How to Become an Editor – Land a Great Editing Job
Becoming an editor is an amazing career choice for aspiring writers, wordsmiths, fiction lovers, and book nerds. But there is enormous choice in the range of editing jobs available, and there are many different ways you can start your editing career. This post will outline four different editing pathways- copy editing, fiction editing, academic editing, newspaper editing – and provide specific tips on how to become an editor for each of these roles.
How to become a copy editor
Copyeditors are responsible for ensuring that manuscripts have the proper spelling and grammar, and that a submitted text conforms to the house style rules. Virtually every publisher has a set of in-house style guidelines, and the copyeditor will need to master these rules in addition to standard grammar and spelling.
Copyeditors do not only work for publishing houses and magazines, however. Many businesses that produce copy also employ copyeditors to harmonize style across different published texts, which can range from technical pamphlets to advertising campaigns to informational brochures.
Depending on your own areas of interest, you could do copyediting in tech, travel, literature, and basically any field that people write about.
The New Yorker, a publication famous for its quirky in-house style, has some copyediting-related videos by the Comma Queen. They are very entertaining, so check them out here.
Louise Harnby also has a very interesting blog that touches on many themes in copyediting. She has a ton of insights about editing fiction, as well as copyediting in general, so well worth checking out if you want some detailed info on the space.
- Master your grammar. You can be confident that any interview for a copyediting job will require you to have a deep command of grammar and spelling. Brush up on MLA standards or any industry-specific conventions, so you can impress potential employers. Make sure your resume has zero grammatical or spelling errors. Errors on the resume are terrible for any job, but it sends a particularly bad signal for a copyediting job. If you need to brush up on the basics, check out Good with Words from Coursera.
- Understand your employer’s style. If you are going to copyedit for a particular company, you will need to know the style and tone they require. Get really familiar with the copy that you would be editing, so you can discuss this style in your cover letter or interview. If you are really knowledgeable about a company’s style, your potential employer will see that you can hit the ground running when you arrive.
- Do freelance proofreading. Tons of writers require proofreading as they submit manuscripts during the publication process, so offering proofreading services is a great way to build experience. You can advertise online or to your own network of writing friends. This is a pretty straightforward way to build experience, and you can even earn some money once you have a reputation (NY Book Editors has a good post on the differences between proofreading and copyediting).
How to become a fiction editor
Fiction editors assess and revise fiction of all different types – poetry, novels, short stories, etc. A fiction editor may herself be a published author or poet, who enjoys the process of workshopping other people’s work. In general, editors of fiction are incredibly well-read and have a deep intuitive understanding of current literary trends.
When editing for a publisher, fiction editors must also balance market demands with literary quality to ensure published works will find a receptive readership.
- Write and develop your own portfolio. Writing and/or publishing your own work is a fantastic way to build credibility and demonstrate your literary talents. Even if you cannot publish, a blog can really help distinguish you from other candidates, by showcasing your own writing abilities. Not all of your writing needs to be fiction, though. Essays about trends in publishing or reviews of new books are also a great way to refine your own style and show off your own abilities as someone with great taste.
- Target editorial assistant jobs. Editorial assistants are junior editors that work for more senior people in the field. Many publishing houses and magazines employ editorial assistants, and these are fantastic on-ramps especially for people with little experience. These are some of the most popular listings on Human Jobs because they offer direct exposure to the editing field. Search for “editor” here to find some great entry level editing jobs.
- Volunteer your editing services. If you are still at university, editing a student publication is probably the easiest way to build relevant experience. But even if you are out of school, many writers love to have an extra pair of eyes on their material, so try advertising freelance editing work to aspiring fiction writers. It may be hard to get paid at first, but the experience will expose you to different kinds of writing and help develop your editing eye. It is also something you can put on your resume when you apply for a paid editing post.
How to become an academic editor
Editors for academic publishers usually specialize in a particular area of research and become intimately familiar with the academic landscape in that space. Many academic editors have doctorates or advanced degrees in their field of interest, but this is not required. A deep passion for specific areas of academic research is a must, however.
This is a fantastic career route for PhD students or other academic types who don’t want to become professors or full-time researchers. The Wikipedia page on academic publishing has a really good taxonomy of the academic editing profession, so if you want more detail, I would head over there.
How to become an academic editor
- Become an expert. While getting a PhD is not required, demonstrable expertise in an academic subject is a requirement for this profession. Intimate knowledge of the scholarly landscape in a particular subject is likely more important than your own publications, because as an editor, you will be assessing new academic research. Familiarity with the academic publishing process and the specifics of your own field is also a huge plus. Some fields, like history, focus heavily on publishing monographs, whereas some scientific subjects like theoretical computer science place greater emphasis on journal articles and conference papers. Knowing the ins-and-outs of your field will help distinguish you during the job hunt.
- Review scholarly research. For young academics and aspiring editors, writing reviews is usually the best way to start publishing and build credibility. Academic journals are often looking for smart writers to pen short reviews on new academic literature. Relative to publishing full-scale articles and books, reviews are much easier to come by, and they are especially well-suited for demonstrating your editorial credentials. Book reviews draw upon similar skills that an academic editor needs, so having a published book review to your name can really help.
How to become a newspaper editor
The name is pretty self-explanatory, but newspaper editors have a set of demands, which may differ from other types of editors. Newspapers and news magazines generally employ editors for specific topics or regions, and they oversee and curate articles on that area. When managing journalists, newspaper editors will need to verify the validity of sources and claims to ensure the final article meets proper journalistic standards.
If you want to read about the life of a high-profile newspaper editor, the longtime editor of the Financial Times, Lionel Barber, just published some scintillating excerpts from his diaries, which are really interesting and highly recommended.
- Become a journalist. There is really one main on-ramp to becoming a newspaper or magazine editor and that is becoming a journalist yourself. In the process of managing reporters and deciding on editorial direction, the experience of actually chasing leads and writing stories is vital for an editor.
- Write articles on spec. Writing articles “on spec” is the process of writing a piece and then shopping it around to different publications until it is accepted. Instead of getting an assignment, speculative articles will require you to find a willing publisher yourself. If you have a great story and feel confident it will be accepted, this is a fantastic way to establish a journalistic reputation and get noticed for your work.
There many other types and sub-types of editors not covered here, but hopefully these tips will be widely applicable for most kinds of editing jobs. If you have experience or your own advice, please comment below – other aspiring writers/editors will certainly be grateful!
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