Saturday, October 22, 2011

How to Be an Editor

Hey there blogosphere! Sorry I've been missing for a while. Midterms tried to eat me, but after a long and exhausting battle, I have emerged victorious. (In this case, that means being home for fall break, eating REAL FOOD and snuggling with cats and visiting my dance studio with my mom.)

But I have exciting things to tell you about, blogosphere! Have you ever wondered what it was like to be an editor, or thought about a job in publishing other than that of novelist? Well, my Editing & Publishing class took a field trip to New York City, where we visited TEN publishing houses in TWO DAYS. It was madness - there was a lot of sprinting between subway stops - but there was also a lot of mind-boggling awesome. We went to several of the Big Six publishing houses, as well as several smaller, lesser-known houses of varying sizes. I took so many notes, guys! And I am going to share with you some of the wisdom these editors, editorial assistants, and other awesome publishing folks shared with us.

(in no particular order)

1. Informational interviews. Do them. Email people who do the job you want to do and ask if you could meet with them and ask them questions. Who knows? If they're looking for an assistant or know of a job opening, you might just get it.

2. Internships. Do them too. Editorial internships are, of course, the hardest to come by, but as one nice person put it, "the way to get into anything in publishing is anything in publishing." Internships at literary agencies were a recommended way to start, as there are more literary agencies than mainstream publishers (and also editors love that extra insight to the agency side of life).

3. Do your homework. Read Publisher's Weekly, MediaBistro, GalleyCat, et cetera, et cetera. Keep up on the trends in the genre you want to work in. Follow what's going on with ebooks and other Big Important Publishing News. Look up everything you can about the imprint for which you're applying.

4. Know your genre. One editorial assistant (she was fresh out of college) said that a lot of people searching for entry-level positions try to sound impressive by citing the types books that one reads in college English classes when their interviewers ask about their favorite books. Unless you're applying for a job at an imprint that deals with republishing the classics or is extremely literary (again, do your homework), don't do that. If you're applying for a job at a sci fi/fantasy imprint, read and be prepared to talk about sci fi/fantasy books - and especially the books you liked published by that imprint.

5. Have a job that is related in SOME way. Work in a bookstore. Work in an office - learn how to use the copier and Microsoft Office. Work as a writing tutor - and if you beta read, especially if you read for someone whose book has been published, put that in a prominent place on your resume. (And make sure that the shiniest parts of your resume are listed first.)

6. Move to New York. If you are seriously looking for a job in publishing, move to New York first. Then if someone really likes you, you are available to start working as soon as they need you, not after the time it takes you to move.

7. Networking, networking, networking. Getting a job in publishing is quite often about who you know. Don't know anybody? Don't panic! Just meet people. Do internships and stay in contact with the people you work with and for. If you can afford it, NYU has a summer intensive publishing program, which is by no means required to work in the industry but a great way to meet people and get your foot in the door. Do informational interviews. Et cetera.

8. Know what to expect. Being an editor doesn't mean that you are in your office reading all day long. Editors mostly read submissions in their spare time, and editorial assistants do lots of copying and other gofer type tasks. Also, editors have to be quite social and chat with agents and other industry professionals to scope out the market. Also also, there's math involved. Not complicated math, but still math.

9. Use your tech-savvy-ness to your advantage. We're the generation that grew up with the Internet and are the pioneers of social media. We know how to do this - and it's a very marketable skill. Different people we talked to stressed this to varying degrees, but I think it is important - and if you have a few extra tricks up your sleeve, things that aren't required but might be useful, like html coding, so much the better.

10. Be nice. A lot of publishing is establishing relationships with other people - with others on your editorial staff, with agents, with authors, with librarians, with booksellers, and so on. None of that will work well if you are mean to people. Make sure that you present yourself as the kind of person you would want to work with.

This trip was a completely fantastic opportunity; I've learned so much and I had such a good time. I hope this list will be helpful to you guys as well!


  1. I love it! I don't think I'll be an editor, but I can definitely see how this would be helpful to those who does want to go into that field. Awesome post!

  2. Thanks Karla! There are a few things that are editorial-specific, but mostly this list applies to all of publishing - and while it's hard to move from a different position into editorial, there's a lot of mobility that's possible within the industry, if you might be interested in a different aspect of it! :)

  3. Well said! I'm gonna reiterate number four... read read read. Read what you WANT to read because you've got to like the books you're going to work with.
    It was really cool to meet editors who were really into the books they were working on. We could tell when an editor had a passion for the product. As an editor, you've gotta be prepared to sell your projects conceptually to the rest of the house (especially sales and marketing departments).
    Once you acquire a project, you act as the author's advocate. You're kind of the like middleman between the house and the author, you can push for the author's ideas but you may also have to tell them that their ideas aren't what's best for selling the book. (So like Caitlin said, relationships are key).

    I didn't realize how many departments there were and editorial is probably where you work closest with the texts, but there's also design, production, marketing, library marketing, sales - foreign and domestic, special markets, publicity, managing editorial, and more recently social media positions.

  4. Great post full of amazing advice. Thanks for sharing :)