What Does It Take to Be an Editor?

Dear Sarah…

A successful editor is a market-savvy businessperson with innate creativity and a mastery of language and storytelling. A BA in English or journalism sets the stage for this career, but any communications-related degree is fine for fiction editors; technical/nonfiction editors may have degrees in science or other specialized fields. Bottom line: Be able to not only assess when a manuscript isn’t working but also articulate why it’s not working. Learn project management skills because editors handle multiple projects in various stages of development on tight deadlines. You need people skills, too, as you must cultivate productive relationships with creative teams (including authors), production and accounting staff, and agents and lawyers. Business acumen is necessary for negotiating contracts, working with profit-and-loss grids, and positioning your books in the marketplace. Don’t count on your college degree to develop these skills; experience is a must for landing an entry-level editorial assistant position. Take paid or intern positions with local magazines and papers, handle publications for large companies, work on the college paper or yearbook, intern with New York publishers, or volunteer to create/edit marketing materials for non-profit charities. You’ll learn and network simultaneously. If you can, get a copyediting or proofreading certificate from a university or attend a publishing institute such as the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute to learn manuscript mark-up, specialized jargon, bookmaking, and overall industry knowledge. Bookselling experience can help with industry and market awareness, especially if you take on buying, stock management, or event-planning positions. The path that opened the door for me was a BA in English, a copyediting certificate, and a job writing and editing video game instructions for a local information publisher. My masters degree didn’t come until later.

Happy writing!

The Editor


  1. Holy moly! That’s a lot of info, and it seems like a hard field to break into. You gave great details for taking the most professional route. I think that sounds far more principled than just getting a book published and offering editing services (like some people I know).

    • This career path is geared toward landing a publishing house position. Many people would like those positions; you’ve got to stand yourself out through extra efforts, and probably leverage networking along the way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Latest from Publishing Biz