I'm an editor on a mission to learn all I can about this industry -- and I'm taking your questions as I go! I'm continuing my series ASK ME ANYTHING: STORY AND PUBLISHING this week with a question on how I became an editor. Thank you for all your great questions so far! Keep 'em coming and join my mailing list! Contact me and with thoughts on today's subject or any questions about writing, story, editing, and publishing.
Q: I have never met anyone with a publishing/editing background. How did you get into it? Did you go to school for it? What did you study? — Alli
A: I have asked 2 of my editing associates to answer this along with me! We each have had different experiences getting into editing, and we work with different genres and clients. Below is a Q&A interview with myself, Kate Juniper of Juniper Editing + Creative, and Mollie Turbeville (molliereads.com).
Mollie Turbeville, molliereads.com
Mollie has been a longtime contact of mine, and my first introduction to freelance editing. She is to blame for me even deciding to work with books for a living. :) This summer she rounded a few of us in the book world together for a Book Biz mastermind group, and that's how I got connected to Kate.
Kate Juniper, Juniper Editing + Creative
The 3 of us editors in the group have been huge resources to each other. I love sharing the stories of my successful, hard-working friends who inspire and help me. I know you’ll benefit from hearing Mollie and Kate’s journeys as well!
- When did you decide to become an editor?
Sophie: I decided in 2014, after taking career assessments for grad school, that I wanted to find a way to read and write for a living. It was through Instagram that I even found what editing truly was! I found Mollie and reached out to her about what she did. Generously, she responded and we kept up a conversation about what opportunities there are to work with books, particularly with my proofreading skills. I joined a local writers’ group, and then applied to my friend’s publishing company as a proofreader. I developed from there as a developmental editor under the mentorship of experienced DEs.
Kate: I fell into editing by accident during my MA six years ago. It wasn't until I worked in publishing that I knew that's how I would work with books: by being a book editor.
Mollie: I've wanted to be an editor for as long as I can remember, but not really because I loved grammar and all things editing. To be honest, I romanticized it. I had an interest in writing, and I wanted to read books all day, but I never really had formal grammar courses in high school. My fiction writing teacher in college actually tried to discourage me from this career path. She felt it would "stifle my writing." Looking back, I realized it was because my papers were riddled with errors. She was probably trying to save me from embarrassment! All that to say, once I prioritized editing and actually paid attention to the English language, grammar, punctuation, et cetera, I stopped romanticizing it, started putting in the hard work, and—to my great delight—fell in love with it.
- What did you study in undergrad?
Sophie: International Business and French — nothing related to this (or any job I’ve held after college, for that matter)! I took a creative writing course my freshman year, but in the confusion of “how to be successful after college,” I abandoned any studies of literature, linguistics, or writing. I wish I had the courage as an 18-year-old freshman to stick with what I loved.
Kate: English literature, English literature, English literature! It was my primary subject through high school, college, and university (BA and MA).
Mollie: I got my bachelor's degree in English Language and a minor in Creative Writing, but I didn't take college as seriously as I should have.
- What, if any, postgraduate work did you do?
Sophie: I have a graduate certificate in Academic Advising. It was during this program that I decided to take up my first love, reading and writing.
Kate: I have an MA in English Literature.
What continuing education/training/certifications have you done/are you currently pursuing?
Sophie: I took a course on Developmental Editing from the Author-Editor Clinic. I’m self-taught in Chicago Manual of Style and AP. I’m currently working on my Story Grid Method certification.
Kate: I have a certificate in copy editing from Simon Fraser University. I am a member of the Editors Association of Canada and attend conferences, events, and webinars with them on a fairly regular basis. I take at least an afternoon every month to read and refresh on the Chicago Manual of style.
Mollie: After college, I eventually took several editing-specific courses that prepared me much more than my college courses.
Basic Manuscript Editing, University of Chicago Graham School
Essentials of Grammar, University of Chicago Graham School
Children’s Literature, University of North Texas, Denton
Copyediting and Proofreading, Christian Proofreaders and Editors Network
Editing Fiction I, Christian Proofreaders and Editors Network
Editing Fiction II, Christian Proofreaders and Editors Network
Developmental Editing, Author-Editor Clinic
The Business of Freelance Developmental Editing, Author-Editor Clinic
- How much of editing would you say is "learning on the job" v. formal education?
This is where we definitely have different experiences, since Mollie and Kate are both formally educated in English literature, and I've learned on the job!
Sophie: My formal education is in strong grammar skills. Back in middle school, we used this rigorous sentence-diagramming method called the Shirley Method and I am very thankful for that strong foundation for proofreading. Other than that, I have learned on the job! I love shadowing other editors, asking them questions, and apprenticing under different methods. I’ve been studying and applying the Story Grid for 2 years, and am looking forward to completing my Story Grid certification in September.
Editing is at the core about reading and asking thorough, analyzing questions of the material. I have gained so much insight as an editor just because I am a curious, analytical reader!
Kate: While I wouldn't recommend beginning this career by "learning on the job,” there's no formal and strict route to becoming an editor. That said, a BA in English will rarely provide one with enough skills and knowledge... Strange to say but I think the best prep for this job is to be a person who reads A TON and always be inquisitive. So much of editing is about finding the answer. Some formal training or a specific qualification is important in particular if one wants to edit in the publishing world, as there are a lot of specifics (including lingo and processes) that are beneficial to have up front in order to find work.
Mollie: I consider [my post-college] courses to be much more valuable than formal education, but I don't deny that an English degree is crucial for finding work. Learning on the job is, I would say, the most important aspect of growing your business, growing your confidence, and ultimately, becoming an expert in your field. But I pull from what I learned in my editing courses DAILY. I literally have a binder of notes and storytelling technique fliers from these classes, and these resources are the "meat" of what I offer clients.
- What jobs, internships, opportunities have been influential in your editing career?
Sophie: Before publishing, I worked in advertising as a “quality assurance specialist”—in essence, I was a copyeditor. There I learned that my eye for inconsistency was actually a valuable skill! My formal start in the industry was with the publisher Booktrope as a proofreader. (A proofreader checks for typos, grammatical errors, and other copy issues.)
I asked the editors on the projects I was proofreading to teach me their methods and share their experience with me. My friend Pam Elise Harris took me under her wing, and her friendship and guidance has been invaluable to me. (I have since edited for her!) Many of the authors I work with still are from those days. The Rising Tide Society is a collective of creative entrepreneurs, and though that network I’ve found clients (business and literary projects). And the Story Grid community, of course!
Kate: I was an academic editor for a loooong time. I edited papers, articles, and conference presentations for several professors, as well as marking BA students' papers as a TA. Before that I was a high school teacher. While I enjoyed these jobs, the work was dry, and so it was never something I saw myself doing long-term.
My first job after my MA was as a copy editor for Routledge Press, for their project the Online Encyclopedia of Modernism. It was an amazing gig but again very dry: though I was learning about fascinating people and subjects, I was editing encyclopedia entries! Not very engaging. So it wasn't until I worked in publishing and dealt with real manuscripts that I began to see how being an editor could be the best thing ever! All my love of books—in particular literary fiction—could find its home in that work. I managed a team of 50+ freelance editors for a year and a half, then decided to do it myself.
Mollie: My first real job out of college was as a writer/editor job for a literary consultancy, and I definitely think having this experience under my belt was immensely important. But honestly, the work I did for this consultancy/agency was vastly different from what I do now. I edited press releases, wrote newsletters and social media content, et cetera. I'm completely self-taught when it comes to book editing.
- What advice do you have for aspiring editors?
Sophie: Read a lot, and learn to ask good questions of what you’re reading! What works and what doesn’t—and why? Struggling over these questions will hone a strong editorial sense. And don’t be afraid to ASK editors what they do, and how to get there! PS — Study the Story Grid. :)
Kate: Read constantly; remember that diplomacy is a skill you can—and must!—hone; seek out professional development on a regular basis; edit the genre(s) you feel most passionately about (don't become a legal or medical editor because it pays well if you don't take an interest in legalese or aren't familiar with the practices of medicine!).
Mollie: My advice for aspiring editors is to join online associations. Not only can you find resources and start conversations with experienced editors but you can often find authors/work through these associations via private job listings. They can also find you by browsing the author profiles. This was actually how I found my first few projects. I also answer this question briefly on my FAQ page.
PS - Mollie has a great video on “How to Become an Editor.” Check it out!
Keep asking these great questions about story + publishing! I am learning a lot along with you, and I love tapping into my network to find out what people know and are willing to share.