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What are the difficulties in becoming/being a book editor?

I'm interested in being a book editor. I know that every career has its challenges, but because I don't have many book editors to talk to, I don't know what challenges book editors have. What difficulties happen in the job search and job itself? Thank you! #july20 #book-editor #book-editing #writing #creative-writing


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Alison’s Answer

I was a production editor in book publishing for 5 years (my first couple of jobs out of college). I did 2 summer internships at publishing companies and one at as a newspaper copyeditor. I was offered a full time role at one of the publishing companies after college for my first job. I was an English major.

I worked primarily on textbooks and professional books. The role was close to a project management role. I received the book in text document form and then hired and project managed all of the freelancers and vendors who did copyediting, proofreading, indexing, art rendering, cover design, and finally printing. I worked closely with the authors who reviewed the progress at each of those stages. It was satisfying to receive the finished book at end!

This role was relatively low paying, and I didn't have a lot of growth potential. After I left the field to move into technology, my office in San Francisco was closed down and the roles were transferred to Iowa. There were a lot of industry changes to reduce costs like this including more of my work with vendors and freelancers being with people and companies in other countries. These changes made the field less compelling for me.

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Morgan’s Answer

I never had the title "book editor," but during my career as an academic researcher, I wrote many books and edited the work of many colleagues. I will draw on this experience to offer some suggestions. Obviously, you must be a writer yourself. This means you can produce coherent, well-organized content that is useful to the audience to which it is directed. You must have a good general knowledge of the topic addressed so that you can detect errors of omission as well as actual errors. You must be detail-oriented. A book of any significant size has hundreds, if not thousands, of details that must all be in alignment. And you must have the interpersonal skills to convey to the writer you are editing things that you think need to be corrected and the reasons for your suggestions. Writers are usually defensive of their work and often resistant to suggested changes.

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Sheri’s Answer

I worked in the publishing field for almost 20 years. Here's my advice: Get a bachelor's degree, as most editing jobs require that. Be prepared to start in an entry-level position and work your way up. To gain some experience, look for any volunteer or short-term position where you can practice having great organizational skills and a keen attention to detail. I remember having to pass an editing "test" for a few jobs early on, so also brush up on AP and CMS style.

Please note that this is not a high-paying industry unless you're in a leadership role, and nowadays, most editing jobs are either outsourced (freelance) or contracted.

I worked in non-fiction (educational books for professional development), and in my experience, authors welcome edits because they're NOT writers... they're industry leaders!


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Carrie’s Answer

I agree with all of the comments offered to you so far. From my experience, editing - in all forms of writing - requires attention to detail and the ability to offer substantive, meaningful changes that enhance a person's piece. I feel to do that, a good editor needs familiarity to many writing genres, so read, read, read! Also, writing requires a thick skin and so does editing. Not everyone accepts your edits and getting a piece finished is a ton of work.

One thing I've found, even in my personal life, is that most people don't feel comfortable writing--it can be a vulnerable experience. With that said, if revising/editing for friends and family, always look for the positive first and do the nitpicking later.

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Bruce’s Answer

You're getting great responses here. The one important thing I would add--particularly given that you're asking specifically about being a "book editor"--is that there are two major types of "book editor." There is the editor most of these responses are describing, which I'll call the "copy editor": the person who actually puts pen to paper on the manuscript, addressing grammatical issues and helping to refine the text. However, in publishing, there is also the editor I'll call the "project editor:" the person who makes the decision to take a manuscript forward to publication, and then ushers that manuscript from its original draft form through the publishing process. (This was the job I had fresh out of college, but that was a *long* time ago, so the experience is only partly relevant here.) As others have mentioned, copy editors are almost all freelancers, so they need to acquire projects to work--something that becomes much less of a challenge the longer you're at it, and the more your reputation grows. What doesn't change, however, is the need to do all the administration involved in running a freelance business (business development, promotion, expense management, taxes, bookkeeping, etc.), and the fact that the work is pretty solitary. All of this gets easier the longer you do it, but these are just realities of the role. Project editors, by contrast, typically work directly for publishers, and the challenge there is that these jobs are few and hard to come by, and many of them go to trust fund kids or spouses of wealthy New Yorkers who don't really need the income, and are therefore happy to work for the low wages the industry typically pays. Good or bad developments in recent years that are impacting the project editor role are 1. Remote work, which allows more newcomers to thrive in the industry from locations with more reasonable cost-of-living requirements than the traditional publishing hub of New York, (all of which is good unless you want to live in New York). And 2. Competition from Amazon, which is squeezing the traditional New York publishers, but at the same time, is creating opportunities for people who don't mind working for Amazon. All of this is a hyper-simplified view of what is a very complex and evolving industry, but I think these are some of the main challenges you'll face for some time to come if you pursue this type of career. I personally got out of it early, but that was mostly because the Santa Clara Valley, where I live, was becoming Silicon Valley at the time (yes, that's how old I am!), and lucrative jobs that utilized my writing and editing skills were increasingly plentiful at the time. In later life, as my tech career has started to wind down, I've gotten back into creative writing and have now published several stories and completed a novel I've been pitching, so I'm facing many of these challenges from the other side of the curtain: that of the author trying to get published. :-)

Bruce recommends the following next steps:

For context, peruse job listings at publishing-focused outlets such as Poets & Writers Magazine online: https://www.pw.org/joblistings
For context, peruse Editorial job listings at Amazon: https://www.amazon.jobs/en/job_categories/editorial-writing-content-management?offset=0&result_limit=10&sort=relevant&business_category[]=kindle-content

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Tina’s Answer

Sheri’s answer is great. I work freelance in fiction. The big issue I had In the beginning was getting clients.

For fiction the best way to get started is by attending a writer’s conference and being a speaker. But you’d better be really good or you’ll lose clients quickly.

Also join writers groups online. Volunteer to edit other’s stuff. The more you do the better you’ll be. Plus, you never know when one of those writers might self publish and need an editor.

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