How to Become an Editor (Part 1)

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Going with Your Gut Isn’t a Defensible Strategy

If you want to become an editor, you have to find your own way. There’s no advanced degree program. You won’t find many mentors out there to apprentice with. In fact, depending on who you ask, there apparently isn’t any clear path into the profession.

In addition, there are few jobs with the title. You can become a magazine editor, a newspaper editor or a book editor. You can become an editor who does freelance work, but the pay is as low as the demand.

It's not easy to become an editor

Yet editors play a vital role in shaping stories, schooling writers and making the world a more comprehensible place. This three-part series delves into the nuts and bolts for people who want to become an editor.

Who Wants to Be an Editor?

So, if demand for editors is low, why become an editor at all? It takes a special breed of person – a cross between a word nerd and a personal trainer. You need to know all the rules, and you have to know when it’s OK to break them. You have to be able to work directly with writers (not the easiest bunch to corral) and lead them to heights even they didn’t realize they could reach.

It’s a myth that editors are failed writers. Many editors are also writers. It’s also a myth that all editors are (or were) English majors when they earned their Bachelor of Arts degrees. What is true is that, to become an editor, you need:

  • A Bachelor’s degree in something (not necessarily English), because you need a solid educational foundation
  • An ear for language, which is why native speakers make the best editors
  • Knowledge of all the grammar rules
  • A passion for language, which goes above and beyond grammar rules
  • Lots of experience in – and a love of – reading
  • A comprehensive vocabulary

The Best Way to Learn Editing

Obviously, experience is the greatest teacher, but what if you have no experience, but still want to become an editor? What do you do then? The short answer is to prepare. Read a lot, especially the types of writing you want to edit. Establish a relationship with a working editor and pick her brains. There are some good books on editing that are worth reading, such as:

  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
  • The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
  • Revising Fiction by Davis Madden
  • 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Gary Provost
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White

And there are many books on writing that can help you become a better editor, too. Everyone from Ray Bradbury to Stephen King has written books on writing. But don’t forget Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway and Stein on Writing by Sol Stein.

Editing Fiction or Nonfiction

You may notice that many of the recommended titles above focus on writing fiction. While there are some differences between writing and editing fiction vs. nonfiction, there are more similarities than you may realize. That means you can learn a lot about editing nonfiction by learning how to edit fiction.

It all comes down to audience, purpose and approach. There are techniques good editors use to achieve all three, while guiding writers to improve their craft for their next project. And that’s the area where editors resemble coaches: they’re not just concerned with the current project – whether it’s a novel, a magazine article or a blog post – but they also care about writers and helping them improve.

The next installment details the three different kinds of editing that you have to understand if you want to become an editor – and the skills involved with each type. In the meantime, if you need editing, hire the team at Ray Access.

Posted by on February 5, 2018 in Editing

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