Career change options for editors
September 11, 2012 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me determine a new career path and the steps I need to take to get there? Currently in editorial/publishing and considering communications, education, and maybe information architecture.

I currently work on the editorial team of a publishing house and have been there for about 3 years. I love both the book publishing industry and editorial work, but I have experienced little growth and see limited development opportunities in my current position. Combined with the shrinking nature of the industry, heavy competition for a limited number of positions, and famously low pay, I think I need to consider changing industries.

This is what I like about publishing/editorial:
- Making words and information neat and tidy.
- Being able to have a real*, finished product in my hands at the end of a project. (*Virtual products count too!)
- Knowing that I’m contributing to something that might be helpful or interesting to somebody.
- Being able to learn about many subjects as part of my work.

My skills:
I’m lacking some confidence in my skills outside the publishing industry, but this is what I feel I can offer:

Copyediting and proofreading (obviously).
Writing – I’ve done snippets of writing for work here and there.
Photo research and some permissions gathering (but not price negotiations).
Project management/coordination – Maybe? I’ve found authors for small contributions or supplementary works, scheduled their work, and provided feedback. I don’t know if that counts as “project management”.
Web skills – This is where I’m fuzziest on my skill level. I worked on a project where I uploaded and edited text in a custom content management system. I also did some text formatting using custom mark-up tags. My coworkers were impressed with my ability to swim around in these environments, but I feel that I’m just not up to scratch outside the publishing realm. I am picking away at CodeAcademy tutorials when I have the time, but I’m not being terribly focused about it.
Administrative/organizational – I’ve done the typical administrative thing, and have helped set up an invoice tracking system (in Excel).

This is where I’m thinking of going:
Communications – Jobs for communications coordinators and communications officers seem to share a lot of skills I already posses and can be found in many interesting industries. However, a lot of them also ask for writing portfolios and experience in web development, graphic design, and social media. They also tend to seek people with marketing experience.

Education – I’ve been considering instructional design for some time, but I don’t know how to get my foot in the door, or find out whether it’s something I’d really enjoy. I see very few entry-level instructional design jobs, and most job postings require knowledge of specific software. What other jobs can I seek out in the education industry? (Open to anything from primary to post-secondary, public or private. I have some modest teaching experience, mostly to elementary-aged students if relevant.)

Information architecture – Sounds interesting, but don’t really know much about it or if I would enjoy it. How can I learn more about what information architects do? Would I need to go back to school for this?

So what’s my next step? How can I polish up my skills to make myself more appealing to companies outside the publishing industry? Buckle down with some tutorials and learn HTML/CSS and Adobe Creative Suite? Build a portfolio? Take a class? Volunteer or intern? Can you think of any other jobs or industries that I might enjoy?

Thank you, Career Coach Metafilter!

*Just in case anyone mentions it, I do not think I am cut out for freelance editorial work at this point in my life. I really need the 9-to-5 structure to be productive.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (3 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Information Architecture for the World Wide Web AKA "The polar bear book" is probably still the best starting point for information architecture. It's definitely possible to transition from editorial to information architecture (and it's a route that many have taken in the past) but it's a pretty wide field so you'd have to pin down a little bit more what your interests are within it. It can encompass everything from library science type activities and database design, to the user experience side of things (i.e. interface design etc.), in domains ranging from websites and web apps, mobile site and apps, interactive TV, to desktop programs, public touchscreen kiosks, enterprise architecture, etc.

One important thing is that "information architecture" can be somewhat ambigious as a term. On the one hand it's strictly speaking just the arrangement of information, and is considered to be one half of user experience architecture (with interface design being the other half*). On the other hand, "information architecture" is often used as a synonym for user experience architecture as a whole, and so an "information architect" would be expected to have interface design and user experience skills.

* Well, you could also include service design, social media strategy, etc. these days.

To cut to the chase, I work as a user experience architecture (previously known as an information architect in the broader sense as above), and I think it's a great profession.

- It's an expanding industry, and in the agencies I've worked in there has been a very positive work culture
- You do get the satisfaction of developing a product (unless you get stuck with vapourware as sometimes happens)
- You learn about the different subjects you work on, based on the clients you work for (hence why it's more interesting to work in an agency on multiple clients rather than in-house for one client)
- It's definitely a plus to have domain knowledge in technical development, graphic design, editorial, user experience, brand development, etc. but you certainly don't need to be a practitioner in any of these things. In a reasonable sized agency or in-house team, it's specialised enough to have seperate strategists, copywriters, designers, developers).

In terms of how to get started, I would say the best strategy is to read up on IA, user experience, interface design, information design, etc. and seek out entry level internships. Certainly where I am, the demand for this role is still higher than the number of people doing it, so there are training opportunities available.

Feel free to message me with any questions :)
posted by iivix at 12:40 PM on September 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

I work as an online campaigner for an advocacy organization, and you might enjoy that work. Basically, I work with our campaigns to figure out the best ways to engage people in our issues online: I do things like write online petitions and emails, develop social media strategy, and manage web projects.

One of my favorite parts of the job is figuring out how to take complex issues and translate them so they're accessible to a wide variety of people. I also definitely get to feel like I'm producing something that is useful to society! As for learning about different issues, you can definitely get that if you work for a larger organization or consulting firm (of which there are many).

The pay isn't corporate, but it tends to be on the better end of nonprofit pay, and it's a rapidly-growing field with more demand for these skills than supply of people who have them. If you're not interested in advocacy work, many non-political nonprofits have these types of positions as well.

As far as career path, there's no one route - I know people who do this work who are former press secretaries, journalists, PhD students, community organizers, etc. But there's always a need for people who can write concisely and without grammar/spelling errors, so your editorial background would position you well.

If you're interested in exploring this more, check out the New Organizing Institute's website, which has a lot of good info about the field in general - they also run online and in-person trainings that are a good way to get started. Feel free to memail me as well.
posted by lunasol at 1:07 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm an instructional designer. If you're thinking about this field, it is important to distinguish K-12 or higher education from adult, workplace-centered training and development. I work in the latter. I think most jobs labeled "instructional design" are in my side of the field, particularly if they are asking for specific software packages.

Training and development departments tend to have two different paradigms, depending on the size of the organization and the amount of resources developed to training and development. Either the tasks in the development of training are divided among specialists (instructional designer does analysis of need, designs class and hands off to developer who builds courseware and then trainer teaches class) or the whole development process is handled by one person. I have always been the jack-of-all-trades type of designer, doing analysis, design, development and training. There is some additional specialization in the field into computer-based training or e-learning (which requires more technical knowledge) and classroom training. I do both, and having the e-learning skills really makes you more valuable to employers.

I highly recommend this as a career. Each one of the things you said you like about your current work is TOTALLY applicable to instructional design. The pay is pretty good, the work is not stressful, and there is a lot of room to grow.

I got into instructional design by taking a trainer job in my field, and just growing and growing my design skills. I don't have a degree specific to instructional design and it has not been a problem. But I work in hospitals and they tend to highly value previous experience working in hospitals, more so than other industries.

If after doing some more research into instructional design (see below), you think it would be a good fit, I recommend looking for a post-graduate certificate in instructional design or perhaps instructional technology/e-learning (if that appeals to you). There are a lot of M.A. programs out there for this, but a certificate would let you get your foot in the door at a lower cost. The key things you should get out of a certificate program are a foundation in instructional design methods (ADDIE is the most common model, but there are others) and adult learning principles, some software skills, some things to put in a portfolio, and opportunities to connect to internships or job opportunities.

In terms of technical knowledge, for e-learning you should learn Adobe Captivate as well as the other Creative Suite components. Great Captivate skills are more important in this field than great Photoshop skills (and honestly I don't use Photoshop very often - it's way more power than I need). HMTL/CSS is often a nice-to-have more than a must-have, but VERY useful (I really think everybody should know this just because). Articulate Studio and Articulate Storyline are also popular software elearning packages.

Some additional reading:
What does an instructional designer do? Also good info on how to get into the field.
What instructional designers do: Is this the career for you?

Feel free to memail me for more info. And good luck!
posted by jeoc at 8:25 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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