While there is no single, distinct way to become an editor, there are clear steps you will need to take in order to become one. And you won’t have to spend a lot of money to do so.
MANY EDITORS DO HAVE COLLEGE DEGREES, BUT THE ONLY THING YOU REALLY NEED IS THE ABILITY TO EDIT WELL…
Chances are good that you already have two of the main tools you’ll need. It’s a solid bet that you’re reading this article on your computer, which is connected to the Internet. Obviously, a computer and Internet connection aren’t the only things needed to become an editor, or we wouldn’t still be seeing typos in print.
So, what else do you need, and how can you get started inexpensively?
A Love of Language
Do you find yourself cringing at apostrophized pluralizations? Have you gone into the laundromat to find out what exactly they mean by the sign that says, “Let ‘us’ do your laundry”? Do you get out your marker to correct the contractions on bathroom stall graffiti?
You might have one of the qualities necessary to become a professional editor: a love of language. With a degree in English and a sincere love of language, you’re off to a great start. If your personality dictates that you’re a stickler for grammar errors, and you have a real skill when it comes to finding typos in everything you read, this may be the career for you.
But Do You Need a Degree?
Not necessarily. While many editors do have college degrees, the only thing you really need is the ability to edit well. However, if you’re pursuing a career as an editor and trying to get hired by a large publisher, you will probably find it more difficult without a degree.
Employers like to know that you have the tenacity to see things through to fruition, which is an important quality in many lines of work, editing being no exception. Whether you have a degree or not, be prepared to take several editing tests, in addition to the standard interview process, if you’re going for a position with an established company.
In order to brush up on your editing skills, you should familiarize yourself with different style guides, such as the Associated Press (AP) guide, and the Chicago Manual of Style. You should also look into publishing-related training programs, which are offered by certain colleges. These courses cannot only further your editing chops, but they can also provide valuable networking opportunities that will go a long way toward developing your career.
Additionally, as an editor, you are likely to be presented with a wide range of material, so it’s not a bad idea to strive to be a bit of a Renaissance person. Read as much quality writing as you can get your hands on. Read some bad writing once in a while, too, just as a reminder of what not to do. Read technical manuals, science books, poetry anthologies, and children’s stories, just to expose yourself to a wide range of styles. You never know what might come in handy.
Sometimes the best way to learn to do something effectively is to watch others do it, and to learn from their experience. If this sounds like your learning style, then you may want to attempt to find a mentor, or try to get an internship.
If you are acquainted with editors who are willing to teach you, the former may be your best option. One-on-one time with an experienced professional could prove invaluable in learning to massage messes into mastery. Again, if you go the degree route, you will have the opportunity to take advantage of internship programs. These will help you to develop both skills and contacts within the publishing industry.
Put Together a Portfolio
If you want work, you’ll need to show prospective clients and publishing houses what you can do. Thus, it’s important to develop a portfolio of your work. You can build your portfolio by doing work for schools, nonprofit organizations, and small, local periodicals. Your samples should show what the pieces looked like before, and then after you worked your editorial magic.