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Career Advice

How to Become a Publishing Editor

writingIt is safe to assume that if you have taken the time to check out this article then you must be at least a little acquainted with the role of publishing editor and have some degree of interest in pursuing it as a future career.  Nevertheless as always, it is necessary that we begin with a rundown of what exactly a publishing editor is and what one does.

What’s a Publishing Editor

Well, in a word (or rather 33) a publishing editor is a person working within the publishing industry (which can include books, newspaper print, magazines and online mediums) who is primarily concerned with the style and content of a publication. However this description doesn’t really go very far towards increasing an understanding of what the purpose of the role actually is!

Luckily, on our ramblings across the internet yesterday, we discovered a few lines which pretty much sum up the role (in an appropriately poetic way of course!)

“An editor polishes and refines, he directs the focus of the story or article or movie along a particular course. He cuts out what doesn’t fit, what is nonessential to the purpose of the story. He enhances the major points, drawing attention to places where the audience should focus”  Fiction Editor, Beth Hill

They are more commonly referred to simply as ‘editors’ (since publishing editor is a bit of a mouthful) and there are also many further subcategories, which we are not going to go into here because no matter which of these roles you wish to undertake you will normally begin as either an editorial assistant or as a junior editor.

What does a publishing editor do?

As always it’s impossible to state emphatically what you will and will not be expected to do should you choose the life of a publishing editor. However there are a few things which it would be reasonable to assume you could be expected to carry out on a day-to-day basis including;

  • Making sure that the production process runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible

  • Liaising with writers and contributors at every stage of the process to ensure that quality, style and content matches that which is expected from the publication

  • Overseeing the delivery of a specific area of the publication, including the layout and presentation

  • Managing writing staff and freelance contributors

  • Editing work which is submitted to you, rewriting/reworking where necessary

  • Regularly working closely with other departments and external agencies such as advertisers

  • Organising and attending meetings with writing staff and other employees

  • Taking an active role in the recruitment process (Usually only when you are in a fairly senior role)

  • Being responsible for ensuring that the content of the publication is within the regulations of media law and industry standards

  • Polishing, improving and clarifying pieces of writing.

In the case of an editor this list really could go on and on but you get the idea – it’s a busy, busy life !

Hours of work

Despite Hollywood’s emphatic insistence that editors can often be found at a printing press at midnight yelling “Stop the Presses” this is not a realistic representation of the working hours usually involved in the role. The number of hours that you will work is very much dependent on the industry sector you are involved in. For example, those employed by a weekly newspaper may find themselves working extra hours as an edition nears completion and on the other hand those working freelance may have the ability to be very flexible with their working schedule.

Computer_keyboardSkills and attributes

The role of editor is such a specific one that there are a number of skills and attributes that you will be expected to possess in order to be given the opportunity to develop your career. These include;

  • Outstanding grasp of the English language

  • Perfect skills in spelling and grammar

  • A genuine passion for the written word

  • A logical and methodical approach to undertaking tasks

  • The ability to look at a piece of writing objectively and produce valuable and worthwhile critics

  • Creative / artistic flair

  • Proficiency in the general use of IT as well as the ability to utilise more complex and specific software (such as design packages)

  • Good leadership and teamwork skills

  • Excellent subject knowledge – particularly if you wish to work within a specialist area

  • The ability to be clear and concise in all communication and to be able to give clear and concise instructions

  • Flexibility in the hours of work which you are able to complete

Routes to becoming an editor

Usually at this stage in our discussion we would include a section called ‘Qualifications’ however the role of editor is slightly unusual amongst the roles which we have featured to date. You would imagine that for someone to be considered for the role of editor they would be required to hold at least a bachelors degree in a relevant subject, but this is not the case, In fact the majority of people working as editors within the publishing industry are from different degree specialities, and many do not hold a degree at all.

But if university is an option that you would like to pursue there are a number of different degree specialisms available in order to give yourself a boost into the industry. Journalism, publishing and English language / literature are common choices for people who wish to work as an editor in publishing – however it must be said that completing any of these is any guarantee of being given a position.

As is usually the case, the level of qualifications which you will need to gain admittance onto one of these courses is entirely dependent upon the standard expected from the university to which you are applying.

There are of course other routes into the industry (none of which is guaranteed to be successful) but can get you off on the right foot at least. These include training programmes, internships (which are often unpaid), work experience placements, working as a freelancer and gaining a non-editor role within the industry.

No matter which of these routes you eventually choose, the key thing to keep in mind is that experience and skill will always be the most important consideration for a potential employer – most of which expect an incredibly high level of prowess. It is therefore very important that you gain as much professional experience as possible and create a portfolio of work and list of recommendations which can be presented in support of your application.

If you still fancy working as an editor then best of luck – if not, you may want to have a look at some of the other guides in our fab career directory.


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