Arguably the most challenging department to get into, an editorial team can consist of an Editorial Assistant, Assistant Editor, Junior Editor, Desk Editor, Editor, Senior Editor, Editorial Manager, Commissioning Editor, Senior Commissioning Editor, Editorial Director or any mix of these roles.
When someone wants to get into book publishing, they often assume that they'll be an editor. Why? Well, it's kind of the only job people actually know about at first. But what does an editor actually do?
In a nutshell, editors read submissions, search for authors and illustrators, build relationships with agents, authors and illustrators, edit, proof read, project manage and (try to) keep on top of a hellova lot of admin. Some people imagine that editors sit at their desks and read all day, which admittedly would be a dream, but most reading happens outside of working hours because there's too much other work to do!
Editors are also sales people - or at least learn to be - because as soon as they read a manuscript or see an illustrator sample that they love, they need to pitch that manuscript or sample to their team (whether that's their editorial team or their publishing team) and their pitch can be part of what makes or breaks a project. How an editor sums up a manuscript to their team, how they propose to position it within the market, how much care they take with the advance information for a book (the sales sheets, HTML, keywords and all manner of other things that help increase a book's discoverability), all of this stuff will impact a book's success.
So, if I described what someone working in book editorial does, I would say:
Keep a constant awareness of the book market;
Manage a lot of (time consuming) projects, keeping them on schedule and to budget (cough, in an ideal world);
Build and maintain a lot of close working relationships - with people in other departments, with agents, authors and illustrators;
Come up with new ideas, concepts, exciting author and illustrator pairings;
A lot of admin.
And if I could give you six skills that you'll develop while working in editorial, they would be:
A meticulous eye for detail;
The ability to manage a very large and varied workload;
The ability to see the value of books that you personally wouldn't read (or perhaps even like);
The ability to edit almost anyone in their voice, and not leave a trace of your own;
A thick skin.