How do I get into a career as an editor?

Becoming an editor - image of magazines
Find out how to start your publishing career as a copy-editor, editorial assistant or production trainee, including what to study at university and where to find an entry-level job.

If you’re attracted to a career as an editor, you could choose to start out as a journalist or in another publishing job such as copy-editor, editorial assistant or production trainee. Take a look at our article on how to get a job as a journalist if that’s your main interest, or read on to find out about the other options.

Also see the following:

How to become a copy-editor on a magazine or website

Copy-editing involves checking other people’s writing, including making sure that spelling, punctuation and grammar are correct and that the meaning is clear. This role is generally found in magazines and websites that aren’t predominantly news based. The equivalent role on a newspaper is usually called a sub-editor, and that’s normally performed by a more experienced, trained journalist and involves a lot more checking of sources. Otherwise, the qualifications and experience required to start as a copy-editor resemble those of a journalist. In other words:

  • It’s mostly a graduate occupation, although one of the few editorial apprenticeship schemes with a newspaper group will qualify you for the job.
  • Studying journalism or publishing at university is a relevant route in – either as an undergraduate, or as a postgraduate if you want to study a different subject first. Some media studies degrees are also relevant, if they contain a practical element.
  • It is also possible to start as a magazine or website copy-editor with any degree subject and no media qualifications, particularly where your knowledge equips you to edit specialist information. For example, if you are a keen cyclist, you might be an attractive candidate for a job on a cycling magazine. If your degree is in science then you could find work on a science publication.

Examples of magazine and website publishers that provide opportunities for junior copy-editors are similar to those that offer entry-level journalism jobs. See our article on how to get a job as a journalist to read more about the options. Sometimes the roles of junior reporter and junior copy-editor are combined in a trainee editor or editorial assistant position.

Getting into an editorial career in book publishing

Book publishers also hire copy-editors to check writing for sense, spelling, grammar, style and structure. However, copy-editor in a book publishing company is generally not an entry-level job. Book publishing is often left out of lists of media careers, yet some publishers of illustrated books operate very much like magazine publishers. A small number even have in-house writing teams. On the whole though, a copy-editor working for a book publisher is far less likely to re-write an author’s copy than a counterpart in magazine publishing.

A more typical entry-level editorial role in a book publishing company is editorial assistant, offering administrative and secretarial support to the publishing team. This can include taking minutes, ringing authors, scheduling meetings and some editorial tasks – usually checking that proofreading and copy-editing amendments have been made. This role is almost always for graduates only. A great number of editorial assistants have degrees in publishing while some have a first degree in another subject and a postgraduate publishing qualification. It is hard but possible to find work with a non-publishing degree plus relevant work experience and secretarial experience. With some academic publishing companies, a first degree and a postgraduate research degree can be more useful than having studied a publishing course. Generally, book publishers ask for higher academic grades than other types of media organisation.

The other main first job in book publishing is as a production trainee. Tasks involve helping to buy, schedule and check print work. Because of the technical nature of this role it is helpful to have a publishing qualification at graduate or undergraduate level. Print apprenticeships do exist but these will be for jobs in printing factories.

Typical examples of book publishing companies are:

  • Random House: the largest general-interest/consumer paperback publisher in the world. Random House owns Penguin, many other fiction brand names plus an extensive list of non-fiction books.
  • Elsevier publishes books, journals and databases aimed at business and academic markets. Its titles include The Lancet, a highly respected journal aimed at the medical profession.

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