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What is a day in the life of an editor like?

My dream career is to be a fiction author, but I know it's not really a financially-stable career, so I've been thinking of being an editor because I really, really love editing writing. I think I have an eye for it since I've always been the one that my peers come to for proofreading and writing advice in school. I also think it'd be fun because I'd get to work with books and gain more experience about the publishing process while working on my own. So can anyone give me an idea of what a day in the life of a book editor is like?

editor editing writing writing-and-editing creative-writing author writer writers novels books publishing

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Susan E.’s Answer

In my case, I don't really have a set schedule. I'm more of a freelance editor so for me, I'll do editing jobs as they come or sometimes I help others with their editing jobs. Usually it consists of looking over the document and double-checking with anything spell and grammar check thinks is wrong and then I just look to see if the article, essay, or written piece flows well.


Thank you for your response. Catherine T.

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Allison’s Answer

Each day as an editor is different. I describe my job in three parts: acquiring manuscripts for publication (which means reading tons of manuscripts, meeting with agents, and pitching the books in a series of meetings to different people in my department); editing (from big-picture content edits to line editing before I send it off to the copyeditor; a lot of this honestly happens during evenings, weekends, and the occasional work-from-home day); and coordinating with other departments (meetings and strategizing with the folks in marketing, publicity, production, managing editorial, rights, and design, and my publisher). I work in children's book publishing, so on any given day I could simultaneously be working on both books for toddlers and issue-driven novels for older teens, and I'm also working on several seasons and stages of production at once.

As an editorial assistant (and then assistant editor), where you will spend 2-6 years, your job is to assist on your boss's list (the books she acquires and edits). You will likely also need to perform a host of administrative tasks including answering her phone, arranging meetings and travel, etc, and you'll also read a lot of submissions on her behalf.

New York (where most of the jobs are) is a very expensive city and editor salaries (especially at entry level) are not high. That said, it is doable, especially if you get roommates and don't have student debt. I encourage everyone to think hard about whether the perks (free books, meeting authors, working with really exceptional people) outweigh the downsides (low pay, long hours, getting stuck at assistant level for a very long time). There is a great community of junior staff in the city, so I have found I can find other people who want to socialize on a budget.

You should absolutely try to intern before you graduate. Your next best bet (or something to do simultaneously) is working in a bookstore or library. I also encourage you to explore departments outside of editorial -- editorial is insanely competitive, and other jobs in publicity, marketing, rights, sales, and managing ed (copyediting) can be fulfilling for many people as well.

One word of caution -- Editorial is really competitive, so I personally don't love hearing interview candidates say that they *really* wanted to be a writer, but being an editor is a great backup. I'd rather hire someone who is passionate specifically about being an editor! Not to say you can't be passionate about both, but I'd take a moment to think about how you'd like to approach it.

Allison recommends the following next steps:

Read as much as you can in the genres you are passionate about. Focus on recent books that are getting attention and acclaim.
Look for internships on bookjobs.com, publishersmarketplace.com, publishersweekly.com, individual publisher websites, and even Twitter.
If an internship is not possible in your geographic area, look for positions your local bookstore or library, and pursue other avenues for administrative/office experience, too.

Hello, thank you so much for replying to this question even though it's over a year old by now! I find your answer very informative and also refreshingly realistic, since you highlight the potential cons of the profession and all the problems I might run into. I've already had some experience working as an administrative assistant and an editor in a non-professional settings for low pay and long hours, so it makes me wonder how similar my experience would be in an actual professional setting, and I do think internships would be really helpful in giving me a sense of that. I do love editing, and I think I would love it even more if it connected me to a supportive community, but the profession definitely sounds very hectic, so do you ever experience burnout? If so, how do you deal with it? Catherine T.

Burnout can be a real issue. Publishing is passion-driven but low-paying. My to-do list is never totally checked off, it just gets new things added to it! You need to learn your own personal balance, but I do encourage junior staff to watch out for the pattern of working late every day by default, and especially avoiding the cycle of working late, staying up late, and then being less effective the following day. I have also found it helpful to get to know other colleagues to commiserate about our challenges. (This all to say, publishing can also be a very fun job with pretty chill people, but it's a good question that was worth asking!) NYC also has its own kind of burnout -- there are so many things to do all the time, but it's good to have down-time and let go of the FOMO! Allison Moore

Hm, handling burnout in the publishing industry sounds a bit like handling burnout as a college student, haha! Obviously, I know that you're speaking from your own experience as a professional working in NYC, so you might not have experience regarding other geographical spheres, and I've long been aware of the fact that the majority of publishing jobs are in NYC, which you also mentioned yourself, but do you personally feel that there are still opportunities to enter the publishing industry for individuals who do not wish to move to the East Coast? As a Los Angeles native, I've long worried about this, because while I wouldn't be opposed to temporarily residing in NYC for an internship or short-term job, I have no desire to permanently settle down on the East Coast, [1/2] Catherine T.

[2/2] but I also worry that there is a lack of opportunity to enter the already-crowded publishing industry on the West Coast. I'm sure that there are a number of smaller publishing firms over here, but it does feel like the bulk of the publishing industry resides in the east, seeming to carry the implication that you can't aspire to enter publishing without being willing to move to the East Coast. I realize it might be difficult to provide perspective on this if you are a NYC native yourself, but I'm interested in hearing your personal thoughts on this! Catherine T.

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Stefania’s Answer

Editorial work is a very rewarding one. First, figure out for yourself if you enjoy content editing or copy editing. They are different and require different skill sets.

Stefania recommends the following next steps:

Research publishing companies. Take a look at the types of publishing houses and genres that appeal to you and make a list. Visit their websites and the job descriptions. Jot down what appeals to you. You can also see if they have internship opportunities available. That would be one way to really get a feel for what a day as a publishing editor may be like.
Research industry trends. Read articles and get yourself familiar with what some of the requirements are in today's publishing world. Be sure and jot down challenges and trends, it will prepare you in talking with people and positioning yourself as a solution.
The best way to find out what the 'day to day' might look like is to talk to someone who is in it. Every publishing house will operate a little differently based on culture, size, production and content they put out. Reach out to some individuals you locate on company websites by email, express your interest and ask to just speak to someone for 20 minutes as an information gathering resource.

Thank you very much again! This is incredibly helpful advice I will use to start moving forward on my career path. However, I enjoy BOTH copy & content editing, so I was wondering if it's possible to do both? Or be an editor who specializes in both skill sets? Catherine T.

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