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How to Become a Book Editor

Have you always been a bookworm, and do you never pass up the opportunity to read whatever you can get your hands on? Do you often catch yourself automatically upgrading the words and sentences you read, and would you love to have the chance to tell new authors to stay away from the same tired tropes and branch out a bit?

You may still be in high school and considering your career options, or you may be stuck in a (likely at least humanities-related) job that dream of leaving behind to help authors create the best books they possibly can. If you’re wondering how to become a book editor, know that it isn’t for the faint of heart — but with the right aptitudes, education, and commitment, you have an excellent shot. 

1. Consider What Type of Editing You Want to Do

There is no monolithic concept of the term “book editor”; many different types of editors work on full-length manuscripts with the goal of participating in the process of getting them ready for publication. As an aspiring book editor, you will at a minimum want to know what types of books you would ideally like to edit, and what type of editing is closest to your heart. 

Book editors may be:

  • Developmental editors. They are often the first editors to lay eyes on a manuscript after an author has finished their first draft, and developmental editors essentially help to remold the sculpture while it’s still wet. As a developmental editor, you might poke holes in plot lines, question what a side character is doing in the book at all, and look at whether the world-building needs to be fleshed out or scaled back. This is exciting work, and best suited for editors who have strong literary backgrounds as well as plenty of creative ideas. 
  • Structural editors zoom in on the details a little bit more, by examining whether each chapter is in its rightful place, what may be missing, and what needs to be added. They make sure that the whole manuscript flows well.
  • Line or copy editors get stuck in word choices and sentence structures as they examine each sentence and each word individually in the context of the wider manuscript. They also pick up on grammatical, spelling, style, and tense issues. You may enjoy being a copy editor if you would love to offer feedback on these smaller details while still influencing the flow of the books you edit. 
  • Proofreaders pay close attention to the smallest units in a manuscript — the letters and punctuation marks. They weed out typos and spelling mistakes, fix unfortunate grammar, catch extra spaces or awkwardly-placed question marks, and make sure the style is consistent. Proofreaders save authors and book editors from publishing the mistakes that made it through earlier editors. Proofreading can also be part of a line editor’s job.

2. Make Your Game Plan

Book editors almost always have an advanced degree in a relevant field — English, journalism, communication, or literature, for example. If you are still in high school and want to become a book editor, you will want to pursue a related degree. Those who already have related degrees and are already working, perhaps as English teachers or reporters, have a clear advantage, meanwhile. 

It’s further important to familiarize yourself with industry trends, and that includes learning the latest editing software. Where available, take shorter courses to hone your skills.

If your educational background is all set, you can, as an aspiring book editor, seek out opportunities with publishing houses. You could also, instead, build up experience by editing long-form articles or short stories. Internships may be available, and these can be valuable opportunities for those aspiring book editors who can afford to take them on. No matter what your path, seek out mentors wherever you can, as they will teach you invaluable things about the industry and increase your odds of landing jobs.

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