few of the parties or dinners I’ve gone to since involved perfect strangers and relatives who haven’t seen me in awhile. A lot of people were asking what I did for a living or what I was up to these days. Had I graduated college yet?

When I told them that I edit manga, I was met with: “That’s the coolest job ever!” and/or “So what exactly do you do?”

While the process of editing comic books and manga might seem obvious to some, it clearly isn’t so obvious to others. Considering how I didn’t even know what it entailed a year ago, I figure there might be some people out there who could benefit from a little divulging.

1.Research- There’s a lot of manga out there. The industry has been going on for so long and is so much bigger in Japan and other countries, but the U.S. has only just started paying attention to manga. So the first step is to get  look up, read and decide which  manga an editor most wants to publish, keeping in mind popularity, tastes, ability to acquire and so on. Once it’s decided by a larger group of people which manga a publisher really really wants, it’s really up to the Japanese publisher to grant them a license. (With some persuasion, of course.)

2. Translation, adaption, editing- Once a manga is on the calendar and it’s a certain number of months ahead of the release date, the manga is translated and adapted, usually by outside sources, and the final script is looked over by editor. This usually involves making decisions like which phrasing to go with if the adapter or translator leaves multiple versions of a line, carefully placing the right fonts at the right places, making sure there isn’t anything missing in the translation and generally correcting errors. Editors also do a pagination so that people involved in laying out the actual comic know what goes where in terms of credits pages, advertisements, illustrations and the like.

3. Copy-editing- After the lettering is done and the English language script and the comic are finally joined together as one, an editor has to make sure that the spelling and grammar is correct as well as making sure that the art is decent and making sure that things are consistent overall. There’s also a bit of re-writing involved just in case something sounds a little awkward or jarring.  This gets done at least 5-6 times and may have many different guises such as quality-checking or “going over the proofs.” It’s the most time-consuming part of the work.

4. Writing copy- Every manga has copy on it’s back cover and, if it’s a continuing series, some preview copy of the next volume. The editors write that and any other related promo copy for the book. (I’ve written promo copy for book trailers and press releases.) There’s also a lot of writing for other things such as newsletters, although that kind of thing is not always tied to a book.

5. Covers- While the designers make the covers, the editors have to sign off on them before they go to the licensor for approval or go to print. Editors make sure they like the concept of the cover art and that all the super-important stuff is in place such as ISBN numbers, age ratings and trademark symbols.

6. Brand managing- While I don’t do this personally as a freelance editor, other editors at TOKYOPOP are in charge of managing the “brands” of the series they work on. I’m actually not entirely sure what their duties are as brand managers, but I imagine that they involve keeping the titles looking consistent and pretty, making sure fans hear about the titles and generally getting them out there.

7. Managing original titles- Most of  the titles put by manga publishers come from other publishers, so they’ve already been through that stage of “this is good, this is not good” stage of editing. Still, there are titles out there that are original to a U.S. manga publishing house, like Bizenghast. Editors who are assigned such titles are supposed to monitor and guide the creators as they work on the title in order to create a better product.

All in all, it’s a super fun job if you like this sort of thing. You have to really not mind looking at the same books at least 2 million times in a short period of time and have good writing skills to like it, but if you don’t, I imagine it gets boring pretty quickly.

I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

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18 Responses to My Life as a (Rookie) Editor: So What Do You Do Again?

  1. Kris says:

    See, I read this, and I’ve studied about editing and copy editing as well…. And when I was reading about that before too, it was just so incredulous to me, that (and I particularly mean given the smaller content size of a manga compared to, oh…a 1,000 page novel) there would still be these glaring errors in there. I understand that mistakes can slip through with anything, but sometimes, you come across a sentence or phrase, or a word here or there, and you wonder…how did this slip by? Like…how did this section of dialog over here get assigned to the wrong character if it was really edited over 6+ times. Or this character’s name misspelled (aren’t there style sheets around?), or a location or character that is spelled 3 different ways in the same book, etc. Gender pronoun mistakes are the worst. That is such a huge headache for a reader. I’ve come across sentences so poorly formed they made absolutely no sense at all, or ones where the incorrect place/event/person was referenced. I’ll buy that because an editor likely goes through a high volume of different books, they just wouldn’t remember or catch those things (or it all starts to blur together)…but again, style sheets.

    Maybe I’m being too harsh or critical, and just don’t fully understand what goes into editing a book. As a reader, anytime I come across an error in the text, I’m completely thrown out of the story. I remember reading the same paragraph of a Robert Jordan novel for several minutes, over and over, until I finally realized that I wasn’t totally crazy…they actually used an incorrect character name (and in fact, one that didn’t even exist). It was the last few pages of the book, and I was wrapped up in the conclusion, and then I was jolted out of the story. And for me, that happens with every misspelled word, out of place punctuation, doubled word, malformed sentence…. (I tried to read a Cormac McCarthy book once, but simply could not turn off the editor switch in my head that made me want to take a pen and put punctuation all over the pages.)

    Now I sound like some entitled bitch who thinks everything should be perfect for my reading benefit and peace of mind. 🙂
    Basically…I can put up with a mistake here or there, because people make mistakes. But there are some times when I simply can’t believe that an error got by multiple perusals.

    • Actually, it’s the same for me. I get a little upset when I see errors and whatnot. I don’t know what to tell you about some of the stuff you might typically see. This is all basically TOKYOPOP-centric stuff when you get down to it. I haven’t edited anywhere else. I feel like TOKYOPOP has a high enough record of not having lots of glaring errors, so perhaps it is simply the fact that smaller pubs can’t afford as many editors. (At least NetComics can’t, it seems. They have very low production values.) Even so, I’ve found errors in Viz stuff too! My guess is that after awhile you just don’t see it. An extra set of eyes is really valuable that way.

      In the end, you have to just be like: it’s just human nature. I know I haven’t found some stuff until almost the last minute and probably made some touch-up people pretty unhappy, but we just can’t be perfect 24/7, you know?

      • Kris says:

        I super appreciate having your insight as someone who actually works for a publisher. Though I feel I should say that the examples I listed were pulled from Tokyopop books. Not only Tokyopop books (Viz is guilty of scattered awkward sentences pretty often), but quite often from there. When I read Tsubasa: Those With Wings…it’s littered in errors, all three volumes. In fact, I think each of the errors I mentioned above appears in every volume. There was a weird misplacement of pages, too, though I imagine that’s easier to look over, or just purposefully ignore if it was a printer error.

        I think I’d be less upset if I wasn’t paying $10 (+) for each book. To me, it feels like if I’m paying that much (and prices go up), that there should be a higher standard of quality. For stuff that’s sort of hastily thrown up onto the digital medium, I expect errors. The point is often to provide a low budget copy so the price is cheap, etc. It kind of makes me fear an oncoming digital future though, honestly. Digital Manga’s digital only books can be a huge mess, and you’ve already mentioned NetComics. It’s not promising, though one would assume if everything eventually went digital, they’d pay more attention to quality.

        You do say: “I feel like TOKYOPOP has a high enough record of not having lots of glaring errors….” And I wonder if you poke around the darker corners of the fan base. Granted, those people don’t exactly have the best formed opinions, and a lot of them are…well dicks, to be perfectly honest. But there are a lot of disgruntled fans in regards to Tokyopop. If they’re not complaining about the quality of Viz translations (or Viz’s “Americanization” of titles), they’re often complaining about Tokyopop from every angle (paper, price, printing, translation, editing, formatting, etc). So I can tell you that a sizable portion of the fan base wouldn’t really agree with your statement.
        Personally, I’m a title reader, not a publisher reader (meaning I read the titles I want to read regardless of who puts them out), so that means less to me. So I’ll buy a book I want to read, even if I occasionally sit there and wonder why I’m paying 10-11 bucks for something I could read online for free, with the same quality. That’s rare, but those are the times I get really upset. For myself and the publisher, because they’ll never pull the scan readers away if they don’t have the better product. The fan base feels so entitled (which I disagree with), and there’s a large voice that feels they get better quality with the free stuff, so they won’t pay for something they feel is a step down. It seems outrageous (because it is), but to them, it isn’t enough to tell them “Here, you can own a physical, legal copy.” It was to be, “Here, you can own a physical, legal copy, that’s immensely better in quality than what you’ll get for free.” Because as stupid as it sounds, they genuinely believe they’ll find better quality from the fans online (often forgetting that the people who do it for a living are usually fans as well).

        Er, sorry. Now I’m ranting off on something unrelated.

        • Well… at the same time that “insight” is bias as you could probably tell from my last remark. Although, honestly, I feel like a lot of the series -I- read from TP and a good number of them while I’ve been working at TP are generally free of terrible terrible errors. I never read Tsubasa: Those With Wings though. At the same time, however, I’m highly aware of the financial troubles TP had awhile ago. Perhaps it was these errors and similar business I wasn’t seeing that made them go through all that. Maybe it was the whole horrible shuffle that made these errors more prominent in the first place because there wasn’t enough people left and those who did remain couldn’t handle the work load. (I KNOW that heavy work loads is what is making TP turn to freelance editors in the first place.) Either way, I see the kind of errors I’m looking for in my work a lot more often in the work of other publishers rather than stuff I read from TP that I haven’t worked on.

          I know about the nasty reputation TP has amongst a lot of fans. Honestly, I think that they’re both right and wrong. TP could be doing a lot such as upping some of the quality of the paper, cover quality, etc., but if they’re ragging on our editing and translations, what can we really do about that? I know everyone who works for TP in those departments don’t want to half-ass stuff because what if their job is still on the line? (Particularly the freelancers like myself.) We’re all giving our all and people tend to forget that because they’re so greedy for entertainment.

          I know it’s tough for people to justify spending their money on manga when they feel like the quality is bad, but I still don’t understand how people think the quality of scanlations are better. I think since they’re free, people go on and on defending scanlations even when the editing and translations are truly terrible. I’ve yet to read 5 scanlations where at least 1 of them is decently translated, properly edited and has decent image quality. Honestly? That’s what you get when it’s free.

          Another thing about the publishing industry is that we can’t make every single title an amazing Pluto– or Black Jack-esque release. If we did, everything would be at a much higher price point than $10-12! And, be honest, would you want ever single Gakuen Alice or S.A. or Bleach volume to be super duper fancy and way more expensive? My guess is NO. It would be nice to convince more people based on translation/editing alone and not have everyone pick apart the paper quality (which has improved at TP and was about the fact that they lost a paper supplier and needed to switch suppliers or not publish the books at all) or the format.

          And, in the end, people forget that manga is pretty much supposed to be this way, even in Japan. Most titles don’t get fancy covers or special paper because the stories don’t demand that sort of thing or because it’s supposed to be sort of disposable.

          I really wish I didn’t have to say this, but fans are so spoiled these days. It kills me inside to see people complaining about such trivial things when I can still remember when manga didn’t even have a place at major bookstores or even comic book shops.

          • Kris says:

            Tsubasa Those With Wings came out over last year, I believe. Even if TP was having financial troubles, it’s a Natsuki Takaya book, who is one of their biggest sellers, so I would think they’d be more careful about the quality of the book. But whatever. Moooooving on.

            I remember hearing about TP’s paper troubles. And that they actively searched for a better provider after many complaints (which I believe they eventually found). So obviously, they care. They do have some ugly covers now and then, however. I think, back when I reviewed Phantom Dream, I noted that there were these garish “From the Creator of Fruits Basket!” bursts plastered on the front cover, back cover, and the spine of all 5 volumes. I totally understand trying to push the book via one of their top sellers. I don’t understand marring what were otherwise beautiful covers with ugly promotion. There are better ways (they’ve used better ways!), so it was really disappointing. Horrible design decision there, on someone’s part.

            I think part of the complaints about TP stem from their price increase, which was accompanied by a decrease in quality (specifically the paper, but also the general stuff). To consumers, an increase in price with a drop in quality looks really bad. You can try to explain the economics and state of the industry to them, but all they see is that they have to pay more now (and twice as much as the Japanese do for the same thing).

            I don’t know that I would ever buy Gakuen Alice regardless, and I would never buy Special A (which I thought was really stupid). 🙂 But, for example, Dark Horse’s Bride of the Water God books are gorgeous; they’re taller, have color inserts, are very well put together…and are $9.99.

            I don’t think the tankobon in Japan are that low in quality…. What’s disposable are the phone-book sized magazines, which are printed on cheap paper. You’re meant to collect the bound books.

            Anyway, I think we’ve talked it to death. 🙂 I agree that fans are spoiled; I’m one of them, but I have the sense to be aware of it and try to fix it. It helps when you start having an understanding of how it really works, which a lot of fans are pretty ignorant of, or simply don’t care to explore. I think if more of them bothered to learn about it, there would be a lot less indignation about some things (like all the “fans” who screamed about Yen Press changing the cover of Spice and Wolf, and declared they wouldn’t buy it without the original cover).

          • If it came out last year (before I interned in the summer), then it was definitely at the height of the time when major re-shuffling and recovery was going on. Because it’s a Natsuki Takaya book, I agree that they should have put their all into it, but I can understand that there might have been larger problems happening that we don’t know about.

            The covers are really touch and go. The thing is that a lot of the titles have really terrible standardized covers in Japan and if that’s the only color artwork or that’s the only thing the licensor will allow as a cover, the designers have to work miracles. I am not kidding. Just take a look at some of the Ribon or Margaret or Flower Comics covers. UGH. It’s hard to create something out of nothing. Sometimes, and I REALLY hate to say this, knowing the design interns, it’s the interns who get used to do covers in place of the full-time designers. Honestly, I really don’t know if this really effects the covers because I haven’t compared them, but it could. Sure some of the promotional stuff could be done better. It always could be done better, but I’m not going to fault a publisher for trying on that point. If you liked that series, you’re more likely to pick up this one! Better sales! What’s there to lose?

            Again, the price increase stems from the financial troubles, I think. The company can’t survive without it, numerous other publishers are doing it too, might as well. At this point, I’d say it’s either the fans suck it up or they can complain when the company is no longer there to publish the series they were reading. I know fans don’t want to hear it, but it’s true.

            As for those examples (really just examples of works I can’t see with super-special, high-quality releases), I’m just saying that they’re not really the type of thing you would buy with a higher quality production sometimes. Although Bride of the Water God is very pretty, I’d honestly say that it’s not that deserving of such lavish attention either. The story is just that bad to me. At the same time, you have to look at the editorial choices both TP and DH make. TP is very much about fun, exciting manga that fits a certain demographic. I dare say DH’s target demographic shifts a bit older and mature more likely than not. Taking that into account, TP’s manga is a bit more disposable entertainment. That doesn’t account for the price point difference, but I would like to point out that DH does more than just manga, whereas TP pretty much relies solely on it’s manga publishing for money.

            I do think the tankobon in Japan are of a different quality than in the US. Yes, they’re made for collecting, but if I got water on my Japanese tankobon, they would be much more heavily destroyed than if the same thing happened to my English versions. I’m not quite as knowledgeable of what that says about paper quality, but it sure means a lot to me should such a thing happen. (It has to me.) You’re right about the phonebooks being more disposable though.

            I wish I could take a more forgiving and understanding stance with fans lately. I still count myself among them, but I’ve always been a bigger buyer than scanlation reader. I like having those books and also I dislike reading online a little bit. It hurts my eyes, mostly. But still, I can’t forgive them for not being able to recognize that they are going to cannibalize themselves this way. They whine about this industry, but what if this industry wasn’t there? Then what? The glorious internet may solve a lot of problems, but I doubt it will solve all of them and I doubt many fans will be truly satisfied with scanlations. What then?

    • Brigid says:

      As a former editor myself, I know that no matter how often you go over something, mistakes can creep through. In fact, just having a lot of people making several passes through a manuscript can increase the likelihood of errors, because so many people are tampering with it. Ideally, the editor does the final pass, but editors tend to be rushed and overworked, and when you have read the same thing over and over, it’s easy to skip over an error. For a while I freelanced as a “blind reader,” simply reading through the manuscript of a book I hadn’t worked on and flagging errors and inconsistencies. That’s a good way to eliminate the problem but it’s also an extra expense.

      I was a copy editor for a women’s magazine back when computers first came in. Often the editor-in-chief would come in at night, after we had left, and make changes to things. Unfortunately, she was a terrible typist and often made typos, and our primitive computer system had no way of flagging me that she had altered anything, so the typos kept making it into the finished magazine. A good editor flags changes so the copyeditor can see them, but the higher up the ladder they are, the less likely they are to do that.

      • Kris says:

        Oh, what a nightmare! Thank goodness for more advanced computers. I often use MS Word’s “Track Changes” feature with my writers. But we use WordPress, so they can also go into the system and look at the draft revisions to see what was changed (which is wonderful). I can flag the tiniest change, like an extra space I deleted, to a larger edit, like reworking a badly formed sentence. They can flip back to the original, and view it with my margin notes. It’s awesome.

      • That does sound quite horrible. I don’t envy your job back then, that’s for sure. I feel lucky enough that we have to do a lot of editing on paper still so that you can see what’s been marked very clearly.

        Editing with multiple people can be pretty hard. I feel like sometimes we really only need two people who really know what they’re doing, although that might just be my inexperience speaking. Even so, errors will still slip through. I think it’s just inevitable and impossible to truly prevent.

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  3. Ed Sizemore says:

    Thanks for the insights into what it means to be a book editor. I’m glad you’re enjoying your job. Now editor more books so we can get that banner changed 🙂

  4. A great article, and great follow-up discussion. I don’t think many of the Entitled Otaku understand just how much *work* goes into every level of licensing, translating, editing, printing and marketing manga. As something of an armchair linguist, I’m aware that the mere act of attempting to translate a single utterance is setting yourself up for failure.

    I suspect many of the Otaku Entitlement Syndrome sufferers will grow out of it eventually, as they learn about the value of things like hard work and copyright – and how unlikely it is that some Japanese 201 student in a dorm room can produce a “more accurate” translation than someone who makes a living by translating eight hours a day. Unfortunately, there will always be more to take their place.

    I look forward to more “behind-the-scenes” articles like this.

    • I’m glad you liked it so much! I’m certainly planning more “behind-the-scenes” stuff in the future as it comes to me.

      I think a lot of the entitled otaku do understand, but they just consume and think it’s ok because it’s free and they’re poor (or whatever excuse they can think of.) Well, I’m pretty poor too and I buy all my manga! I know I get a different sort of satisfaction out of owning and being able to read something that’s in my hands, but not them. Perhaps those people don’t have any respect for books growing up? Then again I know some avid scanlation readers who do love books too.

      Even so, I feel like a lot of anime fans might never touch anything close to the creative world of anime and manga. Most of my friends are definitely not graphic designers or Japanese majors or English majors, but engineers or scientists or mathematicians. How much of the actual work of the publishing world will they ever touch and understand? If they can’t understand that, then why would they care about it? Why wouldn’t they steal from it? It’s probably the same as some of the more artsy, less math-inclined people saying “what’s this string theory thing here?” and being completely unable to grasp it while others can with relative ease. Will these kinds of fans ever grow up? My inner pessimist tells me most won’t because they’ll never take an interest just like some people never take an interest in math or science.

      My respect for translators is so ridiculously high, especially Japanese translators. It seems like such a nuanced language to me, I can’t imagine how many devoted years of study it takes to become even mildly fluent. Then again, I guess that could be said of many languages. Translation is definitely not an easy thing. It kills me to read some of the translations that come up in scanlations, another big reason why I don’t. My entire knowledge of the English language just wells up and screams “NOOOOOOOO!” at every awkward sentence. Some college kid or even a fluent Japanese speaker, is not able to just translate something into English and make it sound perfect. It takes a lot of effort on their part to master both languages and the help of editors and adapters to really make sure it is of good quality. Scanlations will probably never achieve that sort of height.

  5. Patricia Wilmington says:

    I’m a junior in high school and I’m stuck between editing teen novels or manga. I really love manga a lot and can easily enjoy reading it while picking out flaws in the texts. I also like the pressure of a due date but I still don’t know which to pick or what college classes to take. I’m also really bad at drawing but I can tell people where things should go and what should be taken out. Do you think I would be good at editing manga? Please be honest.

    • I don’t know why you’re stuck between the two. Quite frankly, I think you can learn how to edit books and still know how to edit manga. But if you really want to learn how to edit *JUST* manga (which I don’t recommend, it’s a small industry that’s very hard to get into) take English, Japanese, Journalism, Marketing and Graphic Design classes in college. Just don’t limit your options to editing manga and nothing else. Both fields have deadlines.

      Also, I have no idea if you’d be good or not. I’ve never met you or seen any of your work, so how could I possibly judge your editing talent?

  6. Milk-su says:

    Did you go to college? What did you need to take to get a job like this? (I’m interested in this profession as well)

    • Yes, I did go to college. I got my degree in journalism, although that’s not the only major that could prepare you for becoming a manga editor. Other common majors included English and/or Japanese. (I say and because I know a few people who double majored in those languages.)

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