How to Become an Editor without University...or experience.
May 16, 2008 9:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm very interested in becoming an editor, please help...yes, I've read the previous posts.

I have an innate ability to edit (other people's) writing. Grammar, spelling mistakes, run-on-sentences, nonsensical phrases, (what I've been told is) constructive critique, I encompass all the skills.

Here is the caveat: I don't have a degree (though I do have some college, and am extremely well-read and self-educated) or "official" experience. I would prefer not to have to finish the drudgery of college, since I feel that I already possess the necessary skills, and that a degree (in a lot of cases, not all) is simply an unnecessary requirement of the modern world. I have read previous AskMefi questions regarding this subject, and also had a question regarding the "samples of previous work". How does one showcase them, exactly? Does one have a portfolio of "before" and "after" editing? How does one offer editing services to, say, non-profits for sample-work-building, while making them feel confidence that the job will be well-done, even though one may be inexperienced? Thank you, hive mind, in advance.
posted by nikksioux to Work & Money (33 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
One of the things that college does for you, is open up internship opportunities to help you build your portfolio. You join the school paper (or some organization that needs editors), then use the clips from there to get an internship, then the next summer/semester, you get an internship somewhere a bit better.

You can follow a similar model without being in college, though. You just have to start small, really small.

You could volunteer to edit your church/neighborhood bulletin. You might even be able to take a test and get hired at a small (really small, like a suburban weekly) newspaper, at least for some part-time work. Then you use that experience to work somewhere a bit better.

I know you're not specifically looking to get into newspapers, but if it helps make this seem less daunting, most people editing and reporting at major newspapers did not start there.
posted by Airhen at 9:59 PM on May 16, 2008


This is an extremely, extremely tight market right now. Your best best is going to be finding a small newspaper around your area (I see you're in Seattle. The folks at the Intelligencer are going to be seasoned pros. Is there a tiny community newspaper or non-profit that might need help editing a newsletter? Maybe a community organization that has press releases you can write/edit?) You'll want to try that first. A simple introductory letter detailing your experience should get you a foot in the door. Be prepared to take an editing test ... and to work for peanuts ... or for free. Craigslist is a great resource for these types of jobs. Just be careful that you're not working for some unseemly outfit that's trying to get you to write ads for selling houses or something.

Honestly, I don't know any folks hiring editors right now without a degree. Not now with all the consolidation/layoffs, etc., at all kinds of media outlets. Even though you feel you have the necessary skills, you're going to want to bone up on your grammar (you'd be surprised the rules you've forgotten or never known. Do you know AP style? MLA? Chicago? What type of editing would you like to do?)

Finally, read as much good writing as possible. And good luck.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:01 PM on May 16, 2008


Book publishers and newspapers and magazines will have you take an editing test. This is true even if you have a Ph.D. and 40 years of experience. That's how you'll prove you have the skills they want (which may not be quite the same skills another outfit wants).

To offer your skills to others, as in your example of the non-profit, do a sample edit for them, a page or two so you know what they want you to edit for (spelling, grammar, punctuation are usually givens, but what about adherence to a style?) and so they can see your work. They'll want to see that you can correct what's wrong without changing a writer's unique voice. (Unless, of course, there is a "house" voice.)

When I ran a newspaper, I always cared far more about ability than the piece of paper. Others may not. Many, many times you won't be given the time of day, let alone the courtesy of an interview, without the diploma because there are hungry, hard-working, capable editors who do have one.

The diploma (and the courses that back it up) indicate to a prospective employer that you finish what you start. It also suggests that you have the broad range of knowledge which is crucial for an editor. There is no useless information. My personal storehouse of arcane trivia and half-remembered things from high school and college classes has stood me in excellent stead on various editing projects, both in newspapers and books.

Also, are you truly, truly prepared for the drudgery of being an editor? It's my life's work, but there are days I could just scream at the rank stupidity of the people who are going to get a byline on a story or their name on a book and only because I'm invisibly cleaning up their poor grammar and research. If you have no patience for the drudgery of college, be sure you have the patience to add the same comma after the same conjunction for 400 pages of manuscript. If you're sure about this, see the first couple of grafs again.
posted by bryon at 10:12 PM on May 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


"samples of previous work". How does one showcase them, exactly? Does one have a portfolio of "before" and "after" editing?

Yes, exactly.

How does one offer editing services to, say, non-profits for sample-work-building, while making them feel confidence that the job will be well-done, even though one may be inexperienced?

Mark up a printout of their website or some of their collateral. Cultivate a contact there, and present your edits to them with a tone of humility (not "boy, is your stuff a mess!") and a sincere desire to help.

Most of the general-purpose editorial jobs I see are freelance website editing, and they pay ridiculously little. Like $10-12 an hour.

As far as I can tell, the only way to make decent money as an editor is to develop a specialized domain of expertise, such as biotechnology or medical or environmental consulting. And even then the pay is a fraction of what a writer makes.

I'm sorry to sound discouraging. But I have a college degree and 20 years' experience as a technical editor, and I can't figure out how to make a living by editing alone. I wish I could!
posted by ottereroticist at 10:22 PM on May 16, 2008


A college degree proves that you're willing to go through some drudgery to see a task through to completion, which is a pretty useful skill for an editor to have.

That said, I'm the senior copyeditor for the marketing department in a large company, and when we're hiring -- freelance positions, not fulltime; almost all copyediting jobs these days are contract-based -- I am a lot more interested in experience and skill-based know-how than a BA. Volunteering is a good place to start, but copyediting is a specific skillset that is learned, not intuited. Take some courses through Editcetera or Media Bistro and learn how.

Copyediting portfolios are printed generally printed Word documents with tracked changed visible so the review can see the edits.

Finally, newspaper copyeditors tend to edit to the AP styleguide; in publishing we use The Chicago Manual of Style and a house styleguide. I recommend learning both to make yourself as versatile as possible.
posted by Failure31 at 10:23 PM on May 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


And yes, there are typos in my post. I'm better with other people's writing.
posted by Failure31 at 10:27 PM on May 16, 2008


Although I challenge the assumption that a degree is unnecessary in today's world, the OP didn't say s/he wanted a job at the Intelligencer. Newspaper jobs and publishing jobs are all very competitive (too competitive, for the amount of money they pay editors), but there are plenty of other folks who need the services of a competent editor.

The challenge is that there is no barrier to entry in terms of becoming an editor. Anyone can do it, and this depresses wages. The only thing to do is to specialize. Is there some technical field that you're interested in? Seattle is/was home to Boeing, and there are plenty of suppliers in the aeronautics field with technical manuals to be edited.

But you have to do market research. Who is churning out reams of documentation that needs editing? Legal firms do, but you'll need to study to become a paralegal (but good money). There is also government (but that's in Olympia).

I began my career change as a contract editor cleaning up "Annual Sewage Treatment Guidelines" for a government department. Bureaucrats wrote the content, and I cleaned it up. Very boring. But, over the years I've managed to do some incredibly cool stuff as a rewriter (see my MeFi profile).

But if you want to be a newspaper editor or work in publishing, you will achieve your goal if you stay focused and try hard. *You will make it if you don't give up.*

However, trying hard might mean completing your degree. But there are always shortcuts. I know it because I've taken them and I myself have succeeded. But I've worked damned hard to get where I am.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:32 PM on May 16, 2008


I have an innate[1] ability to edit (other people's) writing. Grammar, spelling mistakes, run-on-sentences, nonsensical phrases, (what I've been told is[2]) constructive critique, I encompass all the skills.

Here is the caveat: I don't have a degree (though I do have some college, and am extremely well-read and self-educated) or "official"[3] experience. I would prefer not to have to finish the drudgery of college, since I feel that I already possess the necessary skills, and that a degree (in a lot of cases, not all) is simply an unnecessary requirement of the modern world. [4]I have read previous AskMefi questions regarding this subject, and also had a question regarding the "samples of previous work". How does one showcase them, exactly? Does one have a portfolio of "before" and "after" editing? How does one offer editing services to, say, non-profits for sample-work-building, while [5]making them feel confidence that the job will be well-done, even though one may be inexperienced? Thank you, hive mind, in advance.
[1] Grammar, spelling and the other skills you mention are learned, so the use of the word innate poses a problem here.

[2] The use of a singular item in a list of what are otherwise plural subjects is awkward.

[3] Do you mean official or are you quoting someone?

[4] New paragraph.

[5] "Making them feel confidence" might be more eloquantly phrased as "giving them confidence".

Sorry to come off as a grammar nazi [I really hate that term] but I am trying to make a useful point towards answering your question . . .

Which is this: the editors I know, the people who read other people's works for a living are pretty much turned on to these things 24/7. They cringe at the use of lowercase letters to start sentences in IM conversations, they would suggest I define IM fully before using the contraction, etc.

So my advice is this, if you're applying for a job in this field you need to make sure your communications, resumes, cover letters, and emails are all very well written. I have the impression that when they hire people for this type of job they don't just hire people who can do it, they hire people who do it all the time anyway and would just like to be paid for it as well.

Also, if you're looking for general editing experience and live in a decent sized city with any sort of immigrant population you can probably put up posters on college or university campuses offering to edit papers for lanugage students who are trying to learn English. You might even be able to make some money on the side that way, and bolster your resume in a relevant way.

P.S. I really really didn't mean to come off as a grammar nazi [that term!], I beg you all, don't check my spelling or grammar, I know it's often weak.
posted by tiamat at 10:34 PM on May 16, 2008 [8 favorites]


How does one offer editing services to, say, non-profits for sample-work-building, while making them feel confidence that the job will be well-done, even though one may be inexperienced?

Shit, if you're offering it for free I'm sure they will tolerate some hand-holding (multiple revisions to get it right...paying customers want it right the first or the second time, and it takes knowledge of the client bordering on ESP). Best way to find this sort of volunteer work (or perhaps they can give you an honorarium or a stipend) is to look up non-profits on the Internet whom you'd like to work with and cold call. This will be useful practice for your career.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:40 PM on May 16, 2008


Before offering my own editorial commentary, I'll begin by answering your question directly...

First, look into copy editing and proofreading classes. Here's a list from the Northwest Independent Editors Guild; the offerings vary from one-day workshops to professional certificate programs. Not only will you hone your editing skills, there will likely be discussions of the local market, how to generate work, etc.

Also, volunteer with a nonprofit or grassroots group; I got some of my first freelance experience by volunteering to edit the brochures and websites for a couple of grassroots political campaigns I was already involved with. Similarly, you can seek out friends or colleagues who have their own businesses to see if they have any printed or web material that needs a good eye; I racked up some additional early experience by proofing/editing material for a couple of coworkers who had started their own computer consulting biz.

Having said that...

It's my life's work, but there are days I could just scream at the rank stupidity of the people who are going to get a byline on a story or their name on a book and only because I'm invisibly cleaning up their poor grammar and research. If you have no patience for the drudgery of college, be sure you have the patience to add the same comma after the same conjunction for 400 pages of manuscript.

Quoted for emphasis and double-plus truth. Editing is a cool job in a lot of ways... but it's also hard, aggravating, tedious, and often thankless (be prepared to be blamed for anything that goes wrong, even when it's caused by the author, designer, or printer, but only rarely acknowledged for the countless things you do right). There's not a lot of glamour to it. It can be satisfying, but not consistently. I also find, as a side effect, that it's taken a slow but steady toll over the years in terms of my ability to read for pleasure and write creatively.

And it really is, at times, drudgery: fact-checking every name/date/reference, ensuring consistency with a style sheet (for a book, that can mean assembling a specialized sheet with hundreds of terms above and beyond the publishing style guide you're using), and meeting often extremely tight deadlines even when authors are late or clients demand unrealistic turnaround times. I'm currently editing a 464-page book in which more than a third of the text came in to me between three and six months late. None of my deadlines, however, have changed -- I have to get the job done, perfectly and on time, anyway. So my nights and weekends have largely been shot since about Thanksgiving, and will continue to be shot through July. Are you up for that sort of thing?

Having great language skills is the necessary starting point for being an editor; it's not, however, the full picture. If you think studying for a test or writing a term paper is tedious, I believe there is a good chance that professional editing (as opposed to just reading your friends' papers and catching mistakes or offering suggestions) may not be up your alley. Frankly, in my experience, college was easier.
posted by scody at 12:02 AM on May 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh, and...

put up posters on college or university campuses offering to edit papers for lanugage students who are trying to learn English.

...is a good suggestion. It also doesn't even have to be for language students; you could offer to copy edit or proofread theses or dissertations, too. But for those, make sure you know which style guide is required for the student turning in the work (as mentioned upthread, you should familiarize yourself with the main style guides you might need to work in: Chicago, MLA, etc.).
posted by scody at 12:12 AM on May 17, 2008


Sorry - I really am quite passionate about this. My partner is gainfully employed in the industry, but it comes from years and years of grunt work and training.

I feel that I already possess the necessary skills.

If I can be blunt, then I will take a Pepsi Challenge that you most likely don't. And if I can be even more blunt, the questions you are asking shows that you are a little naive on what editing is about.

My partner is a copy-editor (with a degree). You should be aware that editing is a lot more than just reading through and fixing the occasional sentence or spelling mistake. There are special printing and annotation marks to be used that represent when to replace words, insert paragraphs and the like. If you see the a properly corrected page - they are literally covered with them (often with more marks than actual typed script on a page). This isn't a trivial thing either, the book where the official marks are annotated is quite thick (for what it is), and there is a mark to cater for every spelling and grammar contingency.

But of course, editing is even more than that. You will often need to specialise in specific technical jargon, deal with vainglorious writers, and know and the understand the entire writing process from writing to publication. (and understanding it at a college level: whether that comes from having a degree or from years of experience in the industry).

As has been mentioned before, this is a very VERY tight industry. Mainly because many people with little real experience have flooded the market, thinking its a doddle. Thus most companies who employ freelance editors are a highly suspicious lot, and will insist on credentials and past experience.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 1:22 AM on May 17, 2008


Mainly because many people with little real experience have flooded the market, thinking its a doddle
Yes. My favourite being the chap who interviewed with us for an editing position and said breezily that while he didn't have any actual editing experience per se, he had "a book, and will pick it up in a month or two, no problem".

I don't think we'd bother with a clips book either, but our industry is tight and names get passed around. The way to get a staff job with us is to impress as a freelance. If you can get casual work at smaller papers there, that's your way in. (Here you'd call the chief sub-editor directly to ask him if shifts were available, I'm not sure what the US equivalent is.)
posted by bonaldi at 4:38 AM on May 17, 2008


How does one showcase them, exactly?

I want to emphasize a point that has been touched on by a few people. One of the central ways you showcase your editing skills is by not having so many editing errors in your own writing. On top of the examples already given, your punctuation is flawed, your word choices are not ideal, there is inconsistent capitalization in your title, and some sentences are incomplete, and that's just what jumps out at a casual glance by a non-professional.

None of that is a really big deal in a regular, casual MeFi post. (We all have done worse, I am sure.) But in a post that is making a claim about your abilities as an editor, there is a dissonance between those claims and the writing you have provided, just as there is a dissonance between your dismissal of college as drudgery and your stated desire for the drudgery of editing.

If you are going to be out hustling up editing work, you need to make sure that every printed word and every communication that you send out is presenting you in the best light. Some mistakes are inevitable, sure, but there is a limit. If words are going to be your business, you need to take words seriously.
posted by Forktine at 5:14 AM on May 17, 2008 [5 favorites]


I was a science and technical editor for over five years and am still a freelance copyeditor/writer in the field. I want to support what others have said, although I assume you want to work in a less specialized part of the industry. The field is generally so competitive I can't see how you could get work without a degree or certification from a program or well regarded organization. Beyond that, the more specialized knowledge you have, the more likely you can make a living. Lots of people are familiar with Chicago or AP style; far fewer know AMA, APA, or the many more arcane scientific and technical styles. Far fewer people still are able to tolerate the murderous ennui that accompanies reading and editing highly technical documents. The highly accomplished editors I've worked with are like walking encyclopedias of the major style of their field and are further able to work among many different house styles. Furthermore, few freelancers are fortunate enough to work with a single magazine or journal, and all publications have house styles with specialized quirks that must be learned and negotiated. Even the best editors I've known regularly get stumped by arcane questions that are either not clearly addressed in the house style of the publications they work for, or issues that have somehow never arisen in previous manuscripts.

If you want paid work, start with training; volunteering is helpful but isn't a replacement for it. You'll also want to join a professional organization for certifications and access to job boards and networking. In life science and medical editing, BELS, CSE, and AMWA are the big players. ACES is the major journalism organization; check out their blog for a good overview of the field. Whatever your interest ends up being such organizations can guide you through the necessary steps to be considered trained and proficient, as well as provide the aforementioned networking opportunities. Getting hired is generally a two-stage process; a company will review your resume and if you have the training and experience you will get a test, to create the sort of "before and after" you mentioned in your question. Every company has its own test, and they can be pretty damn lengthy, so job searching is itself a big timesuck.

Before you start investing a lot of time and money, though, I'll reiterate: it's difficult work and a tight job market, and even the best have often have to scrabble pretty hard to make a decent living at it. Unless you work in-house at a publication, an increasingly rare thing, you spend a lot of time hustling for jobs. I know a few happy people who've got past the hustling stage who get steady work from good companies that pay well (and, miracle of miracles, on time) who love what they do. The majority are freelancers, none of whom do this full time without a partner with a reliable income and health insurance. Forgive the gloom and doom, but it's a mostly underpaid and unappreciated line of work and you should know that before you start. Best of luck.
posted by melissa may at 6:07 AM on May 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


I should clarify one point: I am not a full-time freelancer, although that was my original intent. I do it as a supplement. I can't handle the unpredictability, and that colors my answer here.
posted by melissa may at 6:17 AM on May 17, 2008


If you think studying for a test or writing a term paper is tedious, I believe there is a good chance that professional editing (as opposed to just reading your friends' papers and catching mistakes or offering suggestions) may not be up your alley.

Quoted for truth. Also, what TheOtherGuy said. You do not "encompass all the skills," you just enjoy fixing your friends' grammar. If you get to the point where you're actually paid for it, you'll discover 1) it's 90% pure drudgery and 2) it requires a lot more knowledge than you thought. I do it for a living myself, but it's not much of a living; if my wife and I wanted to eat out, go on trips, etc. I'd have to find a more lucrative profession.

If you still want to give it a try, read melissa may's excellent answer.
posted by languagehat at 7:36 AM on May 17, 2008


Lots of people assume they can edit, which means lots of people apply for editing work, which means that those of us who hire editors become ruthless.

I occasionally hire editors, and I reject most applicants just by glancing through their cover letter. One error is one too many, and most cover letters have them. The applicants who make it over that hurdle then have to take an editing test, which 90% fail by missing errors in the test or, worse, introducing new problems.

If it helps any, I don't care about degrees. I care about how they perform on the editing test.

Also: I used to be an editor. As some commenters have pointed out, it can take a psychological toll. I quickly came to feel that I was just the clean-up girl, always working behind the scenes to make someone else look good, a martyr for someone else's cause. I also had to read so much dry dreck that it started to affect my own writing voice. I switched to writing for my money and am far, far happier.

If you're determined to become an editor, I agree that a class would be a good idea. It would strengthen your sensitivity to errors and give you the basic vocabulary and tools used in the profession.
posted by PatoPata at 7:54 AM on May 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


In response:


I don't wish to work for a newspaper. Yes, I am aware that editing is not glamorous or exciting. No, I am not going to showcase writing skills on AskMefi, this is neither a cover letter, nor a job, and your need to "correct" a casual internet post is sad to say the least. Do you rally not get enough attention at home? I never said I was opposed to taking a class, but for myself, the decision not to finish college is based upon a personal feeling that the amount of complete idiots graduating from college these days, as opposed to the amount of people gaining actual wisdom...well, there is no comparison. In addition, I never asked for anyone's opinion regarding said decision, and if you think the questions I ask are uninformed, you would be correct. This is the reason for the post, I am asking questions of people who have answers. If I already knew, there would be no reason to ask anything. The fact that I don't have a handle on every little fact about editing, does not mean I wouldn't make a good one. In conclusion, I'm not asking for your criticism, just the bare answers to the questions I asked. Thanks.
posted by nikksioux at 8:52 AM on May 17, 2008


In light of your current account status, I will offer an observation about the profession that I haven't seen here overtly: A thick skin is an absolute necessity.
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:13 AM on May 17, 2008 [5 favorites]


Came in here to say exactly what gnomeloaf did. You have to emotionally distance yourself from criticism; otherwise you will fail as an editor.

but for myself, the decision not to finish college is based upon a personal feeling that the amount of complete idiots graduating from college these days, as opposed to the amount of people gaining actual wisdom...well, there is no comparison.

I don't understand your reasoning here. Why would a degree that you earned be a reflection on others? The most important thing that college can offer you is not necessarily a degree, but a whole boatload of opportunities that will be virtually nonexistent to you as a non-student. You could get an on-campus job to start your resume (I would be nowhere without the years I spent editing at my college paper); you have access to a career center; your professors can offer you professional guidance; you will be eligible for editing internships at places that are otherwise impossible to work at; you can edit students' papers pro-bono to gain experience...

Not going to college to complete your degree is probably the easiest way to not jumpstart your editing career.
posted by phatkitten at 9:46 AM on May 17, 2008


Nikksioux, your two posts here demonstrate beyond a doubt that you're "rally not" qualified to be a professional editor yet. Editors don't find it easier to write clumsy "casual" prose, and they don't consider it an extra effort to write "showcased" prose -- any more than a professional violinist finds it easier to play out of tune.

You're not ready. The folks here pointing that out to you are doing you a kindness. Finding this out by yourself on the market would be a good deal more painful. What is "sad to say the least" is that you're trying so hard not to listen to the very good advice they're giving you.

You can be an editor, and the best way to get there is to finish your degree, taking lots of composition courses and working closely with your teachers to hone your skills. There's really no shortcut to get there from where you are now -- honest.
posted by gum at 9:54 AM on May 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm a career editor, and I'm just so impressed with the comprehensive and expert opinions in this thread that I shall keep it in mind for the next time someone I know asks me for advice on how to be an editor.

Nikksioux, you're not doing yourself any favours by dismissing the advice proffered to you in this thread. Everyone thinks they they can edit, but they are almost always wrong. The publishing house for which I work has a terrible time finding good editors to hire. My director will select, on the strength of resumés submitted to her, a batch of twenty people for a job, and they'll all flunk the test.

I really recommend that you go back to university and also take as many editing/publishing courses as you can find in your area — and meanwhile get as much volunteer experience as you can. You don't have the kind of analytical ability and general intellectual maturity you need in order to be a good editor. An editor also really needs a certain humility and willingness to reflect on criticism. Overconfidence is an editor's worst enemy, not to mention that the editors I have known who both pride themselves on their talent to improve the work of others and react angrily when anyone dares to criticize them become deeply unpopular in any workplace.
posted by orange swan at 11:26 AM on May 17, 2008


No idea if the OP is still reading this, but...

the decision not to finish college is based upon a personal feeling that the amount of complete idiots graduating from college these days, as opposed to the amount of people gaining actual wisdom...well, there is no comparison.

...just underscores the impression that you don't have the personal skills to endure the professional side of editing. Much of your job will be to endure idiots -- bad writers who take offense but are going to get all the credit for the work you do, for example, or people who think that because they are experts in their chosen subject matter, they are also experts in grammar, style, and the entire publishing process. Idiots are the main occupational hazard of editing. They usually get paid better and get all the credit, to boot.

So if the frank but perfectly polite advice in this thread was enough to make you take your ball and go home, you won't last a day as an editor. Believe me. I've done this for 15 years and there have been stretches of time where I've been sorely tempted to go back to working retail, on the basis that is has more dignity.
posted by scody at 12:07 PM on May 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


Most successful editors I know love language and logic and are cursed with a hypersensitivity to errors in all prose, whether it's a casual post on the internet or a paper in a scholarly journal. On the other hand, if editing appeals to you mainly because you feel like you know better than, for example, those "complete idiots" who graduate college, you will have some trouble finding people willing to work with you.

You might want to find an experienced editor to mentor you. Maybe they could have you do a first pass of their usual work and then show you how to improve. This would give you real-world skills and improve your ability to accept feedback. I took a university course that did exactly that, and there are probably similar courses offered through the organizations that many other commenters have helpfully pointed out in this thread.
posted by PatoPata at 12:13 PM on May 17, 2008


And another thing, for any hopeful editors who want to get paid decently: If typos and such leap off the screen and smack you in the face, you might enjoy doing quality assurance for software developers and other businesses that put text on the screen. I find it much more tolerable than conventional editing. The advantages for me: the original author is far removed from the process, so no egos are threatened; 99% of my changes are immediately accepted and made; and the content to check includes images and functions, not just text. It still feels like cleaning up others' messes and can get boring, but I get more respect and more money. It's not the main focus of my business, but I don't turn the work down.
posted by PatoPata at 12:38 PM on May 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


Here you'd call the chief sub-editor directly to ask him if shifts were available, I'm not sure what the US equivalent is.

It's the copy chief, generally, in the U.S., though sometimes the news editor runs the copy desk.
posted by Airhen at 1:01 PM on May 17, 2008


I'm a full-time, salaried editor of trade and mass market children's books. My job could not be more different from those of the technical editors, freelance editors, and copyeditors who answer above. Editing is the heart of my job, but I spend the vast majority of my time on other things. Before I had my first internship, I would never have been able to begin guessing at what those things would be, and even now I'm constantly learning more things I need to do besides edit.

I do think that a person can have a natural talent for editorial work. Yes, you need experience in order to get real paid editorial work. You don't know everything you need to know yet; talent is not enough. But publishing is an apprenticeship business. You learn by doing the work alongside people who already know how to do it. Internships, associates programs, publishing courses, volunteering, temping, and taking entry-level assistant positions are all ways to do this. Even those things need some experience to get, usually. I work with editorial assistants that didn't have editorial experience before, but they did have college degrees AND some kind of professional experience.

I know a lot of editors--editors of books for adults and kids, magazines, newspapers, websites, you name it--and I've never heard the same story twice. Some did school papers and yearbook and then editorial internships in college, going straight into entry level editorial jobs. Some were teachers, or booksellers, or administrative assistants, or worked in non-profits, or in different departments in publishing before starting in editorial. I've never met an editor that didn't graduate college.

A lot of people go to college not knowing what they want to do after they're done. You do. You have the opportunity to go back to school and really focus on your career goals the entire time. In class, you can focus on the part where you have to read and write a lot and answer to someone for it (definitely relevant to my work now). Within the school you can work on school publications, literary magazines, yearbooks, whatever you fancy. You could start your own publication or literary workshop or event. You can have internships! This is key. In order to edit, you need a working editor (or many) to show you how. Not everyone gets to that point. The people who do are the ones who show the desire and drive to learn by doing the things I list above first, before trying to get paid work as an "editor." And they're also the people who don't give up at it, either, because I know plenty of editors who have spent significant amounts of time on unemployment or waiting tables while looking for work, myself included. It takes really wanting it not to take your ball and just go back home.

There are things I disagree with above. I don't care if people don't capitalize when they IM. I don't expect people to write perfectly on the internet. If I did, I'd go insane. My company employs copyeditors and more copyeditors because even professional editors and copyeditors can't be expected to see and fix all of their own errors. But what they say about a thick skin and a cool head is very wise. As an editor, your job is to cause authors (and many other people, all of whom fall under the category of "creative types"--AKA temperamental) much pain and suffering. It's not on purpose, but it's a fact of the business that it's hard having someone else change the work you've slaved over. You have to be intermediary between creative, temperamental people. You have to be the calm one. You can't take anything personally or you can't do your job right.

I think some of the responses you've gotten come off a little snippy to you because this is the kind of job where, for whatever reason, many people people think they can just jump in and do it, and meanwhile it's also the type of job where most people have very little idea what it actually entails on a day-to-day basis. It's not your fault or theirs. Don't take it personally. If you have a talent for it, if you're smart, and if you want to learn, you can learn. But you have to do things to show your potential employers that those things are true; otherwise they have no way of knowing you from the thousands of other people who think they can do the job but don't know anything yet.
posted by lampoil at 1:06 PM on May 17, 2008 [6 favorites]


It may be a big world, but it's a tight market -- the last opening for a full-time editor at my job generated something like a hundred resumes. This isn't about the merits of serial commas, it's about how to get a job as an editor, and the varied skills, training, and experience it requires.

Also, print's not dead. It's just resting!
posted by scody at 1:24 PM on May 17, 2008


Here's how the original poster described what they edit: "grammar, spelling mistakes, run-on-sentences, nonsensical phrases." That's copy editing, so it's understandable that most responses addressed copy editing.
posted by PatoPata at 2:10 PM on May 17, 2008


Lampoil, great reply -- I wish I'd been as constructive.

Johngoren, editorial work IS pedant alley. If you can't take the warmhearted heat on Metafilter from people who are honestly trying to help you out, you're not going to last as long as a roasted marshmallow in the hardheaded world of editing.
posted by gum at 2:49 PM on May 17, 2008


True, but the poster may not yet know the differences between editor and copyeditor yet. Most people don't when they're first toying with the idea of entering the field. The poster also mentioned constructive critique. The skills and tasks for the two jobs are different but applicable to one another.

There is, in fact, room for many different kinds of editors. There just isn't room for everyone who'd be interested in becoming one. Hiring managers may toss resumes for a single typo, just because they have to narrow them down somehow and there's a lot of qualified people out there looking for jobs these days.
posted by lampoil at 2:53 PM on May 17, 2008


May I suggest you try out your skills as a proofreader? This will give you a taste of the work without adding the stress of dealing with egos, and you don't need to be expert in a field to proofread. So it's a place to start, and if you demonstrate the basic skills and show you can learn and adhere to the house style of the publisher and meet deadlines, you may work your way "up." See if there's a technical or medical publisher near you or a scientific journal. Ask at the med school; they may have an in-house editorial staff to help polish journal articles for publication. Even if they don't have a job, you might find someone who'd help you. Good luck.
posted by sevenstars at 7:08 AM on May 19, 2008


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