A love for language is only one part of being a great editor.
“Success as an editor is about having a voice and not being afraid to articulate it,” says Danyel Smith, 32, who manages a staff of 19 as editor in chief of Vibe, the New York City-based music magazine. “Women put a lot of pressure on themselves by thinking they don’t know enough to be an editor. You just keep learning along the way.”
Editors determine the direction, set the tone and control the quality of a publication’s content. They have an eye for detail and see the big picture at the same time. Editors assign articles to freelance writers and, if necessary, rework the pieces to fit their publication’s style.
What It’s Like
You’ll usually start out as an editorial assistant, assistant editor or, occasionally, as a writer, then move up to senior editor, managing editor and finally executive editor or editor in chief. You could work for consumer magazines like Vibe or Cosmopolitan; trade publications like Interactive Week or Folio; newspapers or newsletters. Or you could jump into the fast-growing arena of web editing.
Trisha Smith, nature editor for Discovery Online, says: “New media is booming for editing jobs, but many sites are using editors to repackage existing content from other sources rather than to create original content. That’s just not as much fun or as challenging.”
The downside to being an editor: It’s a highly competitive, often underpaid profession. And you have to manage temperamental writers.
Stats & Cash
Women in the Field
- Magazines: 44%
- Weekly newspapers: 34%
- Daily newspapers: 25%
- Wire services: 46%
- Magazines: $66K
- Weekly newspapers: $21K
- Daily newspapers: $35K
- Wire services: $44K
Editing is a labor of love, not wealth. Salaries vary widely, depending on location, who owns the publication, employee’s previous salary and experience and, if applicable, the industry covered — business publications are top payers. Entry-level assistant editors can make in the $20Ks. Upper-level editors can make up to $50K after four years and up to $75K after 10. (This is still less than what men make.)
Take a few local jobs, then head to the home of the publishing world — the Big Apple — or one of the other big publishing metropolises like Chicago or LA. You’ll have a much better chance of getting a job in other parts of the country after getting experience at one of the major publications that tend to be located in these cities.
Nail the Job
Familiarize yourself with the publication by reading it from cover to cover.
Put together a portfolio of your best writing “clips” (articles that have been published) — not only do editors have to be able to rewrite someone else’s work, they must write well themselves. The bigger the publication’s name, the better. If you’re just starting out, you can use clips from school publications.
Be prepared to take a copy editing and spelling test for entry-level jobs.
Questions You May Be Asked
“How would you find out — two days before the Grammy Awards — who was designing Janet Jackson’s dress?” Show that you have the tenacity and creativity to get tough information on short notice.
“If you were editor, how would you change the content?” Speak your mind diplomatically. Editors want to see how creative, insightful and in tune with their publication you are.
“How would you deal with a writer who is upset at having to rewrite an article?” You need to be both confident and tactful in dealing with temperamental talent.