Education and Training: College
Salary: Median—$43,890 per year
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Book editors work for publishing companies to prepare an author's work for publication. They work closely with design artists, compositors, production personnel, marketing departments, and experts in the field to design an attractive product, guide it through the various levels of production, and then promote it once it has been published. Working closely with the author, they ensure that the work being produced has high literary merit and is free from inconsistencies, including grammatical and spelling errors.
Publishing companies deal with a large variety of book types, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, reference books, textbooks, technical books, and children's books. With novels and nonfiction, editors must consider the audience and the likelihood of selling movie, books-on-tape, or reprint rights. In school and college textbook publishing, the editor's understanding of the adoption process, in which a proposed textbook may be "adopted" by specific states, schools, and colleges, is crucial. With trade or technical books, editors must work on tight deadlines and ensure that the content of the book reflects the most current interests of the market. Editors must therefore be able to make professional judgments about different kinds of books for different audiences. Since most publishing companies specialize in the production of just one or a few types of books—for example, juvenile fiction, textbooks, technical books, cookbooks, contemporary fiction—most editors also specialize and work on specific types of books with distinct reading populations.
Editors usually spend most of their time reading, reviewing, and rewriting manuscripts. They work with authors and freelance writers to plan, organize, and present written material and graphics in the best possible manner. For example, a textbook editor may work with an author to fit hundreds of illustrations within the text of one book. The editor also might write the captions and make sure the credits and permissions are in order. Writers and editors work together to determine what will best appeal to readers. Editors must maintain a good relationship with writers and exercise tact and diplomacy when criticizing a manuscript. If editors heavily edit a manuscript or determine that it requires considerable rewriting, they must either do the editing or rewriting themselves or recommend new ideas and sources to the writer.
Editors often have assistants to review copy for grammatical and spelling errors. Editorial assistants or assistant editors do research; check facts and statistics for accuracy; arrange layouts for articles, illustrations, or photographs; and perform other support tasks. They may also help editors check indexes, proofread, and review manuscripts.
Due to the tremendous amount of detail-oriented work involved, the book publishing process brings together many kinds of editors, each with different skills and roles. Managing editors study sales records, survey the competition for the next year, estimate the manufacturing and editorial costs, and prepare budgets for the advertising and promotion for each book. They also track deadlines and ensure that projects stay within budget. Executive editors prepare the company's "book list." To decide what will be on the following season's book list, executive editors consider the publishing house's specialties; its budget; buying patterns among schools, libraries, and bookstores; and other marketing trends. Executive editors also determine the number of copies to be printed for each title and issue reprint orders. The editor in chief is usually the highest-ranking editor in a publishing house. This chief editor is responsible for the overall operation of the editorial department as well as for maintaining a steady volume of new books to cover the company's overhead expenses.
Acquisitions editors research and develop new ideas and search for new books, authors, or artists. These editors may recruit an author and his or her next work from another publishing house. They sometimes seek new series or innovative teaching materials from freelance writers and editors. They may urge their publishing house to buy a series started by another house. Acquisitions editors sometimes negotiate with authors and agents for movie and reprint sales. They may also campaign to have a specific book selected by a book club. As part of their job, they must keep an eye on trends in reading.
Production editors are responsible for the stages of production and manufacturing. Production editors usually work on several book projects at once, each of them in a different stage of completion and presenting different problems. These editors oversee the books as they go through the stages of copyediting, layout and design, electronic production, manufacturing, and promotion. Copy editors edit manuscripts for style, punctuation, and consistency. As a book nears completion, the rights and permissions editor prepares samples for submission to a book club, researches permission costs for illustrations, and obtains written permission from authors and/or publishers to use direct quotes from their books.
Book editors must cope with many deadlines, delays, and crises. The weeks before sales conferences and the date that a book is to go to the printer are particularly hectic.
Education and Training Requirements
Most book editors are college graduates. Many of them major in English, history, or journalism and have advanced degrees in literature or specialized fields. For example, textbook editors may have a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in a specialized subject, such as science or mathematics. All editors must have a strong command of English grammar and spelling and be comfortable working on a computer. Previous writing experience on school newspapers and magazines is helpful.
Few educational programs offer specific training in editorial work. Most editors learn their jobs through an apprenticeship, working for experienced editors as proofreaders or editorial assistants.
Getting the Job
The best way to advance editorially is through entry-level jobs, such as editorial assistant, proofreader, or sales representative. Freelance copy editors or researchers can move into regular full-time jobs. Job openings are sometimes listed in classified newspaper ads, Internet job sites, or with college placement bureaus. Private employment agencies specializing in publishing offer a further source of job information.
Prospective editors may also send letters of inquiry directly to a publishing house. To find publishers' names, locations, e-mail addresses, Web sites, specialties, and other useful information, consult the Literary Market Place, a directory of American book publishing. This annual is available at most public libraries. You might also read the publishing trade magazine Publishers Weekly for its want ads, general information, and news. Knowing an editor or someone in the publishing world can be very helpful, since many job openings are filled by word of mouth and personal contact.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
The size of the company often determines advancement possibilities. Beginning editors in small firms may edit material immediately. In large firms, editorial assistants may start by doing keying, research, or copyediting. Editorial assistants can move up to assistant or associate editor and then to senior editor. Because promotions and salary raises are slow to come in publishing, editors often advance both in position and in salary by moving from one company to another.
The employment outlook for book editors is good. There will be job opportunities to meet the growing demand for books. However, because this is a small field, competition for these jobs will be keen. Those with the ability to edit business, technical, or trade publications will have the best opportunities.
Publishing houses are usually pleasant places in which to work. Editorial jobs offer exposure to new ideas and often to well-known authors. However, there are pressures that go along with the work. A tremendous amount of reading is required in reviewing manuscripts, books, magazines, and proofs. Editors often have to work overtime to meet deadlines.
Where to Go for More Information
Association of American University Presses
71 W. 23rd St.
New York, NY 10010
Editorial Freelancers Association
71 W. 23rd St., Ste. 1910
New York, NY 10010-4181
Earnings and Benefits
Pay varies according to the specific job and the location of the publishing house. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median yearly income of book editors is $43,890. Editors may supplement their income by doing freelance work. Standard benefits include paid vacations, medical insurance, and retirement plans.