Sunday, April 19, 2009

How can I become a children's book editor?

I've been getting this question a lot recently.

1. You'd better be seriously interested in children's books. Not "I could be interested if I got a job in children's books". Interested NOW.

2. And that would mean that you're reading a lot of children's books --brand new ones-- NOW.

Wait, wait, you say. Isn't there on-the-job training? Why do I have to familiarize myself with children's books before I even know if I can have a career in them?

Because in spite of the low pay and long hours, we still have a lot of highly qualified people interested in being editors. And the highest qualification is the kind of book-industry knowledge that takes reading hundreds of books to acquire. Good sense about books is not something we can teach. Either you have it or you don't, and it will be much more apparent that you have it if you can speak intelligently about the books that are our current competition.

The times I have hired people, it's been pretty easy to cherry-pick the good ones. After tossing the badly-written cover letters, I ask the rest of them what they've been reading. People who are a good fit for the job have been reading a lot of children's books (and a lot of different kinds of children's books), and have a lot to say about them.

3. You'd better not have any fantasies about office work.

If you can't stand a lot of tedious paperwork, you don't want to work in publishing. We give our interns plenty of mind-numbing paper shuffling and form filling out to do, because if they make it to Editorial Assistant, it's only going to get worse. Eventually, it will get better... a little... and years later. In the meantime, you'd better be able to cope. I still have plenty of that sort of thing to do, and I do it as cheerfully and efficiently as I can so that I can get to editing and reviewing new manuscripts sooner.

4. Internships are a good way to get your foot in the door.

So have a look in your area for a publisher you could intern with. No, you can't be an editor remotely. If there are no publishers in your area, you'll have to move to where they are. Consider moving to New York. We're almost entirely here.

5. So is the Columbia Publishing course or other similar courses.

Good luck.


Anonymous said...

I'm surprized somewhat by EA's answer to this question, because I've noticed many editors weren't English majors in college and weren't in any type of creative writing program, either. How do you go from "reading books" to being able to TELL writers how to change their books without having a background in literary criticism?

How do these people learn to edit books? It can't be on the job training, can it?

Is there a checklist for how editors go about writing Editorial Letters, and if so, can you post it -- writers can learn a great deal from that kind of information.

Anonymous said...

Arthur A. Levine Books offers a year-round, unpaid internship program. Here’s the link:

Lili said...

I edited children's books for years. I'd add: you need to believe that children's writing should be held to standards every bit as high as those that are applied to books for adults. If you think kids' books are a lesser art form, or if you think that 'Well, hey, that sentence doesn't need to be beautifully written, it's only for kids' or 'OK, the plot's hackneyed as hell, but kids won't know the difference'...maybe it's not the job for you.

To answer Anon's question, I did English in university. It was totally useless when it came to editing. The literary criticism courses in college taught me how to analyse Jane Eyre from a post-post-structuralist neo-feminist angle, not how to make it better.

I learned to edit partly on the job, but mainly by readingreadingreading. Good stuff, bad stuff, kids' stuff, adult stuff, every genre imaginable. That's how you learn what works, what doesn't work, and how to turn B into A. It becomes an instinct.

The learned-on-the-job bit was how to tell authors how to turn B into A, which is a totally different skill. Now that I make my living from writing instead, I really appreciate it in my own editors :-D.

Chris Eldin said...

Do you think editing fiction and writing fiction are two exclusive skill sets? I wonder about this a lot.
Just curious about your thoughts...

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if we should add (6) Have rich parents.

At least, that was true years ago when I graduated college and came to New York looking for work. I interviewed for some jobs in trade publishing, but none paid enough to cover my (very low) rent. The young people who were able to take those jobs were those with family money and/or parents they could live with in the city.

I think that skewed the demographics in publishing, and I'm wondering if that's still true.

Editorial Anonymous said...

David Levithan.

That's possible. It still is very hard to get your foot in the door without some financial help.

Unknown said...

Are internships available to 40 somethings who are not enrolled in a school? Or are those opportunities for current students only? And do literary agencies have these opportunities too?

Unknown said...

I've heard a lot of editors say that they found their jobs through programs like the Columbia Publishing Course but in the current economy are they worth the money?

hschinske said...

I take it you mean one can't be an editorial *intern* remotely? Because lots of people do freelance editing (of various kinds, not just copyediting) remotely.

Helen Schinske

Editorial Anonymous said...

Helen- it depends on what type of editorial work you have in mind.

You can't be an intern remotely, no. You also can't be an acquiring editor remotely without a track record of successful books already under your belt.

David Dittell said...

Writing and editing may be different skill sets, but they're not mutually exclusive. Both require that you know how to most efficiently get something across.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently an intern at a children's book publisher, and I completely agree with Lili--- my English degree is all but useless. My market research through SCBWI, constant online lurking, and obsessive reading of picture books (10-20 every time I make it to the library) and YA novels (3-4 every few weeks) have all been far more helpful than any of my courses... In fact, only one was at all helpful... it was on what teachers look for in a children's book for the classroom.

Miss Rosa said...

As an in-house managing editor by day, I'm astonished at the amount of applications I get for editorial positions, from people with no editorial background. Everyone seems to think they can edit "because they took English and edited their friends' school papers." It's just not the same, and there are great publishing and editing courses available for people who are serious about the industry.

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