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A Day in the Life of a Editor

For people who love the written word and know they have the ability to plan, organize, and see printed material through its several stages of production, editing may be the ideal job. A critical link between authors and the reading public, editors control the quality and nature of printed material, working with authors on rewrites; correcting grammar; and smoothing out inconsistencies. Editors have significant input in the final product. They analyze work for quality of content, grammatical correctness, and stylistic consistency. This requires patience, thoroughness, and an ability to keep in mind both small details and the big picture simultaneously. Editors must be able to work closely with writers, diagnose problems, and offer advice on how to avoid them in the future. This requires a keen, analytical mind and a gentle touch. An editor meets frequently with others who are also working on a publication, including artists, typesetters, layout personnel, marketing directors, and production managers. In most areas of publishing, the success or failure of a product relies on continuous and open communication among different departments; a snag in any one may throw off the scheduling of another. As links between departments, editors must be able to handle personality issues diplomatically; be comfortable with the rigorous scheduling and economics of publishing; and coordinate and communicate their requirements clearly and effectively. Editorial positions are available in many types of companies, from established publishing houses to online service companies. A magazine editor has a different schedule and handles matters distinct from those of an acquisitions editor or a newspaper editor. Interests, opportunities, and luck lead editors to an area of specialization. People who wish to progress in this field nearly always read manuscripts in their spare time or stay late to do extra work. Competence is rewarded, and lateral and upward mobility within large houses is common. More than 40 percent of our respondents registered discontent with their current jobs, but more than 80 percent recorded pleasure with the choice of career and lifestyle. The 15 percent a year who leave the profession do so because their expectations of immediate impact and recognition remain unmet by this competitive and underpaid occupation.

Paying Your Dues

No specific academic degree is required, but most editors were English, communications, or journalism majors in college. A history of editorial positions on college newspapers or literary magazines is important. Most employers require potential editors to take wordprocessing and proofreading tests before hire, so it’s a good idea to be familiar with standard word-processing programs and proofreading symbols. Familiarity with publishing software and graphics systems is extremely helpful. Some find it beneficial to take a six-week publishing seminar to enhance their resumes, but no employers require it. Because of the relative paucity of entry-level editorial positions, many people enter publishing firms,magazines, and newspapers in advertising, marketing, or promotion departments, and parlay these jobs into editorial positions.

Present and Future

With Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, publishing became an industry. Authors would work with printers and sell their work to booksellers, who soon realized that they needed someone in between to assure the quality of the product. Technology has affected and will continue to affect the field of publishing. More written work is produced each day in the United States than was produced in the world before 1700. Since technological advancement and a lowering of fixed publishing costs now make it easier for smaller houses, magazines, and newsletters to produce quality products, the future of publishing may lie in smaller houses, in which a variety of skills is required by each editor, including those in layout and graphics. The reduction of fixed costs, however, may also mean that larger, well-funded houses that can attract established authors will be in a better position to drive smaller, less organized companies out of existence. Material online will continue to need editing, as well. The position of editor should remain, but the auxiliary skills needed will change.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Expect to work hard and earn little as an editorial assistant or assistant editor. Starting positions include some menial tasks, proofreading, correspondence, assisting senior editors, and photocopying. More than 60 percent of our respondents mentioned that they worked late, worked on weekends, or took work home with them. Many new editors have responsibility for small, easily managed projects to learn the ropes. While new editors sometimes work directly with authors, contact is limited and the responsibility level is low. People are constantly networking to find positions with greater responsibility and better remuneration.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Often a full-blown editor by now, the five-year veteran starts to gravitate to a specialty. Skills have improved both technically and interpersonally, and responsibilities have increased. Earnings have gone up to the point of self-sufficiency (you can go out to dinner occasionally). On average, a five-year editor has held at least two jobs—a significant turnover rate.

TEN YEARS OUT

At the 10-year mark, an editor has significant editing experience, has been through every major snafu possible, and has a steady stream of responsibilities. Individuals with strong managerial and organizational skills become publishers. A notable few begin their own magazines or imprints. Most editors remain editors for as long as their stomachs and hearts hold out. Most of the lure of editing comes from a love of good writing; that sensibility supports most editors for a long time.