Freelance to staff leap
October 30, 2006 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Turducken said it concisely: "When (most) freelance writers want to have a family or buy a house, they get jobs as... editors." I am wondering just how they (we) do that!

I'm a freelance writer, self-employed for ten years or so, who'd like to
move into a staff job. I'd rather not take a giant cut in pay and status
as an entry-level editorial assistant -- been there, a decade ago -- but
in the intervening years I've just been happily freelancing, which seems to have kept me a bit out of the staff-job loop.

I write about a range of topics (primarily food) for publications like
the New York Times, Gourmet, and Playboy. I have enough regular gigs to support myself comfortably. I live in New York City, the heart of such things. I'm confident that my editorial/managerial skills are excellent, honed over years of pitching and collaborating, as well as through extracurricular activities (band manager, dinner club president, etc.).

So my questions are A) where are the jobs? Agencies? Headhunters? The
pickings I've found via listings boards and word of mouth are pretty
skimpy; and B) how do I land one of these jobs if my resume is mostly just a long list of articles and books I've written, peppered with testimonials from editors who love me?
posted by Eater to Work & Money (7 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The absolute best way? Get those editors aware that you're looking, they hear it all and pass it on.
posted by GaelFC at 10:25 AM on October 30, 2006

Response by poster: Some of them have been aware for over a year that I've been looking. Either they're not particularly tapped in, or they're in no great hurry to lose a nice reliable deadline-meeter.
posted by Eater at 10:49 AM on October 30, 2006

Best answer: This is a tough situation; my experience as an editor in NYC was that nearly everyone worked their way up from editorial assistant to assistant editor to associate editor, and so on. I would have been very, very surprised to see someone with little or no editorial experience hired for an upper-level* editorial job. Although it's fair to say that editing does use some skills you might have acquired elsewhere (people skills, multitasking, management), a lot of the job is just learning, and getting better, as you go. Having editorial experience on a resume is enormously important if you want a job as an editor -- to me, moving from full-time freelance writer to upper-level editor is really not a natural or expected progression. Unfortunately, the other applicants for these jobs will most likely be people with a few years of solid full-time editorial experience.

Rather than shooting for an upper-level editing position right off the bat, you might have better luck selling yourself to publishers as a communications person or an in-house writer. You'd probably find yourself doing some level of editorial work in those positions that could help you score a more ideal editorial job later -- and you wouldn't be starting at the very bottom of the ladder.

In terms of where to find jobs, I assume you're already looking at Mediabistro and Craigslist? I also found that a lot of publishers just didn't bother listing their jobs anywhere but their own websites, so for me, it was worthwhile to spend an afternoon bookmarking them all and checking back regularly. If you do find that you're having trouble fitting your skills to the jobs you see opening up, it might be worth consulting a headhunter who could give you some other ideas about how to get your foot in the door.

*(I am using "upper-level" here to mean most editorial positions above being an EA -- you sound like you are looking at least for something at an assistant/associate editor level.)
posted by Siobhan at 11:31 AM on October 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

(Not sure if this will help, or is maybe too darn obvious, or maybe you are only interested in the publishing field.) The company that I work for (in the e-learning field) has lots of people on staff who have been freelance writers at one time or another. Their job title officially is "Instructional Designer" - they aren't quite "technical writers" - they are sort of a cross between an Editor and a Technical Writer. We also have a lot of "Content Editors" who are probably the closest thing to a traditional editor. And my wife used to work for a large legal database company (like Lexis Nexis) which has many "Editors" on staff, as well as "Legal Editors" - who are Editors with law degrees. So I guess what I'm saying is you may need to broaden where you are looking for "Editor" jobs.
posted by chr1sb0y at 12:04 PM on October 30, 2006

seconding the suggestion to look for other job titles; I worked (for a company that developed distance learning modules) as a content developer, which was a sort of cross between copywriting and editing, as part of my transition into becoming a full-time staff editor.

Also, what bout taking on some freelance proofreading/copyediting to help boost your resume?
posted by scody at 12:20 PM on October 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

About five years ago I joined a professional organization (just add your race/ethnicity/gender to "journalism" and you've got a group), and it has gotten me two great jobs at terrific publications.

And if you find any headhunters who can actually place journalists in positions that are appropriate for them, do us all a favor and tell us about it. Because I think such people are imaginary.
posted by brina at 3:02 PM on October 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Hey there, it's me. For the record, the 5 or 6 freelance writers I know personally who have become "upper-level" editors (to use sioban's definition) at legitimate (i.e., non-trade, name-brand) magazines had all, at one time, been regular contributors to those same publications. But this is not exactly cause and effect: The common factor was that the writers got to know the powers-that-be at the mags (either publisher or editor-in-chief) socially. They became friends with their future bosses, in other words -- either because the editors were fans of their good work, or by traveling in the same social circles. For most (but not all), this was the X-factor that allowed them to make the "leap." (Note I didn't say "networked" with their future bosses. These are legitimate friendships.)

I agree with the comments above that imply one can't "earn" his or her way into a top editing job simply by being a good writer. Just as many bad writers have become great editors, there are many great writers who would make terrible editors. So before committing to this new field, you should first ask yourself if sitting in an office all day, going to staff meetings, and talking on the phone -- plus remembering birthdays and being nice to the receptionist and eating lunch at your desk, and, oh yeah, anonymously improving (if not completely re-writing) other, often inferior writers' prose -- is something you really want to do!

I suggest you call the editors you truly like working with (even if you're just phone-friends -- as a freelancer, you know what I'm talking about), and let them know you're seriously looking for an editing gig. If they ask why, tell them the truth -- I'm looking to avoid debtor's prison, I've got a kid on the way, etc. If you "get" what their magazine is about, and they happen to be looking for someone, you'll get an interview.

Best of luck!
posted by turducken at 5:06 PM on October 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

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