Becoming a book editor: a comprehensive guide
Have you ever wondered what a book editor’s job is like? Read on to see how you can become one.
What does a book editor do?
You may already know that there are different kinds of editors. Often, this depends on what they edit. A book editor’s job differs from a magazine/newspaper editor, for instance. Moreover, there are levels of editing.
But above and beyond all that, there are some overarching skills that every editor must have:
- An in-depth understanding of the English language and all its rules, conventions and customs
- Attention to details.
- The ability to develop a narrative
- Patience and meticulousness – because you have to look at the same text repeatedly, with increasing detail.
Acquiring qualification and training
A minimum of a Bachelor’s degree is advised for an aspiring editor. An editor’s academic training is usually in a language/writing heavy program like English literature and language, journalism, or communication. Even if you don’t have experience working as a writer or editor in college, prospective employers will know that you at least are knowledgeable in the field.
But if you’ve realized your interest in book editing without having the aforementioned qualifications, that’s fine too. There are other ways to gain the skills characteristic of an editor. One thing you can do is to look for editing and proofreading courses at a (local) university or online.
Understanding the process of book editing
Step up your reading game
Read, read, read. When we think of reading as a hobby, it’s mostly for pleasure. We read to learn about the world, or even simply to enjoy how a writer has interpreted the craft of writing. But for an editor (or an aspiring one), reading is a task that is far beyond that. Reading almost becomes an occupational hazard. What does that mean? It means that an editor reads to understand the technicalities of developing a narrative. Read to pay attention to way a writer has employed a certain literary device. Ask “why?” to understand the relevance of a sentence, character or a certain story arc that the writer has chosen for their piece. (This applies to non-fiction as well.) Make annotations. Think about the gaps that you see. Maybe even try to rethink the piece from an editor’s lens.
Also, try to expand your reading preferences. Step out of your comfort zone to read different kinds of books.
Practicing your new-found skills
Reading is not enough. Understanding what to do – theoretically – is only part of the task. Then, you have to practice. Since you don’t have a job, we’re assuming, what can you use as a guinea pig?
- edit books and newspaper articles
- your friends’ writing and assignments
- subreddits like r/proofreading where people are actively looking for support from the online literary community.
It’s also good idea to time yourself so that you can increase the speed at which you work.
Stay updated with reference styles
A significant part of editing involves working on references/citations (especially if you’re working on academic pieces) and other formatting related things. Therefore, it is important for an editor to remain updated with the various citation styles. Because one of the most important skills for an editor is to work under pressure.
Finding your niche
To begin with, start working on any document you can find your hands. But along the way, you’ll find that there are specific kinds of texts you like working one. Perhaps it’s genre fiction or poetry. Maybe it’s scientific papers. Try to identify what you’re good at editing, as well as what you like best. Then gear your skills towards perfecting that kind of editing. You probably won’t land your dream job in the first go, but this makes the process faster.
Looking for editing jobs.
Step 1: Start with small scale freelance gigs.
Register in freelance sites like Upwork and Fiverr. Write your gig – “sell” it in such a way that you present something unique about your editing style. Then watch the cash roll in. It’s good practice and works for two reasons. If you’re still in college, extra cash. If you’re doing a career switch, then freelance gigs provide some kind of stability while you transition.
Continue to network on these forums with other editors and writers so that you can actively look out for job opportunities.
Step 2: Graduate to local independent publishers.
You can’t get to Simon & Schuster or Bloomsbury on day 1, so start applying to publishing houses around you first. Alternatively, you can apply to any firm that is looking for an editorial role. Magazines, local newspapers, media houses, etc. Even if your goal is to become a book editor, a little diversity helps. Once you have the experience and credibility, you can always apply for your dream job.
Additionally, you could also considering dipping your hands in other jobs related to publishing; or departments in a publishing house.
Step 3: And on to your dream job.
Once you have done all of the above things – gained experience and found your specializing, continue working towards your goal. Do the necessary research to become an expert in your niche. Fill in the gaps by relearning if required.
Then onward to applying for your dream job!
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