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How does one become a book editor?

I love to read, and I have always thought it would be interesting to be a book editor. What sort of background would one need to become one? How does one become an editor for things like scientific journals? Thank you!
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William’s Answer

Hello, Ashley. Your opening sentence already carries part of the answer—you must LOVE reading. Books, magazines, online, ingredients on food packages . . . everything. Simply by repeated exposure (osmosis), you'll pick up attributes crucial to the editorial eye. While writing/editing classes and online courses can be useful in learning technical aspects (punctuation, grammar, usage and style, structure, etc.) there is no equal to reading.

When you reach a level of confidence working with language, build a small (but potent) portfolio of editing you've done for others. I'd recommend joining well-known online platforms Guru (physical address in Pittsburgh, PA) and/or Upwork (Mountain View, CA). I'm a member of both, and have been for years (easily half of my annual income derives from these free-to-join venues, and this IS NOT a paid advertisement, but an endorsement. Both these platforms—like literary agents—will take fees from your jobs. Here you can start from scratch, earn money, cultivate clients needing book-editing, and strengthen your confidence.

No telling where this may lead, and my career is proof of that: my portfolio as editor and writer got me hired onto New York City's iconic Library Journal magazine, Metaphysical Circus Press (associated with Virginia Commonwealth University), and JournalStone Publishing.

Load your portfolio onto a flash-drive, and carry it with you for instant display. NEVER be caught without this—you can even wear it on a necklace. There's no predicting when—or where—you'll be asked, "So, what editorial work have you done?"

This is far preferable to responding face-to-face: "Uhh . . . I'll send you samples after I get back home."

Getting work from, or indeed joining the masthead, of science journals and other specialist publications can be pursued once you've evolved as an editor—learned your chops—over several years. Like healthcare professionals, there will always be a need and market for savvy editors.

However you proceed, Ashley, may you enjoy success in your ventures!

Thank you so much! This was incredibly helpful, and I will definitely be looking into those websites to start building a portfolio. I, actually, already carry a flash drive with me at all times. I guess I'll just be adding more to it! Thank you, again! Ashley H.

You're welcome, Ashley. I'm glad you found my response helpful. Write on! William Grabowski

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Katy’s Answer

Hi Ashley,

The most important thing about becoming an editor is a love of books, so you're already one step there. I'm not sure whether you are a high school or college student, but the good news is, regardless, you can get there even if you come from a major that is other than English. It sounds like you are interested in scientific subject matter in particular, so having a degree in the sciences will help show you could be a potential subject matter expert.

I will be frank—it is a competitive industry that is heavily New York and Boston-based (although it will be interesting to see if this changes post-pandemic) and even if you are an English major from a good college with experience working on school publications, that won't necessarily get your foot in the door. You may need to enroll in a graduate program focused on publishing (I went to Emerson College's Writing and Publishing masters program, for example) or a summer course/certification (Columbia University has a reputable one) to get internships and build connections. I see you're in Ohio, so this may involve either seeing if you can work virtually or asking yourself if you're willing to move for your dream job.

To boost your resume for getting a publishing internship or entry-level job, make sure you convey your passion. Write often, edit often, and keep a portfolio of your work. Try to look for freelance work online through sites such as Upwork. Any related work can help. Look up journals you're interested in, do your research and read from them, and check to see if they have any opportunities often. (Also—if a posting is for an entry-level job and asks for years of experience, apply anyways. The worst they can say is no.) Make sure your resume and cover letters are spotless—if you're applying to be an editor and there are errors, that will show a lack of attention to detail on your part.

And keep at it—like I said, it can be a competitive business to get into and unfortunately, a lot of getting your foot in the door is not based on merit, but connections and being in the right place at the right time.
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