Anyone a publisher, writer, or editor?

My friend wants to be an editor but doesn’t think she’ll ever get there, because in theory editing is a crap job for crap pay. Does anyone have any experience they could offer with the publishing industry?

Specifically, she wants to know if it will make her hate reading, what the job situation is like (how easy it is to find a job, what’s the pay like, etc), and whether or not you have to be a good writer to be a good editor (she is a great writer, but doesn’t want to write, thus editing…).

I was an intern at a small, non-profit publisher that didn’t accept unsolicited submissions. Despite stating that latter point plainly, they still got plenty of submissions, and I was assigned to the “slush” pile. I could have just automatically stuffed the envelopes with “No thanks” notes, but I read a few of them.

The slush pile killed my soul.

That’s all I really have to contribute.

I am an editor for a publishing house. The pay is not bad, but it’s not great, either. Unfortunately, most of the editors I know do not really get to edit.

For example, we check the books before we send out page proofs and if we see something we can fix it, and if we see something we want to question, we can question it. But for 9 out of 10 books we really aren’t supposed to READ them, just make sure that the headings are correct, the page numbers are all there, and all the typesetting elements are consistent and in the right places.

A lot of the books we do are legal casebooks, though, so even if we see an obvious mistake in the case itself, all we get to do is query whether the mistake is in the original or if it was introduced in the process. If it was in the original, it stays. But if the questions following each case are misnumbered, well, we can change that.

And the last book I actually got to edit, I was limited to 10 hours.

This was not really what I had in mind when I took the job as editor. And, in fact, when I first took the job I got to do more working with the copy than I do now.

Most of the editors I know have similar duties. For instance, an acquiring editor for a rather large NY publishing house. She reads a lot of manuscripts, but in reality she generally makes a decision in the first page or two. Once she does make a decision, instead of editing the book to make it better, her job is to sell the book to her boss, to a publication committee, and then to the reps, who will then spread it to (mostly) Barnes & Nobles and their ilk across the country. (She can offer the writer an advance of up to $25,000, but to kick it any higher it has to go to the committee, and if she buys it at $25,000 she pretty much knows it won’t get the marketing support to really take off.) Once it’s acquired, the process of getting it through publication goes to someone else (a managing editor) and it’s not her baby anymore, although she does remain the contact with the author. If the book’s a huge success, it’s credited to the marketing department, but if it’s a flop–then it’s all her fault. So it’s kind of stressful.

My books were published by Ballantine and within about four years my editor had four assistants who all went on to become senior editors. They seemed to go directly from assistant to senior editor. They had a tendency to be people with MAs in things like comparative literature (complete with Latin honors) who took the job as assistant, which didn’t pay much, then they put in lots of hours, and got promoted. She did not edit my books, but read them and came back with letters with comments like, “Could your protagonist have a more interesting romantic life?”–in one case the letter was four single-spaced pages, ouch! But for the line edit, they sent the books out to an independent copy editor. My editor’s involvement was to take out one bad pun per book.

The people who get to actually edit the books are independent copy editors. They are mostly people who have worked in publishing and have the contacts to get hired by the publisher–or they are hired by the authors before they even submit the book. For a 350-page book, 50-60 hours of editing, the pay would be something like $1500. This is the job for someone who is good at improving the prose. She would be an independent contractor. Some of the publishers* are very slow to pay–like, three months after the thing is done, you might get your check. If dealing directly with the author, she would want to get at least half the amount up front. (I have done a little of this, and while I like the work, I also like the security of a regular paycheck and health insurance, and it’s too hard to do it with a full-time job.)

Being a good writer definitely helps. It’s a lot easier to improve someone else’s writing than to create something original, but you also have to know what good writing is.

So if not a great job I wouldn’t call it a crap job, the pay is better than retail, and work is out there.

*Probably all of the publishers.

I know someone who is an Senior Executive Editor for a major international publishing house.

He had a degree in English Literature and a degree in Publishing when he became an agent. Worked at that for 7 or so years.

As on editor he does, indeed, edit. It’s the skill they hired him for, and though he has several assistants it’s his editing they wanted. He travels to the worlds two largest bookfairs (London, England & Frankfurt, Germany) every year. As well as traveling to New York a couple of times a year. Spoke at the Sydney writer’s conference, etc.

He is extremely well respected and decidedly well paid. Works with authors like, Yann Martel, Rohinton Mistry, Michael Odatje, I could go on all day.

He loves the works and still enjoys reading, however only has time for recreational reading when on holiday.

He’s always sending me great books to read, sometimes before they are published! :smiley:

I was once offered an editorship at a magazine published in Manhattan.
I figured that it didn’t pay enough either for me to live in Manhattan, or to live elsewhere and commute in. God only knows where their actual editors live. Cardboard boxes, maybe.
Since then I’ve become a published author. In the process of getting my book published, I went through two editors and five junior editors – and my book only had a two year gestation period. (But only one Technical Editor. She had a steady job.)
Now I’m a Contributing Editor for a technical magazine. This pays nothing. But it’s been interesting, and hasn’t corroded my soul, or killed my love of reading.

There are a lot of different kinds of editors. As an author, I have at least two on each book - the content editor who deals with the big picture of the book, then the line editor who deals with house style, grammar, spelling and details. My last book, and the one in editing at the moment, are high production books, so there is a production editor who overseas the whole process. She is the one I work with closely over many months.

I think it is really important to check what you are saying when you say your friend “writes well”. Obviously an editor has to have a great command of the language. However, the personality which suits being an editor is significantly different to that of an author - especially an author writing either fiction or creative non-fiction. I do both. I didn’t have the same issues when I was writing textbooks. Authors have to be able to work alone, be self-motivated and tend to get very emotionally attached to some of the most insignificant parts of their babies. They can be irrationally precious about their text.

An editor - a really good one - has to have a hard edge in order to be able to reject most of what they read (if they are commissioning editors) knowing they are going to really hurt every one of those authors. If they are working on publishable manuscripts, they have to deal with the realities of what needs to be done to the author’s baby to get the best final ***marketable ***product. I hate all my editors at some time in the process. I always find that a good editor greatly improves the book, even when I resisted their suggested changes at first.

I would be a lousy editor. My current editor, Catherine Taylor at Allen & Unwin (Australia), is brilliant! She’s done my last two books and I sincerely hope she’ll be in on the next one as well.

Ditto what lynne says about editing and writing being completely different skill sets – I’m somewhere between “good” and “very good” as a writer, but I’m a great editor. It’s about looking at a manuscript and seeing what needs to happen to it to make it work – which sometimes is about tweaking a little language, and sometimes is about ripping it apart and putting it back together.

There’s also a couple of different kinds of editing – book editing, which those who have posted already have talked about; newspaper editing, which I don’t know diddly about; and magazine editing, which is what I do.

For magazine editing, there’s a variety of different sub-specialties, as suggested above, including managing editor (process and logistics) and copy editor (grammar and house style). I am editor in chief, so I’m responsible for the big picture – working out the yearly schedule of topics (esp. important in a gardening magazine, where things need to be seasonally relevant), then choosing (and assigning) articles to put together the content of each issue in a way that makes for a coherent whole. Plus, since I’ve got a tiny staff (me, managing editor, art director, and writer), I do all the line editing as well; plus do the first couple rounds of proofreading. Plus write a couple of pieces for each issue. Etc.

blissful sigh I love my job.

I’ve also been in the biz for 16 years.

I am both a writer and editor, though my pay-the-bills job is teaching college English.
If I could find a writing and/or editing/proofreading job that would actually keep me afloat, I would quit the teaching thing. I can’t get FT work in it.

I’m not currently working as an editor, but I was a “technical editor” (first computers, then biomedicine) from 2001 to 2007. Trade books about software, clinical research protocols, scientific manuscripts, and other stuff, sometimes fascinating and sometimes deadly boring. My education was in English, not computers or medicine.

My start, I guess, was a college internship as a proofreader for a textbook publisher. But what really did it was freelancing – I did some large copyediting projects (that copy of “Microsoft Exchange Server 2000 Bible” you have on your mantel? Yeah, that was me) and those buffed up my résumé enough to lead to a full-time job. Even if full-time is your goal, individual gigs may be a good way to start. I found my freelance work through a friend; never even met my employers, just exchanged drafts by email.

I was an editor at a major national magazine for 8 years.

In that position, yes, being a writer was essential. So was having excellent proofreading skills (and that means knowing all the proofreading marks, knowing how to use the Chicago Manual of Style inside and out, etc.). So was being a nut about fact-checking.

I not only proofread, copyedited, fact-checked, and “edited” (i.e., actually worried about the overall structure, etc., of an article) articles from other writers, but I also wrote half-a-dozen articles a month. This meant lots of phone interviews, plus a tremendous amount of general research and photo research for a current-events-roundup column. If I had had better skills as a photo shoot producer, the magazine would have used them, too.

I got started with an internship at the magazine, and then transitioned to a full-time job. I also was paid as an intern. Neither of these things is generally possible today; nor is staying at one magazine for 8 years. Generally, your friend should expect to work one (or more) unpaid internships before she gets a job, she should not expect to go from intern to full-time at the same magazine, and she should not expect to spend more than a few years at any one place. You get promoted and get raises by moving to other publications, not by sticking around.

As others said, the pay is OK, but not mind-blowing. The big financial downside for most national publishers is that you have to work in NYC, and the cost of living is brutal. (See again, re: unpaid internships. I don’t know how those kids all afford to live. Rich parents for some of them, I know.) Of course, the upside is that you have to live in NYC, which is a very rewarding experience in and of itself. (Just not financially rewarding.)