Do you love language and have a passion for writing? Perhaps you have a knack for taking a piece that someone else has written and improving it to make it polished and concise. If so, consider a rewarding career as an editor.
There are many types of editors hired to work in different environments. For example, you will find various types of editing jobs at magazines, publishing houses for books, newspapers and academic journals. Federal agencies and government entities often hire technical writers to produce their publications. Use the following career guide to explore the different types of editors and identify your calling in life.
Types of Editors in Book Publishing
The book publishing industry in the U.S. is immense. In fact, according to the Association of American Publishers (AAP), the industry generated nearly $26 billion in 2019 alone. This represented an increase in revenue from the year before.1
As you might expect, all those books being sold each year require a significant amount of editing. Every book published goes through multiple rounds of editing under the close scrutiny of various types of editors — including developmental, line and copy editors. The process starts at the office of an acquisitions editor.
An acquisitions editor does not typically do much editing. Instead, their job is to acquire promising new manuscripts for the publishing house. Note that some acquisitions editors work for literary agencies instead.
Acquisitions editors must be attuned to the latest and upcoming trends in publishing, as well as to readers’ expectations. They select manuscripts based on the literary talent of the author and the sales potential of their work.
As they go about evaluating a book’s potential, acquisitions editors generally follow a checklist. For example, they might ask themselves the following questions:
- Does the book fit the imprint? (A romance imprint will not publish car repair manuals.)
- Is there a similar book currently on the imprint’s list?
- Is the synopsis intriguing?
- Does the author have an established online presence?
- Is the book impossible to put down?
Even if a manuscript needs a great deal of work, an acquisitions editor may decide to buy it if it has potential. Once the acquisitions editor agrees to a deal with the author and their literary agent, the editor is responsible for shepherding the author through the rest of the publishing process.
After the acquisitions editor has acquired a manuscript for the publishing house, it is then sent to the developmental editor. A developmental editor is a “big picture” editor. This professional is not necessarily concerned with smaller details like comma usage but rather with broader issues like structure, plot, character development, dialogue, voice and style.
While evaluating a manuscript, a developmental editor will consider many factors, including the intended audience. Specific genres of fiction books generally include certain elements that the audience has come to expect. For example, readers of the romance genre generally expect a happy ending, such as a wedding.
The developmental editing phase is often the most challenging for authors, and so both developmental editors and authors must keep in mind that the process should ideally be a collaborative effort. The most successful developmental editors are those who are able to form a strong working partnership with their authors. It is necessary for both editor and author to agree on the overall vision for the project and then plan how to approach the necessary revisions.
Effective developmental editors have strong verbal communication skills as well as written language skills. They also have a team mindset and an ability to work well with people of varying backgrounds and personalities. A willingness to compromise and find common ground is another useful trait.
Fact-checking editors typically work for nonfiction publishing imprints, although some fiction books also require fact-checkers. This type of editor may also work for newspapers, magazines and academic journals. Often, publications will combine the roles of fact-checker and copy editor into one position. However, at larger publications and publishing houses, there is one or more dedicated fact-checker.
As you might imagine from the title, a fact-checker is an editor who combs through manuscripts line by line to identify facts in need of verification. The professional then researches the fact in order to verify it. This begs the question: if fact-checkers verify facts, why are they needed for works of fiction?
Even fiction writing contains elements of truth. For example, a novel might tell the story of a character who is a veterinarian. The fact-checker would be responsible for verifying the various facts regarding any medical conditions discussed in the book.
Similarly, even satirical publications require fact-checkers. For instance, a satirical article might reference a fictitious politician. The fact-checker would need to verify that the name used in the satirical piece isn’t the name of an actual, real-world politician.
Fact-checking is an ideal role for individuals who love locating hard-to-find information and have a strong eye for detail.
A large proportion of editors are line editors. Note that while there are marked similarities between line editing and copy editing and the terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Many editors, however, will perform both line editing and copy editing.
Line editing refers to the process of going through a manuscript line-by-line with a fine-toothed comb. The goal is to make the writing as polished as possible, such as by eliminating redundancies, suggesting word choice improvements, adjusting sentence structures and so on. That is why this type of editing is often referred to as “stylistic editing.”
Instead of focusing on big-picture issues like character development and plot structure, line editors focus on the style of the writing itself. As an example, consider the following before-and-after sentences:
- Before line editing: “Jessie hoped and hoped that her college acceptance letter would come today, and so she spent hours waiting by the window, staring off into the distance, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the mail truck.”
- After line editing: “Jessie sat by the window for hours, eagerly awaiting the appearance of the mail truck in the hope that her college acceptance letter would arrive today.”
As you can see by comparing these two sentences, line editors focus on making prose polished and more engaging for the reader. In other words, they improve the flow of the writing.
Copy editing is similar to line editing in that it involves going through the manuscript carefully, one line at a time. These types of editing jobs focus on making improvements to “small picture” issues, rather than “big picture” issues.
When comparing copy and line editing, copy editing is technical, whereas line editing is stylistic. Copy editors focus on correcting inconsistencies in spelling, capitalization errors, shifts in tense and similar issues. For instance, a copy editor following the Associated Press (AP) style will ensure that numbers one through nine are written as words, and numbers 10 and above are written as numerals.
In short, a copy editor makes the writing more readable by eliminating distracting inconsistencies and mistakes. Remember that copy editors may also be called upon to serve as fact checkers.
After a manuscript has gone through developmental, line and copy editing, as well as fact checking, it is sent to the typesetter or designer to create the hard copy layout for the book. Then a galley proof is created. A galley proof is like a test copy of the book.
This test copy is sent to a proofreader. It is the proofreader’s job to comb over every detail in search of mistakes that the copy editor may have missed or that the typesetter or designer may have inadvertently introduced to the text. The proofreader serves as the final checkpoint before the finalized version is completed and printed.
Types of Editing Jobs in Other Fields
Not all editors work in the book publishing industry. There are many other types of publications you could work on, from newspapers and magazines to marketing materials and technical writing. Here are some of the possibilities:
An associate editor works at a magazine, journal or newspaper. Also referred to as a “section editor,” this professional is assigned a particular section of the publication. For instance, a sports magazine may have different section editors for each type of sport covered by the publication.
The associate editor is responsible for cultivating a team of contributors or writers and commissioning articles and their accompanying photographs. They then edit the completed writing and may request revisions before granting final approval.
The job of an editor-at-large, also called a “roving editor,” is unique. This role is generally awarded to journalists who have already proven their professional competencies and are known to be innovative thinkers. Editors-at-large aren’t generally assigned particular stories to work on; rather, they work on whatever assignments interest them — so long as those stories fall under the scope of the publication.
The editor-in-chief is the most senior editor in the room at a magazine, newspaper or journal. This professional establishes the voice of the publication. They manage all of the other editors across all the departments at the publication.
The editor-in-chief is more of a manager than a hands-on editor. They have the final say in which articles get published. This is not an entry-level role; rather, editors may work their way up to this position after proving themselves over the course of their career.
Technical writers create documents such as instruction manuals, training handbooks and operational procedures. The types of editors responsible for improving these materials are called technical editors. The job of a technical editor is quite different from that of any other type of editor because of the unique nature of technical writing.
In technical writing, the goal is not to convey information creatively with the intention of sparking an emotional response in the reader. Rather, it is simply to convey practical information in a straightforward manner using as few words as possible. A low word count is particularly crucial for instruction manuals, to be more clarified in the presentation to avoid common errors.
How to Become an Editor Using a Communications Degree
If you already know that you want to become an editor and you are still in high school, you can begin working toward your future career right now. Meet with your guidance counselor and figure out if you can add more relevant courses that are reading- and writing-intensive. For example, you may be able to take an extra literature, drama or marketing class.
You can also pick up some extracurricular activities that can support your future career plans. Anything related to literature, such as working on the school newspaper or acting in the drama club, is a good bet.
You will need to keep your grades up across all your subjects in order to get into college. Editors are expected to have at least a bachelor’s degree. When it’s time to apply to colleges, look for ones that have strong humanities departments.
Editors come to this profession from a range of backgrounds. Contrary to popular belief, it is not strictly necessary to earn a degree in English, although many editors do. You could also earn a Bachelor of Arts in Communications or journalism, for example.
A communications degree is particularly well-suited to your career goals because it typically covers a broad range of skills and knowledge areas. These can include public relations, communication ethics and intercultural communication. In short, you will graduate with a valuable skill set.
During your time in college, you should take the opportunity to load up on relevant electives whenever possible. These may include courses in English literature, journalism, marketing, creative writing and any other professional writing course. It’s also a good idea to participate in relevant extracurricular activities, such as writing for the campus newspaper. All editors are expected to be proficient writers, so these writing-intensive classes and activities will help establish your professional credentials.
Outside of your classes, spend as much of your free time as possible reading. Read a broad range of materials, but do focus on the types of writing that you are most interested in editing. Similarly, spend some time becoming familiar with the main style guidelines:
- Associated Press (AP)
- Chicago Manual of Style
- Modern Language Association (MLA)
Throughout the course of your studies, you can build a portfolio that includes your best work from your classes and extracurricular activities. You might also have the opportunity to complete one or more internships, which can help you build your portfolio of polished clips. You will use this portfolio to prove your abilities when you apply to various types of editing jobs.
If you are passionate about the power of the written word, you’re invited to apply to Grand Canyon University, where you’ll find a range of humanities degrees that will provide a solid framework for a future career as an editor. For example, you may wish to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Communications degree in order to acquire a broad academic skill set with many practical applications. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to begin exploring the many possibilities at GCU.
1Retrieved from Association of American Publishers, News, AAP StatShot Annual Report: Book Publishing Revenues Up Slightly to $25.93 Billion in July 2021.
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.