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."

A career expert could answer this better, and every editor has a different story on how they came upon their current job. For me, it began with 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 the behaviors of large social systems.

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. 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. 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 the big picture. So I was promoted to developmental editor.

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 and to manage 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 same 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?
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