CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an editor.
Is becoming an editor right for me?
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There are several ways to begin preparing for a career in editing while in high school:
- Take classes in creative writing, speech, and journalism.
- Make the most of English classes. Pay attention to how books and articles are constructed.
- Work on developing writing and editing skills as part of the school newspaper or yearbook staff.
- Build computer skills. Learn to use desktop publishing software, to handle graphics, and to write code in HTML.
- Read voraciously. Develop an eye for proper grammar, punctuation, and syntax. Get a sense of written structure and how text flows. Read nonfiction to understand historical context and gain informational insight. Read fiction to cultivate creativity and empathy and to examine the role of human relationships in shaping meaning.
- Begin the habit of writing every day. While they are not always acknowledged as writers in their own right, editors spend a lot of time constructing and deconstructing phrases and molding language to achieve a specific objective.
- Study vocabulary. Editors who constantly play with new words and discover new meanings in words see the world in a more nuanced way. This capacity is one of the hallmarks of the profession.
- Begin practising the art of what nineteenth century French author Gustave Flaubert called le mot juste, ‘the right word.’ Flaubert said, ‘All talent consists, after all, of nothing more than choosing words. It is precision that gives writing power.’
In a way, editors begin their career as soon as they recognize in themselves a keen appreciation for words and language. They then typically pursue a degree and an internship that will lead them to an editing job and bring their passion to their everyday life.
Although it is possible for someone who demonstrates strong writing and editing skills to train on the job, a Bachelor’s Degree in English, Communications, Journalism, or a related discipline is often a prerequisite for becoming an editor.
The curricula of these programs, while not identical, tend to include instruction in English composition, the power of language, the craft of professional writing, digital discourse and design, strategic storytelling, and research methods.
Graduate degrees are less common among editors. Some universities, though, do offer a Master’s Degree in Editing and Publishing. These graduate programs delve into more specialized topics such as proofreading, stylistic editing, structural editing, grammar, plain language principles, writing and editing for the Web, and business processes in editing.
In addition to learning the skills specific to the editing process, editors need to acquire supplemental skills, as well. Classes in computers, editing software, graphic design, and Web content management are all applicable in the modern world of editing.
In some cases, holders of a degree not related to editing or writing or publishing may transition into an editing role connected to the discipline in which they completed their education. A graphic design or fine arts graduate, for instance, could end up working as an editor for a design magazine, as long as they have editorial ability.
Internship (optional) & Specialization (optional)
Volunteering editing services to charities and other non-profit organizations is an ideal way to gain initial experience while completing a degree program.
Some editing internships are linked to communications and journalism programs and provide students with an opportunity to experience a real-world environment, if only for a short period of time. Others are more ad-hoc; the employer posts an internship and considers all applicants.
Before applying for – and certainly before accepting – an internship, it is important to determine its nature. While these experiences can provide aspiring editors with valuable exposure to the field, some employers view interns as free labor and assign them solely to photocopying and mailroom duties, with no consideration for the intern’s training or objectives.
The ideal editing internship also includes opportunities to write copy, mark up manuscripts, prepare art logs and photo manuscripts, read slush (unsolicited query letters or manuscripts), and prepare catalogue copy.
When entering an internship after completing undergraduate studies, it is particularly important to consider the pay rate. Most internships require the intern to work full-time hours for between three and six months, often for no pay, a token honorarium, or minimum wage. Such an arrangement may be acceptable if it is affordable and presents an appealing opportunity to learn.
A genuine internship, which exposes the intern to real responsibilities of the job, can help a prospective editor choose a specialized area of the field over general content editing. It may lead an intern to focus on a specific kind of editing – acquisitions, developmental, line, copy, or production, for example – or on editing within a specific genre of fiction or nonfiction; or within a specific field, such as fashion, sports, medicine/science, manufacturing, high tech, law, or politics.
Throughout an internship – and throughout a career in editing – it is vital to pay attention and to get the small things exactly right. That is the essence of editing. Editing is not a big picture undertaking. It is about small things that make big differences. It is about details, perfect structure, and nuance. That is why the best editors do sweat the small stuff.