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If you love reading and have a good grasp on grammar and composition, a book editor career might be ideal for you. But if you’re wondering how to get a job as a book editor, you likely have some questions. Do you need a communications degree or an English degree? And where are the jobs? Read on to find out.
There’s actually more variety within the “book editing” career than you might think. Sure, some book editors fine-tune the writing and proofread an author’s work, but that’s not all there is to the job. Depending on the kind of book editing job—and whether it’s within a publishing house or freelance—a book editor might provide input about the story or topic, improve clarity and readability, proofread the final version, or engage in many other publishing tasks.
Story or Topic Development
An editor who works on story or topic development is known as a developmental editor. These editors don’t necessarily fix up typos because they work with the author at a much earlier stage in the editing process.
With a fiction book, a developmental editor will provide feedback and guidance on the story arc, characters, pace, dialogue, and other aspects of writing that will determine a reader’s experience of the book.
With a nonfiction book, a developmental editor will do similar tasks but will also make sure that it meets the requirements or brief from the publisher and that the book is written appropriately for the target audience.
Copy Editing / Line Editing
Copy editing and line editing are sometimes used interchangeably, although line editing is often considered to be a more involved process. This type of editing is when an editor rewrites (or suggests rewrites and revisions) of words and sentences to improve accuracy, tone, pace, and other mechanical elements of writing. Unlike developmental editors, copy editors work on the word and sentence level, rather than the overall structural level.
Proofreading is usually the final form of editing that’s performed when a book is almost ready to print. Most errors should have been caught before the proofreading process, so proofreading is intended to be the final defense against publishing a book with typos or formatting problems! A proofreader needs to look out for errors in spelling, punctuation, and layout without introducing any new errors.
Other Book Production Tasks
Depending on the particular editor’s role and the kind of publishing environment they work within, book editors may also work on:
- Acquisitions: selecting which books to publish
- Contracts: working with authors and the publishing house’s legal team
- Fact checking
- Layout and design
- Copyright permissions
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Here’s some good news: There’s no one way to enter the career path as a book editor, and a variety of types of knowledge and experience is valued in the field.
It’s common for book editors to have a degree in liberal arts, humanities, or social science. An English degree, journalism degree, communications degree, or anything related will all be very helpful for a career as a book editor.
However, if your degree is in something completely different—biology, economics, or neuroscience, for instance—there are still plenty of opportunities to follow a book editor career path. Textbook publishers, academic presses, and scientific publishers all need book editors with knowledge of their specific topics.
People rarely learn how to be a book editor at college (although some institutions of higher education may teach courses, especially graduate programs, on editing and publishing). Instead, they gain a broad education and then learn to be a book editor on the job, or through further professional development if they take the freelance editing route.
If you’re wondering how to become a book editor without a degree, following the path of a freelance editor may be your best option. Keep in mind, though, that your professional competition will be many editors with degrees, so you will need to be able to prove your ability and credentials elsewhere.
To get a job within a publishing house—whether big or small—you’ll usually need to start at the bottom and work your way up. This might take the form of an internship when you’re still in school, or an editorial assistant role as a new graduate.
Experience counts for a lot in this career because there are few clear-cut, right and wrong rules in the world of books. Good judgement and people skills, alongside technical knowledge of grammar and language, are common book editor requirements and usually improve with industry experience.
Some colleges teach graduate or extension classes in elements of publishing and editing, including how to be a book editor. These may be valuable if you want to work in a big publishing house in New York, for example.
Freelance editing is another book editor career path you can follow. Instead of being an employee of a publishing company and being required to work your way up, freelancing allows book editors to design their own careers. If you choose to take the freelance path, taking classes to make sure your skills stay fresh will be essential.
In addition to a range of expert-led classes on Skillshare, you can look for book editing classes through reputable editing organizations, including:
- Editorial Freelancers Organization (EFA)
- ACES: The Society for Editing
- Editors Canada
- Chartered Institute for Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), UK
- The Publishing Training Centre (PTC), UK
- Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd), Australia and New Zealand
In most contexts, a certification isn’t a prerequisite for getting a job as a book editor. However, professional training from a reputable college or course is valuable: Not only does it look good on paper, but it’ll also teach you what you need to know to succeed in a book editing career. Membership of a professional organization (such as those listed above) will improve your credibility, especially as a freelance editor.
One of the great things about a book editor career is that there are many different paths you can take to being successful. And in case you were wondering about the average book editor salary: The US Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the average salary for a book editor as $63,400 in 2020.
Ready to learn how to get a job as a book editor?
To get a job in a publishing house, you’ll need to show that you have a passion for books and publishing and experience editing. Other than this, professional book editors have a range of educational backgrounds and experiences.
To work as a freelance book editor, there are no particular requirements. However, you will need to market and sell your services yourself to find clients, so an aptitude for marketing—and perseverance!—is as essential as your professional training.
Entry-Level Book Editor Jobs
Many entry-level positions in publishing houses require reading through the “slush pile”, or manuscripts that the publisher has been sent without asking for. This may be tedious at times, but it’ll give you practice in reading quickly and looking out for literary gems.
You have probably heard that New York is the center of the English-language publishing world. While that’s not exactly wrong, you don’t have to live in NYC to make it in publishing. Smaller presses are scattered all over the US, particularly university presses that tend to be located in the same place as prominent universities.
And of course, other countries have their own publishing centers: London in the UK, Melbourne in Australia, and Delhi in India. Freelance editors can work from anywhere with an internet connection!
These are the presses most likely to put out general interest, big-name bestsellers and be based in New York or London. They publish both fiction and non-fiction books, including biographies of famous people, novels, and self-help.
Independent (Indie) Publisher
Indie presses are much smaller than the big trade publishers and often located outside of the big centers. They usually specialize in a particular type of writing, such as poetry, children’s books, travel books, or coffee table books of photography.
University presses publish books that are either the result of academic studies or are more niche-interest fiction or poetry. While they rarely put out bestsellers, university presses usually aim to publish high-quality books that will be useful to or valued by specific groups of readers.
This isn’t a type of publisher per se, but it’s worth mentioning: Authors who want to put their book out without the perceived gatekeeping or lengthy timelines of traditional can choose to self publish. These authors will usually need a range of practical support, including from freelance developmental editors, copy editors, and proofreaders.
In addition to taking classes in editing, wannabe professional book editors can benefit from improving their writing skills and knowledge of grammar, composition, and literary genres. Even if you just want to edit books and have no ambition to write one yourself, learning as much as you can about different writing techniques and conventions will help you become a better editor. And above all else: read, read, read!
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