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What steps does it take to become an editor at a publishing company?

One day I want to work as an editor for a publishing company. I have done some research about participating in summer internships during college, but reflections on personal experience are what I'm looking for. I would like to know the details of becoming an editor for a publishing company, everything from what to major in at college, what prior job experience to have, and what lower level jobs lead up to being promoted as editor. english editing editor publishing english-grammar

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Graham (Rusty)’s Answer

There are many paths to becoming an editor. First, however, you'll need to decide what kind of editor you want to be. In the news industry reporters' work is often vetted by multiple editors. While one editor may focus on spelling and grammar, another may specialize in tone, the flow and organization of stories. And another editor may be tasked to cut the story to a readable length. In other settings, editors may pay more attention to brand, to voice and to key words meant to draw in readers.

As for college courses, English, writing and journalism courses are important. That said, my own college path included none of those. I majored in Communications and History, but realized that my writing often salvaged the damage wrought by exam scores. That Aha! moment steered me toward journalism.

Here's my litmus test for making the jump to editor. Do you:
Shout at TV reporters for botching pronunciation?
Stop in the middle of reading a paragraph because the writer used there when he/she meant their?
* Grow weary from explaining that its is possessive while it's is a contraction.

Also, realize that editing is much more than correcting spelling and grammar. It's about making the writing better. That takes teamwork. When I edited news stories I almost always had the writer re-read my edits. It was less about having the writer see what changes I made, and more about ensuring I kept their voice and their tone intact so that the finished product was worth reading.

As for career path, look for proofreading opportunities. They can be a good entry point to bigger assignments. Above all, keep abreast of changes in word use, and never be more than an arm's length away from your copies of the Associated Press or Chicago style manuals. Good luck.

Wow, thank you so much for all the advice! I really appreciate it. Kara G.
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Stefania’s Answer


You have received some wonderful feedback above, especially around the state of the current industry (outsourcing many editorial positions) and the value/importance of internships. I think any major in English or especially Communications would be a great one. Communications is a broad field that allows you to work in many different industries and doesn't define you to journalism or publishing alone.

I wanted to present to you a slightly different scenario. Coming from a non-publishing editorial background, I wanted to share with you that I have not been in the publishing side, however was a senior editor for a marketing and consumer insights company for over a decade. Whether publishing is your passion point or the go-to traditional route, know that you have options beyond just publishing.

Copy editors are also different than content editors. The former is grammar oriented and spends much time proofreading and fixing errors. Content editors focus on just that: content. Many firms now hire content marketing agencies to help populate their blogs, social media sites and general content. Just research "content marketing agencies" to get a feel for the type of requirements and qualifications necessary if that sounds like something interesting to you. For example, much of my job as an editor for a consumer insights agency (which is business and marketing, not traditional publishing), was rooted in ensuring business written content maintained the company voice and tone. I was also responsible for enhancing existing copy and collaborating with many different individuals to help elevate their written deliverable.

Hope that helps. Go get 'em, editors rock! :)

Good luck to you,

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Eva’s Answer

The usual progression would be:

1) editorial intern (you can do this while you're still in college if you like, for class credit usually)
2) editorial assistant (hopefully you can use a reference from your internship)
3) assistant editor

You also may want to think about whether you want to sift through book submissions and decide what gets published (acquisitions editor); work with the author on rewriting and shape the text in a big-picture way (developmental editor); or project manage, hire freelance copyeditors/proofreaders, and work with the nitty-gritty grammar stuff (managing editor) - although at many publishing houses, two or even all three of these job functions might be combined!

College major isn't that important; do whatever you enjoy and/or what will allow you to take advantage of editing opportunities( ex: journalism and copyedit your student magazine). More important is to read widely in the genre you want to work in (fiction, nonfiction, cookbooks, romance, young adult?) and learn about the industry by reading Publishers Weekly and other publishing newsletters like Shelf Awareness and Library Thing.


Thank you very much! Kara G.
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X’s Answer

Where I worked, most of our new hires started off as interns. It is VERY hard to get a job in publishing these days, even an entry-level one, without an internship first, so go out of your way in school to line up whatever internships you can. Our editorial assistants were more like administrative assistants, so the typical progression was intern -> project editor -> development -> acquisitions.

I don't want to sound too grim, but be aware that a lot of editing jobs no longer exist as salaried positions. When I first started in publishing, we had proofreaders, production editors, project editors, copy editors, development editors, and acquisition editors. All of these were full-time salaried positions. Now, most of these jobs are outsourced. Companies usually have project editors (project managers who coordinate the flow of work to/from authors and vendors) and acquisitions editors (responsible for signing authors and developing ideas for books). The other jobs are hired out to freelancers or packagers on a job-by-job basis. And the market is flooded right now with underemployed editors who were laid off from salaried positions.

If this is your dream job, definitely go for it... but have a plan B. Consider a double major or a minor in an in-demand field that you can use as a backup if you have to.