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What skills are the most desirable in a book editor?

I'm about to be a senior in college. I love college, and I try my hardest in classes, job, and extracurricular activities to develop as a person. I hope that the things I am learning help with being a book editor. What qualities do think are vital to being a good book editor?

july20 book-editor book-editing writing creative-writing publishing

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6 answers

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Liza’s Answer

I think no matter what kind of books you'll be looking to edit in your career, and in addition to mastering grammar, syntax, spelling and clarity of an idea through writing, voice is something an editor must be skilled at developing.

The voice in a certain piece of writing must be consistent. And as an editor, a big part of your job is making sure the writer is in touch with his/her voice in the piece (or the institution's voice in academic writing), and that it comes through clearly and consistently while adhering to the technical rules of writing.

Familiarize yourself with the idea of voice as you continue to read - how do you recognize Toni Morrison's voice in all her writing? What in Kevin Kwan's style of fiction makes it apparent that he is the author? Find the rhythms in the flow of sentences... the vocabulary choices... the energy of the prose.

And write, write, write!
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Tina’s Answer

There are several things you need to know to be a good editor. Those mentioned by Amy are good. But know that college won’t teach you what the current trends are. They will teach what has been around for a while and are proven.

Most current things you learn by reading articles online and talking with other editors. You’ll learn more from a pro editor in an hour than years in school. But school does teach the basics you must master.

I suggest you read articles online about editing.
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Anne’s Answer

Everyone has given helpful answers to your question. I wanted to add some advice I heard during my undergraduate years as an English major: have an interest in something along with English. You could minor in anything complementary, or take courses you find really interesting. Psychology, anthropology, sociology, art history, history, political science - these compliment English quite well. Read newspapers, magazines, and articles from news sources (Forbes, Wallstreet Journal, etc).

Try out the school newspaper and see if you can become a volunteer or a paid editor. This is something I was too shy to look into as an undergraduate student, that would give you excellent experience!
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Paula’s Answer

Hi Jade!

I see you've already received some great responses to your question from Amy and Tina. And I strongly agree with Tina about speaking with a professional editor. Have you tried speaking with a counselor in the Career Development office at your college? That person might be able to connect you to an alum who is, or has been, an editor. Similarly, your academic instructors who have published might be willing to give you the names of their editors so you could connect them for a brief conversation about the industry.

Have you looked on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics website? The information in the Occupational Outlook Handbook for Editors there is very interesting and may help answer some of your questions.

I wish you the best of luck in your final year of college!

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Amy’s Answer

Hi Jade!,
Congratulations on your progress so far in college!

I'm not a professional book editor, but I have worked as an editor before, and I know of a few key skills that will help you along the way:
1) Have a keen attention to detail - editors always catch things others don't
2) Know what kind of editor you want to be (e.g. proofreader, line editor, copy editor, developmental editor; more info here:
3) If you're focused on copy editing, know the different style guides and which is used where (more info on the most popular):

Best of luck!
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Norma’s Answer

Hi, Jade. Have you had the chance to do a college internship at a local publishing firm? This could give you some valuable insight into what editors do and the skills they use to do their job. An essential skill for any editor is having a strong command of the language. So, you'll need to develop your own writing skills before you can edit others' writing. You might also want to work at your school's tutoring/writing center if it has one. Helping other students shape their writing and correct grammatical/stylistic errors will help you refine your editing skills. Good luck!