How to Get Editorial Experience

Editor typing on laptop and gaining experience

Do you find yourself correcting your friends when they say “less” instead of “fewer” or “farther” instead of “further?” Are you continuously thinking of ways to improve the writing as you read a novel? A career as an editor may be in your future.

Employers often prefer to hire editors who have editorial experience. Therefore, to become an editor, you will need to learn how to get editorial experience before you land your first professional job. Fortunately, there are a few ways to get around the issue of how to get editing experience before you land that first professional role.

What Does an Editor Do?

The job of an editor varies considerably from one workplace to the next. Some editors do more writing than editing, while others perform editing tasks exclusively. Still other editors do not do much editing or writing but instead act as directors for their departments.

Often, the tasks of an editor depend on the specific work environment. For example, an editor of a small magazine may assign articles to staff and freelancers, develop issue themes and edit completed drafts. An acquisitions editor at a publishing house, however, will not do any editing; instead, they will focus on reviewing submitted manuscripts to determine which should be picked up on contract.

Although there are many types of editors, in general, editors may complete any of the following tasks:

  • Revise portions of text to enhance structure, organization or clarity
  • Develop content ideas and assign articles to writers
  • Evaluate and edit submitted content
  • Fact-check content prior to publication
  • Guide writers in developing their skills
  • Approve final drafts

Should You Become an Editor or a Writer?

Many editors complete a great deal of writing. They may, for instance, write newspaper or magazine articles for their publication while also editing others’ work. Although considerable overlap exists, it is important to bear in mind that the jobs of writers and editors represent two distinct careers.

Many writers transition to editing after gaining some experience in the field. However, it is less common for an editor to transition into a role focused exclusively on writing, even if they did perform writing work as an editor.

As you work through the issue of how to get editorial experience, keep in mind that an effective editor must avoid taking complete ownership of an article or manuscript. In other words, an editor must enhance, improve and correct a writer’s work while preserving the writer’s voice, style and intent.

This means that you might be well suited to the field of editing if you enjoy taking drafts and improving them until they reach their full potential. If you are more interested in serving as a creator, however, you should become a writer instead.

How to Get Editing Experience in High School

The process of how to get editing experience can begin as early as high school. At this stage, you should focus on improving your skills and your command of the English language rather than building a professional portfolio.

For example, as a high school student, you should always strive to do the following:

  • Complete your school essays at least a couple of days early. Then, set them aside and reread them with fresh eyes so that you can make thorough edits
  • Offer to proofread your classmates’ work to gain experience working with other people’s writing. Be careful to limit your revisions to suggestions; rewriting large portions of a student’s essay promotes neither academic integrity nor sound ethics.
  • Join any extracurricular activities that pertain to writing, such as a creative fiction club or the school newspaper. If your school does not offer relevant activities, consider talking to the administrative staff about starting your own writing-related club.

Do You Need an English Degree to Become an Editor?

You will find that very few employers will consider hiring an editor who does not have a degree. In most cases, however, editors need only a bachelor’s degree rather than an advanced degree. You may be required to hold a  graduate degree, such as a master’s in English education, if you aspire to become the editor of a scientific journal or a similar academic publication.

As you begin pursuing your career path, you will encounter some flexibility regarding the type of degree you can earn. Most editors earn an English degree, although some decide to become editors after earning a degree in communications. A journalism degree is also a good choice for those who aspire to become newspaper or magazine editors.

You should consider different types of English degree programs. For instance, the Bachelor of Arts in English largely focuses on literature studies as well as fiction and nonfiction writing. This type of degree can be useful for someone who wishes to work at a publishing house.

However, a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing for New Media can be a versatile and hands-on degree. It is versatile because graduates can pursue careers in a variety of workplaces and not just publishing houses. This type of degree also focuses more on the process, mechanics and business of writing and editing. Plus, the emphasis on new media makes it ideal for acquiring competencies in 21st-century media platforms.

Although English degrees or professional writing degrees are the preferred choices for aspiring editors, there are limited exceptions. For instance, if you want to become the editor of a scientific journal or magazine, it is a good idea to declare a double major. In such a situation, you might major in both English or professional writing and biology, chemistry or another STEM field, such as medical studies.

Since gaining editorial experience goes hand-in-hand with gaining writing experience, you should expect to do plenty of writing yourself. Another factor to keep in mind is the type of editor you want to become. Editors can pursue many specializations, and gaining experience as one type of editor might not always translate well to an entirely different editing gig.

How to Get Editorial Experience While in College

No matter what English degree you choose, you can use your time in college to develop your professional portfolio. At this stage, your portfolio will consist of the work and projects you complete for your classes. It will primarily be comprised of your own writing.

Depending on your professors, however, you may occasionally complete some peer-review assignments. If you have the opportunity to edit other students’ work, you can include the original drafts and your edited versions in your portfolio (with the permission of your peers).

Another solution to the issue of how to get editing experience is to volunteer to work on your college newspaper or alumni magazine. The volunteers who work on a college newspaper often wear many hats. Therefore, you may be asked to serve as both a writer and an editor.

Here are some quick tips for becoming a better college newspaper writer:

  • Become a social butterfly: Yes, really. Talk to your classmates about what is going on, what they are interested in and what has been bugging them lately. You never know where you will find a good story idea. For instance, if your classmates are complaining that the parking situation at the university has deteriorated, you might do some digging to figure out why and then report on it.
  • Check social media: Social media is widely considered an enemy to time management and productivity, but it can be an excellent resource for writers and editors. Check all social media accounts related to the school as well as the local news for upcoming events; these are likely to provide interesting and timely topics for your stories.
  • Read: All writers and editors should spend a great deal of time reading because reading helps them to improve their own work. For example, you can improve your school journalism skills by reading past issues of the paper and analyzing what worked and what did not work.

After spending some time as a writer for your college paper, you might eventually take on some editing work. Here are some quick tips for becoming a better editor for your school newspaper:

  • Find the lede first: The first rule of journalism is to never bury the lede. In other words, the most important hook should appear in the first one to two sentences of the article. Sometimes, you’ll find that the writer has buried the lede deep in the body of the article, so your job may involve rewriting the beginning to bring the lede to the surface.
  • Pay attention to structure and flow: If a story seems to ramble and does not flow well, it may require significant rewriting.
  • Keep your style guidelines handy: You will frequently find yourself consulting style guidelines, such as those in the AP Stylebook, so keep these resources close at hand.

Lastly, remember to preserve all of your writing and editing work. As you approach graduation, you can sift through your entire body of work and choose the best pieces to present in your portfolio.

Gaining Editorial Experience During an Internship

By now, you know that editing is a difficult career field to enter without experience. Completing an internship is the best way to solve the issue of how to get editorial experience before you land your first job. Some internship positions are available to current college students, while others are open to recent graduates.

Internship experience is particularly important for students who intend to serve as an editor at a publishing house. This is because it is standard practice for publishing house employees to begin as assistants. After gaining at least a few years of experience, they can work their way up the publishing house ladder.

Note that publishing house jobs and internships are often not available via remote work arrangements, although other types of editing opportunities often are. New York City — the de facto capital of the publishing world — is home to a high concentration of publishing houses with employment opportunities. However, you will find publishing houses and independent presses in other cities as well. If you live outside a city with publishing opportunities, you might consider temporarily relocating for a summer internship.

As an intern, you might serve as an assistant to a variety of editors, such as the acquisitions editor or developmental editor. It is critical to make a good impression in your role because you will rely on your internship supervisors to provide professional references (and possibly even to make a job offer after graduation). Strive to consistently arrive a few minutes early for work, be attentive and utilize any feedback you are given.

At first, you may not receive many editing-related tasks. Eventually, however, you may be asked to read through the “slush pile” of unsolicited manuscripts to identify any that may be worthy of publication. If you prove yourself to be a conscientious worker, it is more likely that you will receive assignments that are more closely related to your future career goals.

Outside of the book publishing world, you will find that internship opportunities abound for aspiring editors. Check for job postings from newspapers, magazines, and marketing agencies. Be open to the idea of accepting an internship focused on writing if one that emphasizes editing is not available.

Read, Read and Read Some More

One of the most effective ways to become a better editor is to read as much as you can. Set aside plenty of time each day to read a broad range of materials. Pay particular attention to the types of works on which you would eventually like to focus your professional career, such as consumer-oriented magazines, newspapers, sports websites or novels.

Take Free Online Writing Classes

If you hope to edit novels, you will need to develop a keen understanding of the characteristics of great fiction. Online fiction writing classes can be extremely helpful for aspiring book editors, and many of these classes are available for free. Look for courses and lectures on topics such as developing characters, writing plots, writing descriptive settings and refining your style and voice.

Should You Become a Freelance Editor?

Editors typically work at magazines, newspapers, publishing houses, and marketing agencies, but if you pursue a career in this field, you do have another option. You might decide to start your own sole proprietorship as a freelance editor. If you become a freelance editor, you will have significant control over the work you choose to complete and the hours when you will complete it.

This increased freedom and control over your professional life is an attractive perk of becoming a freelancer. However, you should keep in mind that like all choices in life, freelancing involves potential downsides. For example, you will be responsible for finding all of your clients, which can lead to financial stress. In addition, you will need to make arrangements for your own healthcare plan. Finally, you will not receive paid time off, and you will be required to pay the employer’s portion of your income taxes as well as the employee’s portion.

If you are thinking about freelancing, it is often wise first to acquire experience at an established company. Then, you can more confidently step out on your own and work independently to acquire clients. Another option is to work part-time at another company while setting up your own sole proprietorship.

You can pursue your passion for language by applying to the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Grand Canyon University. GCU’s Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing for New Media was designed with the challenges and possibilities of the 21st century in mind. Our graduates emerge with strong competencies that make them competitive jobseekers in a global, technology-driven workforce.

Aspiring editors and writers can click on the Request Info button at the top of the screen to learn more about this and other degree programs at GCU.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.