Saturday, March 26, 2005

Becoming an Editor

Because it comes up frequently in my various editorial forums, I've decided to put all the tips I have for breaking into the editorial profession in one place.

Disclaimer: Because there’s no single definable path to professional editorship, it’s entirely possible that none of these observations or tips apply to your situation. I’m writing from my experience. Please feel free to add your own in the comments.

I asked the same question, back when I was trying to figure out what to do with myself. I was sitting having a coffee with a friend who was a freelance editor, and asked her "So, if I were to want to become an editor, how would I go about it?"

She replied "Well, there’s no real way to become an editor. You do some editing, and eventually you hang out your shingle and say 'I’m an editor!' and people give you work."

I didn’t find this at all reassuring. I wanted a clear path—something like "get a junior job at a publisher, and start off proofreading, or counting words, or something, and you’ll get to watch Real Editors at Work, and learn." I still think it would be nice if it worked that way. I’m told in some cases it does. But for every editor I meet who found an entry-level job at a publisher, and followed a clear path, I meet at least a dozen others whose paths, like my friend’s, and like my own, weren’t that direct.

As I went about becoming an editor, I learned the truth behind what sounded like truly Belgian waffling to me when my friend said it: There’s no way a person becomes an editor. One simply decides that one is, and sets about doing it.

That said, some combination of the following seems to happen to most people I know who end up earning a living editing:

1. Discovery of Predilection
Editors like to read. They groove on language, punctuation, and words. Thus, they read voraciously and critically. They notice shifts in language. They wince when they see an apostrophe abused. They abhor an unnecessary passive. However, not all grammarians are editors. Editing demands a flexible approach to language and an understanding of more than when one might employ a subjunctive. Most people I know who work as editors found, even before they got paid for doing it, that they really couldn’t not edit. What some of us had to learn was when to curb our inner prescriptivist.

2. Formal Education
Most editors do not hold degrees in Publishing, Editing, or anything clearly related to the trade. In Canada, some may hold certificates or have taken courses related to the profession.

Many editors hold university degrees; however, it’s not strictly necessary to have a bachelor’s in anything. An English degree is no better preparation for a career in editing than a degree in math, French, or Latin. (In fact, a senior editor of my acquaintance insists that many English majors are ruined for freelance editorial work by too much acquaintance with and admiration for Literature. If your definition of good writing extends only to literary writing, then you may not have what it takes to edit a corporate annual report. But I digress.) These days, neophyte editors who don’t hold a degree may find themselves at a disadvantage applying for in-house jobs. For freelance work, however, you really need only the ability to do the work, and to convince people to let you do it. If you can edit cleanly and well, nobody’s going to care that you don’t have a degree.

3. Informal Education
Most editors are lifelong learners and tend towards polymathematicism. All the successful editors I know read widely, and know about a lot of stuff, much of it irrelevant to their formal training. They also tend to be curious, and to have well developed critical research skills.

4. Training Programs (Postsecondary)
A few colleges and universities offer courses and programmes in publishing and editing. Here in Canada, there are at least three book publishing programmes in post-secondary institutions in Toronto, Simon Fraser University offers a Master's degree in publishing, and the renowned Banff Summer Publishing Workshop is reputed to be a cushy publishing boot camp. Among the Toronto-based publishing courses are Ryerson University’s Certificate in Book Publishing, which offers many of its course online, Centennial College's one-year certificate in book and magazine publishing, Humber College's certificate in creative book publishing, and George Brown College's certificate in editing.

In addition to editing and publishing programmes and seminars, courses in business communications, grammar, technical writing, and journalism may provide some exposure to the editorial toolbox.

5. Mentoring
This might be the oldest recognized step on the editorial career path: the young editor finds an experienced editor whom he or she respects, and somehow inveigles this paragon into teaching him or her how to work the necessary magic on the text. If one is fortunate enough to already know editors, this step is vastly easier. Having an experienced, skilled editor go through the material you think you’ve cleaned up and point out any refuse you left behind can be a humbling, but very effective, training exercise.

6. Internships
Many publishers, newspapers, and magazines offer unpaid or poorly paid internships to would-be incumbents to the field. Some internships are linked to training programs—for the last month or so of their training, students are placed in a real-world environment and put to work. Others are more ad-hoc—the employer posts an internship and considers all comers. Internships can provide would-be editors with valuable experience, but too often employers seem to view their interns as free labour, and use them to operate the photocopiers, with little or no consideration for the intern’s goals or training. Several former interns of my acquaintance have complained that they gave their publishers three months’ work, and never got closer to editorial work than photocopying manuscripts to send for review. Others have reported more useful experiences, writing cover copy, marking up manuscripts, preparing art logs and photo manuscripts, reading slush, and preparing catalogue copy, in addition to operating the photocopier, running errands, and preparing courier packages.

Internships are open only to those who have some other means of support—most internships require the intern to work full-time hours for between three and six months, for no pay or for a token honorarium. Some offer minimal wages. As with full-time training program, this is all very well if one doesn’t need to eat or pay rent, and I do know several interns who supported themselves by working part time, but working full-time hours for less than full-time wages is certainly not an easy road, nor is it one that is open to everyone.

I successfully avoided an internship, mostly because I couldn’t afford to do one, and also because I refused to accept that I should volunteer full-time for three months in order to qualify for the privilege of being paid to do the same work; however, many in the industry insist that an internship (or two or three) represents an invaluable experience, and is the only way to get in the door.

7. Wriggling in Through Any Crack You Can Find
As I understand it, back in the good old days of more publishing houses, more money, and just plain abundance, a hopeful young wordsmith might fall into an job as an assistant or member of the clerical staff at a publishing house, and one of the editors would notice that young hopeful’s way with his or her semi-colons and become a mentor to the young editor. This does still seem to happen—several colleagues seem to have worked their way into editorial jobs from the reception desk or the warehouse floor. The trick seems to be not being proud or holding out for an editorial job, since those often require some editorial experience, learning what you can learn wherever you wind up, and keeping your eye on your eventual goal, while doing a good job at whatever job you have taken.

I went from temping to a research job at a map publisher’s, where I did very little editorial work, but was around production schedules, proofs, and in a sort-of publishing environment. All this time, I was volunteering with the Editors' Association of Canada, meeting editors and taking seminars, as well as attending night school at Ryerson (the book publishing programme mentioned above). Ryerson had a job listing service for students in the program, and eventually a posting for a position as an editorial assistant at an educational publisher came into my inbox. I got the six-month contract, and spent six months photocopying, collating, preparing courier packages, preparing art manuscripts, processing invoices, photocopying, and hating almost every minute of it, but gaining "valuable in-house experience."

Meanwhile I continued to volunteer for the Editors’ Association, organizing their professional development seminars. This put me into contact with a lot of editors at different stages of their career paths. Eventually one of these contacts up and offered me a job, doing real editorial work, where I was able to gain more experience with different types of publications, schedules, and editorial needs, while getting some real training.

I think, in general, some combination of editorial training (formal or informal); networking (i.e., meeting other editors and industry folks, which can be a lot of fun); volunteer editorial work (for a literary group or association, a not-for-profit, or a school or college publication); and taking whatever job will get you closer to the job you want has proved a moderately successful recipe. Of course, there’s one other ingredient: actual editorial ability.


Anonymous said...

Some things I know:

There's a great deal of variation in the quality of publishing programs. I don't know how much good any of them really do. What they chiefly signify is that the job applicant intends to work in publishing, rather than seeing it as an interesting thing to do while thinking about one's real career.

(That last thing? I've actually had people say that when I was interviewing them for a job.)

Was it just the old days when you could wriggle in through a crack? I must have missed the memo. Last I heard, most jobs in publishing were still being filled via word of mouth. "Get connected, keep your ears open, and tell EVERYONE that you're looking for a job in publishing" is still good advice.

Don't take a job just to have one. Find out how publishing is structured, and figure out which area you want to work in. If you don't want to wind up in magazine production, don't start there.

If you want to work in trade publishing, only right now you're finishing college, and you have to choose between (1.) a part-time job working in a bookstore, or (2.) working on your college literary magazine, take the job in the bookstore. You'll learn more, the experience is more generally useful, and fewer applicants will have done it.

When it's time to get a job, go all the way: move to NYC. The industry's still here, and so are the good entry-level and mid-level jobs.

All NYC job agencies will say they can get you a job in the industry, but the Lynn Palmer Agency is the one to go to. They're a bit brusque. Get used to it.

Make sure you give them a clear, straightforward resume, not too padded, that's organized chronologically by job. Make the facts sound good, but stick to the facts.

Learn to type. Be prepared to do clerical work, committedly and well.

One of the better articles I've seen on getting a job in the industry can be found here.

Cheers --

Teresa Nielsen Hayden

jennie said...

Thanks Teresa—you've filled in some of my more gaping gaps.

I know that my publishing program gave me a handle on the lingo, and a broad enough overview of the publishing process for me not to make some of the more common gaffes. My copy-editing course provided a thorough overview of most of what a copy editor should know; I learned more from trying to apply it on-the-job (I wouldn't have liked to have started copy editing without having taken the course, but I think actually applying what I was supposed to have learned taught me as much as the class hours did, if that makes any sense at all.)

I hadn't addressed the U.S. industry at all in this post—most of the editors I work with haven't moved to New York. Most don't work exclusively in book publishing either. In Canada, it's possible to work in Canadian publishing without moving to Toronto, although 'most everyone I know who is making a living in books has worked in Toronto (except for the French-language people in Québec, of course).

Agencies really get people work in publishing? Wow. I don't think I know anyone who's used an agency to fill an editorial job. In Toronto, publishers tend to use former interns, or broadcast jobs with the Editors' Association, the publishing programs, and vary occasionally on job boards. Of course, it's a much smaller pool here—sooner or later, most of the fish know where to look for guppies (does that metaphor work? Never mind.). Why pay an agency?

As for "an interesting thing to do while thinking about one's real career," I've heard variants on that. We also frequently get people at the Editors' Association who think editing might be kinda fun to do, part-time, when they retire. Some of them do get some freelance editorial work. Most of them vanish after a year, when HarperCollins, M&S, and House of Anansi haven't beat down their doors.

Anonymous said...

Er, that's "1. Discovery of Predilection", no?

Thanks for the thoughtful advice.

--Ellen Seebacher, here from COPYEDITING-L

jennie said...

Gulp! You're absolutely correct.


Fixed now, and another word added to my Difficult Words list. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

In number 5. Mentoring, traning should be training. Otherwise i need to figure out what traning is! :)

Anonymous said...

Another word to add to your difficult words lists: reMUNeration. It seems like it ought to be reNUMeration, since it has to do with NUMbers, but it actually has to do with MUNny ($). So remember MUNny, not NUMbers.

Anonymous said...

for my science class i am writing about beecoming an editor....thank you, this website really helped :)

jennie said...

Hi Anonymous,

You're writing about becoming an editor for science class? Fascinating! What's the connection? (Scientific publications do get edited, of course—at least one hopes they do—but editing is generally seen as more of a career path for English classes.)

Of course, as I said above, you don't need an English degree. You need a facility with written English, a mind for details, and a love of language and writing.

Anonymous said...

So, would you say that it is best to get a defree or not? I want to work in a company and then eventually own my own. but of course I'm only 14 so I might change my mind, but I doubt ti. It's the closest thing to getting paid for reading a book that I can find. also I want to write books, so would I send those books into a company that I would be working for or not?

jennie said...

Hi editor2b,

In general, when I was hiring editors, I preferred to see candidates who had university or college degrees. This is not to say that it's impossible to become an editor without a degree—some very highly regarded editors don't have them—but as a rule, I found that candidates without university degrees often lacked the research and critical thinking skills I expected from the editors working for me. It doesn't seem to matter what kind of degree, for the most part—what I was looking for was the familiarity with research and writing and logic that most professors expect.

A love of books is important in an editor; equally important is a love of language and the way language works. Many editors do not end up editing the kinds of books you buy in bookstores: I mostly edit textbooks, for example, and I have colleagues who edit reference books, technical manuals, websites, and all manner of other communications material. If you think you want to work in book publishing, right now you want to be reading everything, and really working on your writing skills. Eventually, you'll probably want to work in a bookstore to get a sense of what the public likes in books and how that end of the business works.

It is rare for people to have their own works published by the publishing houses for which they work. Some publishing houses (these are most often publishers of non-fiction) use editors or staff writers as ghost-writers for their books, but in these cases, the publisher will usually assign the book to a specific person. In general, editors who also write submit their manuscripts to other editors.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that this site has been a huge help to me and was just what I was looking for!

I'm looking into book editorial and publishing careers and trying to find out what you would need to study for this line of work. I'm only a grade 11 student in high school and looking to go in this general direction of things. I believe if I try to find out what I would need to be successful later on NOW, then it may be somewhat easier if I’m prepared for later, though I’m sure it will be just as tough. It's hard, trying to choose a career already but I know this is the type of work I'd love to get into. I do, of course, need many pointers and tips in what I can do to help my chances of succeeding in this field and hope I will be able to find those with their own personal experiences like you, and others with advice.

I'm not experienced at all, not even having a job yet, (Though I plan to apply for the Chapters bookstore as soon as possible) but reading is my absolute passion. I want to say thank-you again for the tips on your great site and information and if you have any other helpful sites, links, books, experience and tips it would be GREATLY appreciated.

Thank-you so much,

Anonymous said...

I'd love to edit on the side as a hobby and to bring in a little extra income. I recently edited a book for a technical IT topic. I did it on a volunteer basis, sending my notes via email to the writer.

Is there a way to get part time editing deals that can be done over the Internet? I'm willing to edit anything -- textbooks, manuals, and any topic. But I'm not trying to "break into the industry" or have a career change, so don't really want to go the route of extensive networking and jockeying for a sweet job. Just one-off editing projects.

Software programmers have rent-a-coder. Anything like that for editors?

jennie said...

Hi Anonymous Would-Be Part-Time Editor,

I'm sure there are ways of securing the odd freelance contract over the internet, but I don't know what they are.

If you're considering trying to earn money as a professional editor, even on a part-time basis, I suggest that you take the time to study the publishing process and learn standard editorial practice (beyond simply returning comments to the author via e-mail, which is part of what editors do, but not the total, by any means). Different sorts of publications have different expectations from their editors, but there are some fairly standard expectations among professionals.

I knew someone once who used a site for connecting editors with people needing editors, but I don't remember what site it was. He had to pay a fee for a listing, IIRC, and I don't think publishers used the service, so much as individuals needing editing for their professional or academic work.

Most publishers for whom I've worked expect that, while a freelancer is doing a book for them, they'll be working more-or-less full-time on that book or project. When I've freelanced, I've often had to devote more than 8 hours/day to the project at hand, for the duration of the project.

jennie said...

Oh, hey, I missed responding to Ally. So sorry Ally!

Most of the people I know who work as editors have some sort of undergraduate degree, as well as some sort of training in editorial work. The kind of undergraduate degree you pursue can affect the kind of editorial work you end up doing, or it may have no bearing at all, depending on a bunch of other factors, such as where you manage to get job experience, where your talent and passions lie, and just what's out there.

If you're in grade 11 or 12 right now, and thinking of going to university, I'd suggest doing everything Teresa Nielsen Hayden says in the first comment here. I'd also suggest going to university, and studying something that makes you really, really interested and passionate. If possible, take as broad a spectrum of courses as you can, too. Editors need to know about everything, even if they only know a little about something, or where to find out more. If you want to work in trade books, do try to find work at a bookstore—even Chapters, even if it's only for the summer. If you're thinking that the exciting world of textbook publishing might be more up your alley, then consider getting some experience as a tutor or teaching assistant. If you think you want to go into magazines or journalism, university newspapers can help you discover whether you have the skills and whether that sort of writing and editing is something you enjoy doing.

Emmie said...


Your blog has been a help to me. I'm still really lost though. I love reading and I'm one of those people who get mad when I find a misspelled word or improper grammer. I'm always reading and finding more things to read. People know me as the girl with the book. I also enjoy writing, any type. I just finished high school and I have decided I want to be a copyeditor. It just comes natural to me although I'm not really sure how to go about starting. So far I got find a job like a book store and collage is not a necessity but helpfull. What type of classes do you suggest I take? Is majoring in English a bad idea?

from Florida

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog. It may not be the correct and absolute way of becoming an editor, but it has helped with a lot of questions that I had. I am in college hoping to become an editor and you cannot just go into a book store and pick up "Be an Editor for Dummies". It is hard to get some straight advice from people, or even counselors, on the way to get your foot in the door. The is a straight path the students take to become teachers or doctors, but when it comes to editing or photography, or something that veers of that path, they don't know what to tell you.

So thank you for this helpful advice.

Anonymous said...

Great info! What can one hope for in terms of salary?

Anonymous said...

I am an aspiring author of fiction. However, just in case I don't rocket imediatly onto the best sellers list I would like to earn a living doing something else I enjoy that is still related to books. (I don't know if that would qualify under editing while working on my real career or not) I am considering the goal of editing but I'm not sure. Right now I'm at a cummunity college. Would it be better if I transfered before graduating? Also if I am unable to get a job at a bookstore would volunteering at a library or non-profit used bookstore be of any help? If anyone has any sugestions they would be greatly apreciated.

Unknown said...

Finally figured it out at 43....

I enjoyed your article immensely! I finally figured out what I wanted to do/be when I grew up - only took me 43 years! Sad? Perhaps, but my children came first and as only any good mother does, I put their needs ahead of mine and gave no thought to what I actually wanted. Now both are in college (one finally graduating in the Spring) so after much thought and evaluation of what my skills and interests are, I believe editing would be the best fit for me. I LOVE to read, am always in the middle of a good book, and have been researching what it takes to ACTUALLY succeed at an editing position. In my current job I write many reports, etc, (I won't bore you with the specifics) but am frequently called upon by colleagues to "edit" their letters, reports, etc., for content, spelling, sentence structure and anything else required to make words on a page make sense to the reader! Anyway, my question is a little out of the I too old to consider this particular career change? Everything I've read seems geared toward the college student - not someone my age. I've read you DO need an English degree, you DON'T need an English degree, you NEED to move to NYC, you can edit from Anywhere, USA (I happen to live in the Midwest of the US), you need to become and intern, you don't need to become an intern....A little confusing to say the very least?! Also, I would prefer to read manuscripts (non-fiction) to decide whether or not to publish. Is this grandiose thinking or are there actually positions available to those who ONLY want to read, not necessarily make sure the text is grammatically correct? Any advice you give will be greatly appreciated.

Thank You!

Katie said...

I really love the idea of being an editor for dummies. I imagine it would make finding work much easier.

However, I suspect you were referencing the popular series of how-to, DIY-style books. Shame.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this blog. Although pursuing a career in editing is intimidating, these tips have been reassuring.

Somewhat tangentially, I believe it's "many of its courses online" in "4. Training Programs (Postsecondary)." It's a petty pluralization.

For some time now, I've been unsure of what my "soul mate" career is. I can't say that editing is it, but the possibility makes me salivate.

I'm an undergraduate student in NYC. If having innumerable interests is a desirable quality, count me in: I was pre-med while pursuing a degree in Comparative Literature (between English and Spanish) and a degree in Music (geared toward the theoretical aspect more than the performance aspect). I dropped the pre-med gig, and I've been oscillating between the other two disciplines ever since.

Above everything though, I know I love literature, and grammar, and the nuances of language. I think the possibilities of English (and of any language, really) are limitless. Still, I can't help but wonder where I go from there.

Is it beneficial and/or worthwhile to pursue a master's or a doctorate in some area concerning literature or publishing? Should I finish my Bachelor of Arts and get started as soon as possible, at any place that will hire me? How will I know when/if I'm good enough? Needless to say, I'm afraid of having confidence in abilities that aren't there.

(I feel pretty lost.)

Anyway, thank you for any advice you can manage. And most importantly, thank you for the advice you've already given to me and to so many others.

jennie said...

Hi Anonymous,

In my experience in Canadian publishing (and I mostly work in textbooks), you don't need a master's or doctorate in publishing. A degree in something publishing-related might give you an overall understanding of the publishing industry, but I have my doubts.

I would say that it's wise to finish your undergrad. If you feel passionate about studying further, do a master's in whatever makes you passionate. If you want to see what the industry is like, take your degree, and find some way to learn about the book industry. As TNH said, upthread, if you want to work in trade—making the kind of books that people want to read—then you're better off getting bookselling experience. If you think you want to try textbooks, then find a toehold with an educational publisher. Certainly find somewhere to learn about professional copyediting and about the publishing process—a hands-on editing course from a well regarded college or university will give you many more directly relevant skills than will a masters or doctorate in publishing studies.

It's difficult to say what you should do when you graduate: one school of thought says "take the first editorial-type job you can get"; the other says "keep working at that bookseller while you hone your understanding of book sales, and find an entry-level position doing what you want."

I went the first route, which is how I wound up making textbooks. Some days I wish I'd held out for a job in fiction. Other days, I'm excited about grade 8 science. I think what's right for you depends on the strength and direction of your passions (are you more passionate about literature or about clear writing? Do quality educational materials make you happy, or will you be happy only if you can work on novels?) and on your circumstances—I wanted to be working an editorial job more than I wanted to wait for a fiction opening; I didn't want to move from Toronto to NYC (and I'm not eligible to work in the States), and I couldn't afford to take an internship, so I went with the first open job in educational publishing. Your circumstances and preferences may differ.

Good luck!

Lin said...

Hi, I am very lost as to what I want to do career-wise. I am currently a sophomore in college and up until the middle of this semester I was headed toward a psychobiology major- darn chemistry! but I dont think I really want to do science anyway. More recently I've discovered my love for reading, I literally can't put a book down. This sounds like a good thing, but it actually hinders my studies and other aspects of life haha.
Everyone keeps asking me what my interests are and what I want do with the rest of my life, but I have no answers to give them. When i close my eyes the only apparent interest I see that I have is in reading books, but have no idea what to do with that. Beyond that I am lost as to what I want. However, when I am reading, if there are any spelling, grammatical, etc. mistakes it drives me crazy! It literally pulls me out of my concentration and I want to grab a pen and fix it.
So, I think I have an interest in editing, but I don't know how to go about doing it. I come from a professional family, my father is a doctor, many lawyers in my family, teachers etc. So I only know of those careers with a direct path as some of you mentioned previously. Hmm, I completely lost my train of thought and the purpose of my comment- thanks for the tips, but does anyone have anymore suggestions as to what my next step should be? I can't take off full time to work in an internship and I have absolutely no experience in anything, so how am I supposed to get hired? I'm 19 and the only job I've had was working in a summer camp 5 years ago. Also, how am I supposed to know if I even have a 'knack' for editing and that sort of thing?
If anyone has any suggestions I'd really appreciate it, sorry if my thoughts went off track, they tend to do that :)


Anonymous said...

I love to read but I am not very good at grammar and I don't really enjoy it. But I can't seem to find any other career that is interesting to me. Everyone I talk to says to follow my passions and I will find something I love, well I love to read so I thought maybe editing would be a good career. But the grammar thing is really bothering me, any advice?

jennie said...

To the anonymous person who isn't very good at grammar:

There are editorial jobs for which a thorough grasp of grammar is less important: developmental editors working in textbooks, for example, are often more content specialists than grammar experts, and rely on copyeditors to make sure the grammar is correct.

That said, I would strongly recommend familiarizing yourself with the basics of English grammar, if you truly wish to pursue a career in editing. Even if you don't know the finer points of the distributive plural or future contrary-to-fact conditions, it's a good idea to be familiar with how sentences come together. You'll be much better able to work effectively in any editorial job if you can work competently and confidently with language.

Words and the ways that we arrange them are the tools of the editor's trade, not knowing how to use them correctly is akin to trying to build a boathouse without quite knowing how to use hammer, nails, saw, set square, and the other tools of the builder's trade.

jennie said...


I'd suggest looking into a co-op term or a summer position in some sort of communications or publishing environment, where you have the opportunity to work with wordsmiths, and get an idea for what is involved in creating professional communications materials. If you're at college, take courses that interest you and that will give you the opportunity to read and write a lot.

I know someone who got really good training working for his college newspaper; I didn't go that route, because I was more interested in ancient history than in current events, in those days.

If you can take a grammar course, make sure you do. It will come in handy.

And think, now, about where you might want to be. At this stage in your life, I'd suggest getting as much experience in as many different editorial and communications environments, both volunteer and paid, as you can, so that you'll get a clearer idea of what you like and what you hate. It's easier to switch paths now, when you're 19, than when you're 30 and have finally figured out that you don't want to be editing annual reports (for example) for the rest of your life, but don't have the background in, say, magazines, to switch to anything but an entry-level job in that world.

danielle said...


first I must echo nearly everyone on this page in saying thank you! it is a wonderful feeling to google rather blindly "how to become an editor" and find, among the few worthy links, a page that is as encouraging and helpful as yours.

I am a 27 year-old finishing late a degree in journalism & media studies, and though I detest the rigidity of this field (the inverted pyramid, the unyieldingly compact nutgraph!) and swore I would never go into real newspaper journalism, the exactitude of editing fascinates me! I am very creative, and though not TOO lazy, the thought of writing, being a writer; churning out hundreds of frenzied inspired pages, with great discipline and a deadline--terrifies me. the thought of shaping that writing, of calmly guiding it into a better structure, of developing and casting it into new channels, fills me with bliss!

anyway, to get to my questions--I've heard that one of the best things you can do when going for an editing career in the states (besides moving to NYC) is to attend a publishing course. Denver and NYC have two of the most-renowned. would you recommend something like that?

also, how DO you "get connected?" I have no real writing/editing experience other than my journal and classmates' papers. I am more passionate about clear writing than literature (I can always read lit before I go to bed each night!)--and being able to perfect text. I would take any kind of writing on to edit!

where, too, would I begin to look for entry-level editing jobs? I would think at my age, and finally with a degree, working in a bookstore would be too menial. craigslist? the publishing world, seems like a vast, closed arena full of portfolio-professionals. I have no portfolio--but I'd desperately like to know how to start creating one!

again, thank you! I would also like to know that someday I can help young people like myself now, scared of the unknown and uncertain of "making it" but too passionate and brave to give up!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing such a helpful article. So much of the advice out there is either blindly optimistic or horribly pessimistic but the tone of this piece was realistic and encouraging. I am glad that you offer options instead of rules because I've found that there's a bit too much 'you must'/'you can't'/'don't even think about' elsewhere and this can be confusing and discouraging.

I'm about to turn 29 and have spent the entirety of my 20s either in University or saving up for it, as I decided I didn't want to be stuck in a meaningless job for the rest of my life. I have recently gained a Master's in Classics and now find myself a bit stuck: I'm educated and desperately want a job that uses my intellect but all my work experience is in admin and customer services.

Having spent a few luckless months trying to get an entry level job in a publishing house, I am now considering taking any job I don't detest and using all my spare time to gain experience in editing and writing. I do have a couple of contacts who are trying to pass some proofreading work my way but I'm not hopeful because I have no experience.

I am willing to do anything I need to get started: voluntary work, taking courses, blogging etc. I would like a career I can fit around my plans to start a family and don't want to find myself stuck in a job just because I need to earn maternity leave.

Right now, I feel I have enthusiasm and the eagerness to work hard but am worried about how to get out of the infuriating circle of having no experience and therefore getting no experience.

Anonymous said...

Like all the others, thank you so much for your not-so-simple answer to a simple question. No, I'm not being sarcastic.

I was a little curious about what your answer to the 43-year-old would be. I'm 42 and my new year's resolution was to find a new career. (My old one is now ended and I have no intent whatsoever to go back to it.)

I stumbled onto copy-editing when I got asked by a hopeful sci-fi author to look over his work. I'm a regular lurker on a publisher's discussion board and had commented on a chapter that had been posted by a published author. (They do that on this site. They post unedited work as they write it. It just has us regular readers of their material drooling even more for it, but I digress...)
I was in heaven. Like one of your other commentors, I've always got a book at hand. For that matter, I'm often working on more than one at a time. When I was in High School, my mom used to comment how great it was that I loved to read so much, but she really wished I spent more time on my homework. However, I knew nothing about copy-editing at the time. It just didn't occur to me that a career field actually existed to do what I loved to do - read endlessly with the actual expectation that I correct any errors I find. I'd rather do fiction novels, but I read just about anything that is available, so...

So, now I find myself looking closer at the field. I'm afraid moving to NYC or any of the other hubs is out for me. Family reasons. I haven't made any steps yet. For now I'm researching the field.

What I have figured out thus far is that I need to get some training on grammar and word-usage. Just going by what I FEEL is right would no longer be enough. I intend to continue working with the hopefuls on the publisher's site, if only to continue to get experience. Maybe I'll even get lucky at some point (I can dream).


Anonymous said...

I'm an aspiring author who wants to get in touch with an aspiring editor who'd like to practice her craft on my work. Any suggestions on how? I could really use some help and should I manage to get published then it's a credit. Could work out well, who knows?

Anonymous said...

Jennie, and others who might know,

I have recently been encouraged by a writer friend to consider a career in editing. He has piqued my interest and I am curious but at a loss for where to begin even considering or looking into the field. I do know this: I would want to edit novels, preferably fiction, and the very few resources I have (specifically, one University professor) seem to know only the corporate side of the coin. I could edit professional documents, newspapers, magazines, or journals, but I would likely find myself hating it in short order.

My question is this: what do you know about pursuing literary editing? I know nothing and am not even certain this is what I would like to do, but I am curious.

Thanks so much!

jennie said...

Wow. I need to pay more attention to this poor old blog.

d., to respond to some of your questions:

I don't know how things work in the U.S., but here in Canada, a publishing degree per se isn't necessarily an entrée. You'll get better editorial training pursuing a certificate from one of the continuing-education programs, and you need to pick and choose, as the quality of these varies. I would guess it's the same in the States, and the best thing you can do is talk to people who work in publishing and find out where they think you can get good training. Talk to more than one person, too.

As for how to talk to people in publishing, well, the easiest way to get connected is to go where authors and editors are. Work in a bookstore, and get in on the buying. Go to your local small-press fair. Join CE-L (the copyeditors' listserve), or one of the editing communities on LJ, or AbsoluteWrite, but don't innundate those communities with requests for career info -- lurk and listen and participate and ask intelligent questions. If you have to, do an internship. Take seminars on editing and publishing, and ask the instructors if you can take them out for lunch or coffee and pick their brains.

As Teresa says, way up at comment 1, tell everyone that you're looking for a job in publishing: tell your professors, tell your hairstylist, tell your mom's friends, tell your dad's bridge club. You never know when someone will know someone.

And never, never pad your resume. Noticing bullshit is an editorial function.

jennie said...

Oh, and d, I was 27 or 28 when I started my editing career, at the very bottom of the career ladder, as an editorial assistant making $14/hr at an educational publisher, 6-month contract, no benefits. That was less than 10 years ago. If I could do it over, I might take that job at the bookstore.

jennie said...

Nicole, if you'd like to edit novels, and you're in the States, you probably need to go to NYC. Read Teresa's comment, up at the top of the thread -- she knows a lot more about trade fiction editing than I do.

Because so many people want to work in fiction, you have to be really dedicated to that career path. That bookstore job may help. An internship may help. Certainly an internship would let you see what happens in the literary publishing world, as long as you have some other means of support for however long the internship lasts.

jennie said...

Lahela, you're absolutely correct that going by what "feels" right is not good enough for professional copy editing or proofreading. I strongly recommend the correspondence courses at Ryerson University (linked in the body of the article). Most of the instructors for editing courses discuss how to get work, and many are happy to refer strong students to their own clients or contacts. Don't ask them for this, of course. Be excellent, and let them see your excellence.

If you can't do an internship (and I don't recommend them for people who aren't married to the idea of editing trade books, and wish I didn't have to recommend them for people who do want to follow that path), I'd suggest finding out what publishing exists in your area, and what kind of editorial help they use. Ask graphic designers, communications consultants, and anyone else you can find who they work with.

If you're looking to freelance, let everyone in your life know that you're interested in freelance editorial work. Research what the going rates are in your area. See if you can make the acquaintance of other editors. See if you can find a mentor, and set up a mentoring relationship -- for a couple of hours a week you and your mentor can look at your work, and discuss it; maybe they can give you some easy projects to work on.

Starting a new career is a slog at 23 or 43. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Thank you to everyone! To Jennie, Theresa, and all the Anonymous commentators, thank you! The subject of this blog is something I have been grapling with for several years now. I'm a person that when I'm reading a new book by a hot author and find several typos and errors that seem so obvious to me, I think to myself, "I want the job of the person who was supposed to catch those errors". I also think about the times I have read articles or seen broadcasts of highly successful people talking about their success, and giving tips on how to achieve happiness, specifically when it comes to their careers, money, and their journey to success. They would usually say something about how you should not concentrate on money, but focus on what your passion is (insert: clip from the Oprah show). Then they would advise that to identify your passion, you should think of what you would not mind doing for free. The only thing I could ever think of was reading! I lived in NYC for 5 years. In those 5 years, there were two instances when I came close to realizing this dream I have of reading for a living, or at least what could have been the first steps in that direction. The first time, I had been working for Lifetime Television for three and a half years in sales. A sales sub-deparment (I guess you could call it that) which was called 'Partnerships' read the scripts of LT movies to determine areas where they could sell cameos to advertisers (i.e. a Coca Cola can sitting on the table behind the lead actress in an intense scene, etc...) At the time, LT was producing a movie for the true-life story of American Idol winner Fantasia. I was friends with one of the girls from partnerships and when I discovered they received scripts from the programming department occassionally for this purpose, I asked if I could read the Fantasia script, expecting her to say no. Surprisingly, she said yes! I read it, enjoyed it, and returned it. Then what? The second occassion came one morning after months of trying to figure out how to make this seemingly impossible transition from sales to the editing and publishing world in one fell swoop, without ending up homeless and 100% in debt. I could not exactly 'afford' an internship. I was on the subway train coming from Brooklyn on my way to work in Manhattan. As usual, the train was packed and people were standing on top of each other. I noticed one lady in front of me reading what looked like at least 300 pages with a heavy staple in the top corner and she was marking it up with this oversized colored pencil. Then I noticed she had a canvas book bag hanging from her arm, the type you get at a trade show or book fair full of goodies like book marks, erasers, and fridge magnets. On the front was Penguin Books USA. I thought, "Oh my God!". (Did I just put that exclamation mark in the right place?) It took me a couple of stops before I got up the nerve to speak to her, and when I did, my love of reading and interest in getting a start in editing, even though all of my experience had been in sales, just poured out of my mouth. Surprisingly, she was very nice, gave me her business card and asked me to email her my resume, all of this before the doors closed on her as she was getting off at her stop (very dramatic, I know, but true!). When reviewing her card, it turned out she was a senior editor! I did as she asked, and a couple days later she replied that she had passed my resume on to HR. After several times following up, nothing ever came of it, I never got a job at Penguin, and I gave up. Life in the last few years since then has taken many turns, but I still wrestle with my interest in editing and whether it is realistic or just a silly pipe dream. Most recently, I found out my mom's next door neighbor was an editor for LexisNexis, which has a law book publishing department. My first thought was, I have no experience in reading law books, and when I finally realized that I had stupidly missed ANOTHER networking/mentoring opportunity, I literally smacked my forehead! When I finally saught her out, I found out she'd moved to Chicago for another job, and my mom had no contact information for her. These three instances may sound depressing and discouraging, but what I realize now is that those were the door openers I was looking for, they just didn't look like what I had imagined they would. Those were opportunities to gain mentors who could have given me advice, maybe allowed me to experience a day in their life, or maybe even do small tasks for them for free just for the experience and practice. The comments on this blog have helped me realize my dream is not ridiculous because so many of you have the same dream I have. Also, this blog, along with the instances I have just described, have helped me realize that you have to have your two minute 'elevator speech' ready, network as much as possible (tell everybody as Theresa said), and try any/everything that comes to mind. That's what I am going to do now. If I had not asked Partnerships for that script, or if I had not approached that Penguin editor on the train, I would not have those experiences as encouragement today! I am so glad I got online and typed 'how to become an editor' into the Yahoo! search field. This blog was the second link I clicked on. Maybe one of us will actually write that 'How-to' book (or pamphlet) someday!

Falling Leaves said...

Hi, I'm sixteen and I think I want to become an editor. I read mainly fiction. I just have a couple of questions:

1) Is offering to edit (or beta-read) on a site like a good experience, or is it just a waste of time?

2) I happen to be Christian, so I'm wondering if an editing company would mind if I didn't want to be associated (geez that sounds snobby, but you get what I mean) with editing smut, swearing, etc? I have a feeling the answer to this one is probably yes!

3) If you come home from editing all day, are you likely to want to work on your own writing, or would the day's work have completely exhausted you?

Thanks heaps,


Anonymous said...

Hello Jennie,

I hope you still have the time to respond to blog posts; you wrote this gem a long time ago, but it remains valuable to aspiring (and confused) editors! I have a question: does editing as a profession give you a lot of freedom to move around and travel? The ability to take my work with me should I choose to travel is very attractive to me, and is the main requirement of my "dream job."

How easy is it to travel while working as an editor, and what branch of the profession allows the most freedom of mobility?


Unknown said...

Hi Jennie,

I have to say I really appreciate this post. I have more recently discovered my love for reading, but have always loved to write and edit. In high school peer-editing assignments were something I looked forward to. I really feel I could find happiness with this career, but I'm afraid I don't know how to go about it. I had convinced myself at a young age that Architecture was right for me (it felt practical and creatively stimulating), followed that until I couldn't anymore (I couldn't get a student loan for last fall. I decided this happened for a reason--or at least now I had a good excuse to pursue my interest/passion for literature. I went to community college (after an English Associates)--but couldn't afford to finish (I will though, at this point I am working and saving up money). So I'm wondering: is it something I can still do? I am 21 years old and have had zero experience compared to my competition: college grads my age who graduated with honors, and internships under their belts, as well as contacts in the industry.
I'm fairly certain I will continue to go for it despite the not-so-good outlook for me, but: should I finish community college, go to a 4 year university, and take internships or should I just try to find some job in the field (receptionist?) and go from there? I'm sorry if this sounds like rambling...I guess I'm hoping you'll tell me it's do-able or any advice really.
Thank you,

jennie said...

Hi Diana,

I don't think 21 is old to be starting a career at all. I was significantly older, as are many of the students in the editing course I teach.

You do not need an English degree. I will never dissuade anyone who is passionate about the study of English literature from spending 4 years reading, learning, analyzing, and writing; however, if you attend a 4-year program with the goal of finding a job as an editor at the end, you're not much more likely to get the job than someone who attended a 1-year editing course at a college.

You need to know how to write. You need to know about grammar, and prose style, and structure. You need to know how to get inside the reader's head, and figure out what they want and need from a piece of writing. You need to know how to help authors meet those wants and needs. An English degree isn't necessary for any of that.

If you're serious about an editing career, do what Teresa suggested in the first comment on this thread: get connected in the field in which you want to work, and learn everything you can from anyone who will teach you.

Want to edit a magazine for guitarists? First, take your ax to every guitar gathering you can find. Read guitar magazines and blogs and books. Hang out with the guitar players at your local guitar store. Write a blog about guitars, and review new products. Let everyone know that you're looking for editing work in the world of guitar magazines.

Learn about good writing, and learn about what guitar players want to read. These are not the same things, but they needn't be mutually exclusive.

If you don't want to edit a guitar magazine, take what I just said, and apply it to what you do want to do: romance novels, popular science books, technical documentation, whatever: read in the field, and learn what people who read what you want to edit want and need from their reading.

If a college program will help you fill any gaps in your skill set (the college where I teach offers a course in grammar that I think is really valuable for would-be editors, if for no other reason than give them the vocabulary for the stuff they already know how to do), then pursue that. But before you commit to a course, check in with employers in the field, and see whether they even care about the credentials you'll acquire. Most of the people for whom I've worked care more about whether editors (and anyone else) can do the work than they do about the credentials—the college courses and degrees are just shorthands for a given set of knowledge and skills.

Anonymous said...

I was joking with a friend about how I've done some BETAing in the best - essentially, editing for fanficcers. When I started writing fanfiction in seventh grade, an older friend of mine would edit my stories not only grammatically, but also for continuity, and I eventually picked up the trick and have done so for others. >.> Basically, I was being an editor, though I hadn't thought of it in that term, so I figured, "You know, I ought to go see how easy it is to get into something like that." I recently just figured out my boisterous, loving personality is the embodiment of a clown without makeup, and jumped into that career face first, and it's doing well. I found this article in my little Google search, "How to become an editor", and I think you just made a checklist of my LIFE. I'm already a freshman in college, so screaming, "I'm an editor! HIRE ME!!!", getting my degree, and probably a job in a bookstore seem to be the next things to do. ^-^ Oh dear, thank you so very much! >.> This just went from a joke and a hobby to a very viable career path. (Says the girl typing 95 wpm with half a novel tucked under her arm.)

Anonymous said...


I simply want to say that I find your #1 point quite funny--because it describes me so precisely. I do a lot of beta-reading within my critique group, and the idea that I have the creativity and technical skills to do editorial work (at least as far as the novel-editing part goes) has come up quite a few times. Since one of the people in the group is a published author who has now worked with two different editors--something about cuts in budget and editors having to leave, but I'm not clear on that--over the span of ten years, I tend to trust the idea.

More recently I had the, shall we say, privilege to do copyediting for a class magazine and all I really wanted to do was take some of my peers and sit down with them and explain how passive voice is not exciting and sometimes you really should look up words you use before putting them in your article (I had one person use the word "demise" in reference to a music artist going to jail and possibly losing his career). I plan to apply to be one of the students in our campus Writing Workshop who help students write papers, because I love explaining how grammar works and how one can better support a point in a paper or order the points, etc.

At any rate, I've been seriously considering a career in editing and think that this post is both interesting and informative. Hopefully, by the time I graduate (I'm masochistic enough that I'm going for a double-major in English and Music, which given the credit req's for the music major is not an easy thing to do) in 2013, I will have had more practical experience and will be able to find some entry-level position.

So, thank you, for the laugh and for the advice.


Carlinha said...

Hi there, those are great tips. Thanks for giving a good idea of how things works. What I like most is how you make it clear that there is no one path.

Being a graphic designer though I need to ask you to please do something about the white font against the dark background. Your writing is lovely but painful to read because of the colors. Try to change the font color to a very light grey. It works much better. :)

leslie said...

Hi Jennie,

Fantastic post. Between Ryerson and George Brown, which program offers the most prestige and/or opportunity for starting a career change into copy editing?

I would be taking courses part-time as I'm fully employed in the insurance industry. At 26yo I'm re-examining my life and want to start actively using my linguistic prowess instead of merely acknowledging it.

Background: I have a degree from U of T in Philosophy with minors in Visual Studies and Writing & Rhetoric. This past fall I took a course in "Technical Writing" at Humber and scored the highest grade the teacher has ever given in her 7+ years. Academia notwithstanding, I have developed a reputation among friends for being their go-to for editing and reworking pieces from resumes to a master's thesis...

I'm also curious what your thoughts are on professional certification through the Editors' Association of Canada?

Thanks, your mentorship means a lot to me and the rest of your fan club of this blog post!


marcia99116 said...

Thanks for this post - I have had a few writer friends of mine tell me I should be an editor. A few people tell me I should be writer - although I don't think I have the focus for it. This was really helpful in finding a direction/path for my focus!

Unknown said...

This is extremely discouraging to hear. Right now I am a full time student with ambitions to become an editor. I've been dumping all my college funds into getting my English degree for the sole purpose of becoming an editor. I feel like I may have had stars in my eyes, with little to no knowledge about this field other than knowing that every author needs an editor. I figured that I would have to work small-time in the beginning, website entries or small businesses, but after reading this I feel like I'm at the same dead end that my art degree was going to provide me! :(


jennie said...

Hi Gina,

Well, I don't think your English degree will necessarily hurt you in your quest. It's just not everything you need, any more than say a degree in biology would be everything you might need in order to work effectively as a veterinarian. During the course of your English degree you'll have been exposed to really good writing. You'll probably also have been exposed to some less good writing, and some horrible wordy writing, and some writing that was reckoned really good 200 years ago but probably wouldn't earn out its advance now. You'll have learned about critical thinking, and (I hope) how to spot logical errors in text. You'll have developed an appreciation for huge variations in accepted English, and some notion of how usage and language change over time and across space.

What's left is to learn how to apply that knowledge and understanding to editing for the markets that are currently buying written English. Editing is a set of skills that you can learn. You're just unlikely to be able to pick them up as you go.

And, as with any profession, getting that foot in the door takes work. I know you're working hard to get your degree, but this is a different kind of work: this is networking, so that when that entry-level job comes up, somebody thinks to tell you about it, and your resume crosses the desk of someone on whom you've already made a positive impression.

There aren't many professions you can enter straight out of school, I'm afraid. In this regard, editing isn't much different from anything else.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jennie,

I hope you still check this from time to time as I have recently decided on a career change. Based on your blog, your current occupation and education is exactly what I am interested in doing. I graduated from teacher's college in 2008 and have been mostly unsuccessful in securing full-time work with a school board. My main love of teaching stems from designing curriculum that inspires students. Much like yourself, I am interested in acquiring my publishing certificate from Ryerson through thier intensive course in May. My ultimate goal would be an internship followed by a career with either Nelson or Pearson Education. Since I am going to assume you work for one of those companies, I have a few questions that I hope you can answer. 1) If I gain an internship with said companies, what are my chances of employment? 2) You said in one of your posts that you started as an editorial assistant making $14 per hour. What is your current title and working wage? Are there opportunities for advancement? 3) How did you get hired? Did you know someone in the company? What qualifications did you possess that made you stand out? 4) Finally, would my degrees/certificates in English, Education, and Publishing be sufficient to get a job or do I need to have connections? Thank you so much. I hope to pick your brain and gain any knowledge/tips you have to spare.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jennie,

Great article! Lots of helpful tips - and even more interesting and useful bits in the comment section!

I'm considering pursuing a certificate in publishing, or at least taking a few courses. You mentioned that some programs are better then others - any suggestions? Like you, I'm living in the GTA - so anything in or around Toronto or online would be great.

Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

Hi im a high school juniior and i've always had a passion for writing, however I am the worst when it comes to grammer. I also, am not the best when it comes to editing my own paper, but I can edit someone else's paper just great. Do you think I should continue on with wanting to be a editor or pick a different career? Also, I Really do not like to read, but I am taking alot of honors and ap classes in english so I can improve on everything.

Anonymous said...

hi what you are saying is your own belief but then by the way you are talking you are shutting down other people's dreams. I mean like i also want to become an editor but according to the way you talk about editing you are bad mouthing it sounding uninteressing. I'm doing commercial subjects and good at them but how can i do something that im not passionate about. I love literature so please don't shatter other people's dreams we are looking for a good direction and what are you doing vanishing our path stop it man just because you are confusing us

jennie said...

Dear Anonymous,

I am very sorry that you feel that my blog post from several years ago is an attempt to dash people's dreams. Here's the thing: it isn't. I want people to pursue their dreams. I want people to spend their lives doing interesting work about which they are passionate, and at which they are highly skilled. I love the work I do (not always, but absolutely nothing in life is absolutely perfect all of the time).

But my wanting there to be lots of jobs in literary publishing for everyone who is capable of doing them or your desire to be a book editor is not going to change the fact that right now, in the industry, it's just plain difficult to get a job. It's not going to change the fact that there are far more talented, skilled, passionate people who want to do this work than there are jobs doing it. And it is most assuredly not going to change the fact that you need some combination of talent, skill, training, moxy, networking, determination, and luck in order to get a job and build a career.

Rather than accusing me of dashing dreams, why not consider that I'm telling you just how, in my considerable experience as an editor, teacher of editors, mentor of editors, and minor presence in the industry, you might go about realizing them? That this post is about what you need to be prepared to do to secure a job and a career in a field you want.

To wit:

1) Have excellent linguistic and writing skills;
2) Read a lot, and read critically;
3) Become familiar with how editing works in a professional context;
4) Connect with people in the industry;
5) Network, network, network;
6) Go where the work is; and
7) Be prepared for low wages.

Dreams are great. They're what keep us going, and prompt us to try for bigger, better things. But dreams without a judicious dose of planning, determination, and hard work are nothing but visions and words.

Unknown said...

Thank you very much for the advice. It's the realistic view of the work I want to get into that I needed (or at least a good portion of it). Also, thanks for the warning of low wages, which are besides the point, 'cause if I can read all day and live off it, it'll be worth more to me than whatever amount of money I'd get from it. I'm definately going to take as much of your advice as I can and I was wondering if having a degree in another language would be usefull? (Because I like listening to other languages but am miffed that I can't currently understand them, I shall learn the ones that interest me anyways.) I'm fairly sure you've already answered this question, but I lost interest about 1/2 way down the comment-avalanche, so even if you just read this in an e-mail or something, thanks. This one isn't exactly an optimist so it's nice to see a glimmer of hope in the dim reality.

Amaris Aramanda

Anonymous said...

'But dreams without a judicious dose of planning, determination, and hard work are nothing but visions and words.'
If myself or someone had been able to instill this idea in me before I headed off to college (to major in Ethnomusicology and English Lit minor), it would have answered many questions and relieved many years of confusion and frustration. An ounce of reality is worth a pound conjecture.

Anonymous said...

I am 13 years old, and my English teacher gave us an assignment to write about our "passion". I am an avid reader and English and Reading are my best subjects. I know that I want to become an editor; I will edit anything and everything around the house. I have read a fair amount of books with grammatical errors, and it makes me wince. I was wondering if there are steps that I can take, right now, to become an editor in the future. Thank you.

Sym (alias) said...

Seeing as my first two choices in career are most likely not all that practical- spy and professional whistler- I started looking to the literary side of things. (After all, I'd prefer not to be a starving painter/graphics designer/flautist, too.) After a couple of years, I've decided that I can't write for shit (pardon my language), but editing is something I do for people all the time anyway. I'm not out of high school yet, entering my junior year, actually, but I'm currently exploring the possibilities available so far as my ability in the literary field.

I started laughing when I read your first section- 'Discovery of Predilection.' Mainly because I had the strangest sense that you had been stalking me, all the way from Canada, and knew all about how I'm my friends' human dictionary/thesaurus/encyclopedia/grammar handbook. It's a sickness, it really is, to never be able to stop yourself from correcting other peoples' essays simply because you know they always mix up their 'its's' functions.

But on to the Q&A, Q provided by myself. First off, while I know that editing extends beyond novels to drier projects, I can't help but want to specifically aim for the chance to work on the lengthier endeavor of working with novelists. But I'm also aware that editing is so much more than just taking care of sentence flow and typos at that level, but includes the need for an ability to look at the storyline itself and decide where it's too drawn out, where it needs to be beefed up, which characters might need to be brought forward or pushed back more- all of which is most definitely my weak point. Plotting is my archnemesis, so to speak. And there are other skills, too, bits and pieces that maybe I'm not even aware existed. So I suppose my question is more- what's the best way to learn these skills? Is it something that can be taught, and I just don't know what class name they're lurking behind? Or is it something that I ultimately will or won't be able to do, simply because my brain doesn't work properly?

Question no. 2: What other skills are looked for in editors, other than, naturally, the ability to look at a manuscript and fix what's wrong with it? Or even skills in jobs similar to those of an editor.

I had so many more questions when I started writing this, but they seem to have escaped me at the moment. I will be sure to ask them if I happen to remember them, however.

Diana said...

If you could please give me some advice?

I'm a freshman in college and aiming for an English major. I'd like to be an editor and hopefully write something of my own, but I don't know if English is the right major for me. It's all about classic literature and analyzing why the sky is blue and the bird flew west, which isn't difficult but I find it annoying.

Also, another question (sorry)! Online a large amount of people say to ever be an editor or writer, you need to read and write every single day. Is this true?

jennie said...

Diana: If you're in college right now, I would say that you should be studying something that makes you want to do all the reading. An English degree will help you to become a good close, critical reader, but really is no better preparation for publishing than any other degree program that's heavy in reading and critical thinking. Some of the best editors I know studied biochemistry, geology, or classics; others never did a degree at all, but read widely, and really know how to make a story work. That said, the entry-level requirement for most communications or editorial jobs that I'm seeing in these days of credentialing is a university degree, and often the HR departments want you to have one in communications or journalism. Personally, I think one's undergraduate degree represents a fabulous opportunity to read widely and deeply and criticically and to discover what's out there in terms of knowledge. So do what makes you passionate, but make time in your coursework or extra-curricular activities to be involved in books or in writing and editing: work in a bookstore; join the staff of the campus paper; take a writing course ... whatever works.

If you're doing an undergraduate degree, you should be writing almost every day, shouldn't you? In terms of extra-curricular writing, I would say that I don't know what it takes to become a novelist, as I am not one. I think that, as with any skill, writing benefits from constant practice and regular feedback. Editing too. I'm not a writer, so much, so I don't do the daily butt-in-chair exercise.

jme said...

Posted a comment on here a couple weeks back but it doesn't look like it went through. I'll try again, as I've found that this post is a really honest, refreshing take on how to get into this industry. I was getting a little sick of all the articles that were trying to advertise for a specific college publishing program and insisting that it's the only way to go. I've got nothing against those, but at the moment I can't really afford to spend basically the equivalent of my last degree on yet another program.

At the moment I'm at a bit of a crossroads. I just finished my MA in English Lit and am hopefully starting a Phd next September. What I would really like to do is work in book publishing, though I know that the Phd isn't necessary for that kind of thing. That I am doing it purely for myself, because I really thrive in the school environment and love every minute of it. That being said, many of my Phd friends and profs have told me that if I want to work in publishing, more school might actually be detrimental. They say that it can be too limiting, and that sometimes it can make one overqualified. I'm still really interested in doing it, though I don't want it to hurt my chances if I go ahead with it next year.

After having spent a gruelling 12 months doing an MA, I know that there isn't really any down time and that another 4-5 years doing a Phd will once again postpone my joining the working world. All I know is that right now, I would love to get some editing experience under my belt before starting my Phd (or maybe if I find something good, forget school together), but every job description that I read is looking for someone with 2-5 years experience in professional editing. I worked as a TA editing first year papers, but that's about it. I don't have any real professional experience in anything but research, writing, and critical analysis - but not actual editing, or anything else that these jobs seem to require.
So, how does someone with an MA get their foot in the door? Any advice would be much appreciated.

jennie said...

To jme: The answer to your question is pretty much the same as it would be to the question "how does someone with a B.A. in English/B. Sc. in physics/M. Div./whatever get a foot in the door?" You decide that you want to work in publishing. You spend a lot of time looking for that elusive entry-level position (usually as an editorial assistant or assistant editor: these are not the same thing). You network like a fiend: go to book launches, attend literary salons, join your local editors' organization, read blogs like this one (or more active blogs, because frankly I'm too busy teaching and working to post much here). You don't assume that time spent grading papers counts for anything, because, frankly, it doesn't: the job of a TA and the job of an editor are quite different. Work in a bookstore. Work for a literary review. Do what Teresa Nielsen Hayden suggested in the first comment to this thread: decide what part of the publishing world you want to work in, get connected in that part of the world, and let everyone know you're looking for work.

Learn about the profession of editing: the Editors' Association of Canada offers great seminars and workshops for Canadians; if you're in the U.S., there are other organizations. Read books about editing: I recommend Plotnik's The Elements of Editing, and Einsohn's The Copyeditor's Handbook.

Finding a job in an industry in which there are far, far more qualified applicants than there are jobs means that you have to be committed to finding a job, committed to learning everything you can about the field so that you can hit the ground running, and committed to building your career in that field.

GreenLantern said...

thank you for this blogpost. It is a dream of mine to be an editor (mainly I'd like to be an author but i seem to be lacking in innovation and excelling at criticism :)

Rocky said...

I just came across this and enjoyed reading through it. After almost 10 years of editing--which I landed into unexpectedly--I can relate to the early point about one day just calling yourself an editor. I liked the point about not needing a degree in English. I studied psychology and sociology in undergrad and social work in graduate school and most of my work comes from related fields. Also, I can relate to your point about natural curiosity. I am constantly learning new hobbies or learning about random subjects. I think another trait that comes in handy in this field is a strong work ethic, particularly in terms of wanting to always make the best possible suggestion. I tend to spend too much time editing (I could probably make more if I forced myself somehow to think less about each sentence), but I always try to suggest the most precise, clear, concise, effective words and structures. In a way, I see editing like a puzzle, so if you are a strong writer, a curious learner, a responsible worker, and like to solve puzzles, maybe this profession is for you!

Unknown said...

This is an blog post but has comments in it that are current. I have a Masters Degree in Sociology and major in Criminology. I am writing a book and I sure could use some help. I am 71 years old and am having a difficult time managing my work.

I would like to be able to write 10 or 20 pages and have someone edit them. I have one story that could be contained in two books. One story is about my time as a member of two outlaw motorcycle gangs. The other story is about how I turned my life around. One topic I want to pursue is the idea that along with having long term problems with depression I suffered from PTSD!

My theory or hypothesis is that many ex-bikers and ex-inmates from jail suffer from PTSD. So, the second part of my book would be more clinical and I would be integrating some research already done on PTSD.

I have approached a few people who have written books on bikers and crime. While they say my story is very interesting they go on to say they are busy with their own projects. In fact, they are not interested unless I had left a trail of blood in my swath. For example, the others below were contact and showed great interest but had no time to help me with writing the book:

Anita Arvast: Bloody Justice
Peter Edwards: Unrepentant
Mick Lowe: Conspiracy of Brothers

Where can I go for help and not have to pay lots of money for this project? I am on a fixed income.


Frank H.

jennie said...

Hi Frank,

I'm sure your stories are fascinating, but I have to ask why on Earth would you expect a professional writer or editor to help you for free or for less than their professional rate? They have their own projects and clients to attend to.

Here's a pro-tip that I will share with you for free, because I posted something on my ancient publishing blog a long time ago and even now people ask me questions.

Writers and editors are professionals. They are also, frequently, besieged by people who also want to be writers and editors and would like a professional to read their work and make it into a book.

If you want to get better at writing, or get feedback on your work, consider finding a writing group, where writers critique each others' work. Or take a course, where an instructor will be able to look at the work you submit for class assignments and offer feedback on how to make it stronger and more engaging.

You can post your stories, bit by bit on a blog, and see how readers respond to the unedited versions, if you want an idea of how marketable your writing may be.

But I do not think asking professionals for their time is likely to get you what you want or need.

There are, broadly speaking, two ways to make your work into a book:

1) Traditional publishing: Take a workshop or read some books about how to write a proposal. Write a good proposal. Research publishers who publish your kind of work, and agents who represent your kind of writer. Then, carefully following the instructions for submissions, either send your work to a publisher's slush pile, where, some glorious day an overworked editor or agent will read it and decide whether they want to see more from you. Then, if they do, do everything they tell you to do, and after many more steps, and a lot of writing, revising, editing, writing, copyediting, checking proofs, etc., your book may see the light of day in bookstores and on Amazon, etc.

2) Self publishing: Write your book. Hire an editor at their professional rate (anywhere between $30 and $100/hr, depending on the editor) to work with you to craft your book. You can save money by writing really well to begin with. Obtain an ISBN.Copyedit your book, or hire a copyeditor (typically $20-$60/hr.) Typeset/format your book, or hire a production artist to do the formatting and design. For sure hire someone to proofread your book because you probably can't see your own errors at this point. Pay a press to publish your book. Then flog it to booksellers and get it listed on Amazon, etc.

Either route is valid. Which works for you will depend on how good your writing is, how marketable your book is, and a host of other considerations.

In the first scenario, you spend very little money up front. The agent, if one agrees to represent you, will invest their time, in the hopes that they can sell your book to a publisher. The publisher, if one signs your book, will invest their editorial, production, marketing, and sales resources into ensuring that your book is good and that it reaches its market. This works best if you have a marketable, good product to offer.

In the second scenario, you take the role of the publisher and spend considerable money. This works best if your book is not one that can find a publisher, or if you have the best access to your likely readers.

Either way, someone's gotta get paid to do the work of evaluating your writing and making it marketable.

Good luck.