Monday, September 3, 2007

So You Want to Be an Editor

I am currently an English Major and beginning my sophomore year of college. I’m very interested in children’s literature, specifically books written for 10 to 14 year olds, and I was wondering what you could tell me about being a children’s book editor. What are the pros and cons of being an editor?

  • You work in books.
  • People in children's books are really nice people, with very few exceptions.
  • You are in charge (this ought to appeal to you if you want to be an editor—editors have to be in charge)
  • By the power of your "no," you get to stem some of the tide of bad books getting published.
  • It is a truly challenging job. Editors need several different skill sets.

  • Editors manage relationships with lots and lots of people: authors, illustrators, agents, other editors, designers, people from production, sales, marketing, publicity... and most editors are introverts, so this takes work.
  • You're underpaid. You have to be doing this for love, because the people multi-talented enough to be good editors could be doing lots of things that pay a hell of a lot better.
  • You're overworked. There's always more work than people to do it, and editors take work home all the time.
  • Much of it is not glamorous or fun work. The amount of time we spend reading and editing is absolutely dwarfed by the time we spend filling in forms, reporting and sharing information, attending meetings, juggling p&ls, building marketing material, etc.
  • It can be high-stress. There's a lot of work, there's a lot of responsibility, and there isn't much time.
  • Everywhere you go, when people ask you what you do, you can either lie or get drawn into another conversation that starts "Really? I've written a children's book!" Honestly, it's eerie how much this happens.
Are there specific qualities you think an editor should have?

An editor should be:
  • Friendly
  • Decisive
  • Cooperative
  • Discerning
  • Efficient
  • Hard-working
  • Well-read
  • Knowledgeable about the market
  • A smart reader
  • A talented writer
  • Good at identifying problems
  • Good at coming up with creative solutions
  • Good at predicting reader and market response
  • Good at identifying hook and at positioning books
Is this the kind of job that consumes your life, or can you have a family?

Yes, and yes. You just can't spend a lot of time with them.
Are there other jobs that, in your opinion, are better in the children’s publishing industry?
The only better job I can think of is Bestselling Author. But there are even fewer openings. Though, as you should be realizing, that's my take. Editing is not for everyone. Some people would hate it.
I’ve heard that the way people get their foot in the door is by interning.
Are there different types of intern positions available? If so, which ones would
you recommend?

You can intern in marketing, editorial, even design... it depends on the publisher. But an editorial internship is most likely to turn into a job in editorial, if that's what you want. And of course even then it's not that likely.
Are there any other tips, pieces of wisdom, or warnings you feel compelled to dish out?

There are many different ways to love books, and many different ways to work in books. An internship is a good idea simply for the chance to see whether editorial work is for you. If it isn't, try something else in books.


Literaticat said...

The Wonderful Sharyn, who is an editor at Penguin, has a good faq on the same topic.

Anonymous said...

Or you could be a freelance developmental editor, like me, which will (cons) take years of hard slog, miniscule pay and independent study of the Chicago Manual of Style (and, a pro, reading thousands upon thousands of kids' books), and development of many of the personal qualities EA mentions to build real skills and 'street cred' (if you want to do it properly)...

Pros: once you've put in the hard yards you can do it poolside with an umbrella drink.

Most of all, it takes the smae passion for kids' books that editors like EA possess.

Anonymous said...

And good copyediting skills which can be a little fuzzy after too many umbrella drinks ... "smae"????

Deirdre Mundy said...

I'm beginning to think (well, fine I've known since college) that "working in books" goes hand in hand with "low wages."

I would like to point out to your questioner that there is another viable career option for "english major who loves children's literature".....

Librarian! Still low pay (though usually good benefits and vacation) and since you don't have to live in NYC, Boston or San Francisco, your meager paycheck goes much farther.....

also, a 40-hour work week, you never have to bring work home...

You get paid to read books, recomend books and BUY BOOKS WITH SOMEONE ELSE'S MONEY...

And people love you....

My husband's a librarian (not children's... but still...) and when the kids are grown, I'm seriously going to think about going back to get my MLS, if I don't have a viable writing/school visit career by then... (20 years from now, so it could happen...)

Bookstore employee is also a fun children's lit related job, but Librarian is a lot better in terms of healthcare and whatnot.....

Kidlitjunkie said...

Dierdre, I worked in a children's bookstore before I started in publishing, and it was awesome. Awesome if you're a millionare who's working for fun, and doesn't need things like a livable salary, or decent benefits. The job was a lot of fun, but it paid worse than publishing, and that's saying a lot.

On the editorial side of things, I highly highly highly recommend internships. As many as you can. Start early. Summer internships, semester internships. They are really great for what they can teach you about editorial, but they are also fantastic in the contacts you can make. Stay in touch with the people you meet there--your supervisor, other editors, and just as important--fellow interns.

I got my job because I stayed in touch with a fellow intern. She got hired, and because she remembered so clearly what it was like to be job-hunting, she was really proactive in forwarding me openings and passing my resume on to editors looking for assistants.

So there you go.

Anonymous said...

Can I just print this and hand it to everyone who asks about my job? That would save the time it would take to recite it.

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