How to Become an Editor (by the Editors of Fairygodboss)

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May 18, 2024 at 7:17PM UTC
Thanks to shows like Younger, there's a fresh new crop of bookworms wondering how to turn a passion for reading and writing into a career — such as book editing.
While some aspects of the books and media industry have changed and narrowed, like a focus on all things digital and massive downsizing by most newspapers and publishers, the good news is the need for editors isn't vanishing anytime soon. Wherever words are a focus, you'll find an editor. 

Step 1. Education Requirements:

Wondering what degree you need to become an editor? 
In general, a background in communications is preferred. The following are common degrees and majors for editors:
  • Bachelor's degree in a communications field
    • Journalism
    • English
    • Creative Writing
    • Media
    • Advertising
    • Public Relations
  • A bachelors degree in any field and relevant experience
For entry-level roles, such as an editorial assistant, or an editorial intern,  applicants will usually only have a college degree and writing samples from school. That means, if a biology major and a creative writing major are applying for an entry level role, the creative writing major is more competitive (unless the biology major has published writing samples from freelancing).

Step 2.Your Career Path

You don't have to follow the trajectory below to make it as an editor. Many editors have backgrounds in other industries, and transition later in life. That said, the majority of editors will have at least some of the following roles (if not all) on their resume, especially when applying to senior editing roles. 

How long does it take to become an editor?

Two years, at a minimum, for most careers. Most hopeful editors start as interns, writers or editorial assistants. The path is usually:
  • Editorial Intern
  • Editorial Assistant
  • Assistant Editor
  • Associate Editor
  • Editor
  • Senior Editor
  • Managing Editor

What do you need to become a book editor?

The book industry is tough for two reasons: first, it's very competitive to get in; second, the pay is terrible, so if you want to make it to the top tiers of publishing, you have to grind it out at a very low pay rate. Another issue is that many people stay in their roles until retirement; that means unlike the tech industry, where you can hop from employer to employer gaining a promotion and pay raise with each subsequent move, in book publishing, people tend to stay put which means fewer (and slower) promotions, and much fewer openings to apply to. 

What exactly does an editor do?

The day-to-day will depend on the type of editor and the industry. For instance, an editor at a major publisher will read manuscripts (for the most part, during non-working hours), make edits and suggestions, work directly with authors, and work with marketing staff. Copy editors do the nitty-gritty line by line edits, while most book editors look at the overall story structure, character development, marketability, and dialogue contained in the manuscript.
A digital editor's day-to-day might be working with freelance writers by assigning pieces to write, editing articles, uploading articles and images, and publishing and promoting material. A managing editor is usually involved with setting the editorial calendar, working directly with writers, arranging payment, and facilitating syndication arrangements.  

How much does an editor make a year?

An editor's salary depends on location, industry, experience and more. For example, an online editor at a startup with about two to three years of experience might make $50,000 - $60,000 in New York City. That same job at a print newspaper might make much less. The expected salary for an area will also depend on the individual company's budget and the competition in the area as well. 
Another factor to remember is that if a publication is popular, oftentimes the salary is low because so many writers and editors are willing to take a low salary in exchange for the prestige that accompanies the name. For example, the New Yorker is famous for keeping all writers on contract basis, which means no salary or benefits. Or, take Vice, as another case study: the staff has made the news for being very underpaid for the industry.  And, if you pay any attention to the media, you'll notice that every year editorial staff at various publications will try to unionize to help increase wages and benefits, only to find themselves out of a job, either from the publication shuttering, or the company firing them.

Book editor

A book editor makes a median salary of $58,800 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to Payscale, the average pay is $46,000 a year.
For a more granular example, pay at a top book publisher, such as Simon & Schuster is $40,000 for an assistant editor, $56,000 for an editor, and $65,000 for a managing editor. 

Online editor

An online editor at Vice makes an average of $50,000, according to Glassdoor. At Newsweek, a copy editor makes around $37,000, and news editors and senior editors make around $50,000.  

Newspaper editor

At the New York Times, a staff editor can make anywhere between $84,000 and $117,000, depending on experience. Digital editors make roughly $100,000 a year, and a senior editor can reach $120,000. At The Washington Post, a deputy editor makes an average of $93,000 a year; assistant editors average about $45,000. 

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