Wednesday, May 2, 2012


How Does One Become a Book Editor?

I am often asked: "How can I get a job like yours? I would love to do what you do all day."

I'm thinking, "No, really? Would you?"

Editing is hard work, believe it or not. You cannot be a half-way book editor. You either love it or you should never do it. Many hours are spent alone, working with words. There is always more work than you think you can handle within the given deadline--and don't forget the hot-topic book that drops in at the last minute. But then there are amazing spurts of team collaboration and brainstorming. The intellectual challenge is incredibly exhilarating at times. Then there's occasional travel. I love to travel to meet authors or for professional development and networking. But trust me, after all that people contact, I am beyond thrilled to get back to my office to work alone with just the author's words and me. I usually work in complete silence to maintain my connection to the heart of the author's message. Other times, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane provide me with a decadent soundtrack.

Though a career expert could answer this better and every editor has a different story on how they came upon their current job, I will still share my story. And feel free to leave questions in the comments.

My thoughts toward editing and writing began in college when I changed my major from premed to English (long story, and no, I wasn't failing in the sciences. I really love words and language that much). I chose a minor in sociology, which wouldn't seem to matter much from the outside looking in. But my minor in sociology has helped me tremendously as an editor when it comes to interpreting information and analyzing human behavior within large social systems--even to understanding industry trends and buyers habits.
While in college, I wrote for a newspaper; helped individuals on a freelance basis with resumes, bios, and writing assignments; and worked in corporate environments in various positions. When I graduated from college, I applied everywhere that had an open position for an editor. I had to take editing tests, and one company had me take a personality test, which was very cool, I thought. I think that is a great way to see if a person is a good fit for a new team.

When I found a match, it was an entry-level position as a copyeditor with a mid-size traditional publisher. I studied and studied the craft and mechanics of copyediting. I had exceptional training and a wonderful supportive team. As time passed, I think it was clear to my supervisors that I was not only good with details, but also at managing, organizing, and envisioning big picture concepts. So I was promoted to developmental editor. As I begin to master those skills, I requested more responsibility and soon was promoted to senior acquisitions editor.

Since then I have moved over to children's book publishing as a senior editor for one of the largest children's book publishers in the world. How I got here was by first applying for the position, and next by leveraging the crossover skills I learned in my previous position such as hiring and managing freelancers, developing audience-specific content, and listening well to the needs of those I serve. I am having fun expanding my knowledge of how to conceptualize ideas for various audiences and age ranges. I think my experiences over the years are rich. I can't wait to see where they lead me.

For you to break into editing, you may have to be willing to start at the bottom as an editorial assistant or copyeditor. You may find that you need to go back to school if you don't have a degree. In this economic climate, it is critical to be above average as well as to manage your expectations. Many publishing companies have taken a hit financially and are not hiring for new positions. The ones that are hiring can quickly become bombarded with applicants, so incoming resumes are scrutinized to an even higher degree. Other options are to take on freelancing opportunities, if you have the chops, to build your experience portfolio or seek out mentorship/apprenticeship with a veteran editor.

Overall, getting a job as an editor follows the similar process as any other career—diligence in the job search and the right balance of skills, personality, education, and experience.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind:

You can’t be an editor unless...

  • You love reading.
  • You have a mind that can organize and develop ideas that are attractive to a large number of people—and then you must love doing this and be quite good at this, above average even.
  • You love making other people look good.
  • You love written communication and unique thoughts and ideas.
  • You love lending your ideas to someone else’s greatness.
  • You love working as a team.
  • You love thinking deeply about logical and creative flow of a story, process, or concept.
  • You love research and disseminating knowledge.

What are your thoughts?


*Post was updated on March 30, 2016.
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