Thursday, May 29, 2014

Becoming an Editor (or Jumping into the Pool): Part 1

You'll understand this pool-side illustration in a minute. I promise.
I am sometimes asked how I became an editor, and sometimes how to become an editor. The next post—Part 2—will explain my own journey and contain some practical suggestions for those who think they want to enter this profession. This post, however, gives some preliminary advice I think is important.

First, let me say that I am not an acquiring editor or primarily what is sometimes called a "macro" editor, one who seeks books to publish or helps authors with the highest level of structure and content. I am what is often called a developmental, line, or copy editor, depending on the level of work a book needs. You can read more about the levels of editing here, though you will find different breakdowns throughout the publishing industry.

So here's my advice:
  •  It's best not to feel too confident that you can make a living as a professional proofreader or editor unless you’ve actually received positive feedback. When I worked in a publishing house, I would get calls from people who wanted freelance editorial work because "I tend to spot mistakes in books." Well, so did I. So do a lot of educated people who have an eye for errors. But I needed to find out if I could turn a tendency into a professional endeavor. I'll tell you how I did that in Part 2.
  • Realize that you can't be a professional proofreader or editor without learning the specifics of the trade. Even if you are great at spotting errors in a book, you need to know something about style guides and what to do with those errors when you find them. This is especially true if you are working for a publisher rather than an individual.
  • Learn about best practices in this field and the nitty-gritty side of running a business if you think freelance editorial work sounds like it's for you. One way or another, you have to work through how to make a freelance editorial business work. And the hard way is never the preferred way. (See my blog post here about some best practices I have adopted for my own business—but don’t make me talk about taxes right now.)

In other words, if you think you want to make your living as a proofreader or editor (or as I heard one intern naively say, “Lie on the beach all day and read books”—and no, I am not kidding about her saying this, and now you understand the illustration above)you're going to find jumping into that pool without any specific know-how, experience, or encouragement difficult. You might keep your head above water for a while, but eventually you will probably start looking around for a lifeguard. And, frankly, it's possible that no one will even let you near the pool.

See you at the next post—Part 2—if you want to know how I jumped in. And do check some of the other approximately 3.8 million blogs, sites, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts about editorial life. Or, maybe there are only 3.7. I'm not sure. Meanwhile, reader, writer, or even editor, feel free to leave a comment!

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