Book Editor: Job Profile

What Book Editors Do and How to Become One

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Book editors do a lot more than just read and edit raw manuscripts. They are a key part of the chain of command in publishing and have a lot of influence over which books get published and which ones don't. 

If you love books and love to read, a job as an editor can be a dream come true. But be advised that much of a book editor’s time is spent sifting through manuscripts that will never see the light of day.

You have to be OK with reading a lot of bad writing in order to find the few gems.

Duties and Responsibilities

One of the most important things book editors do is acquire books for publication. Usually, they or an editorial assistant read manuscripts submitted by writers (some solicited, most unsolicited) and, based on their knowledge of a genre and its potential market, determine whether the work is a good fit for their publishing house.

Although an editor’s fate isn’t entirely dependent on how many bestsellers are delivered, the people who get ahead in the book publishing field almost always have some big-name books under their belt.

Relationships With Authors

Another important aspect of a book editor’s job is cultivating relationships with authors. Book editors are ultimately looking to discover new talent, publish them as unknowns, and then continue working with them as they build a bigger audience.

For this reason, many authors often have only one editor for an entire career. Writers who have good relationships with their editors often follow the editors if they change publishing houses over the years. Editors who work with high-profile writers are often more valuable to publishers because they usually bring big clients with them.

Specialization

Book publishing today is very specialized. There are imprints at all major publishing houses that focus on specific genres and subject matter, everything from science fiction to romance to cookbooks to literary fiction to health sciences. Keep this in mind when applying for jobs, highlighting your relevant experience in a given field or a hobby of yours that might make you a stronger candidate. For example, if you're interested in editing cookbooks, a culinary education or background as a chef would make you a more attractive job candidate.

Skills and Education Needed

Most editors have at least a bachelor's degree, usually in English, literature, or journalism. Some have graduate degrees, but it’s not a requirement. More important than the specifics of your education are a passion for reading and an aptitude for editing.

Experience, including internships at publishing houses and work in other media such as newspaper or magazine editing, is also important for a would-be book editor. Moreover, connections in the publishing world, whether to another editor or successful writer, can also help your chances of landing a job as a book editor. To grow your network, you can join professional organizations such as the Editorial Freelancers Association.