So you want to be an Editor? Why?


We see a lot of candidates looking for editorial roles. A lot. Many of them are bright-eyed, bushy-tailed graduates (if that’s you, you need to read this Open Letter), but we also see a lot of people who’ve already established a career, perhaps in a sector outside of publishing such as teaching, who are keen to switch things up and see their skills as easily transferable. Sometimes this is the case, sometimes not. However, one of the first questions we’re going to ask is what kind of editorial role are you looking for? Often we’ll see the cogs whirring and can almost hear the inner response. Erm… books?  This is a problem.

I worked in trade publishing for several years in editorial roles. On the best days I would be travelling to a Book Fair or working with an author or artist I really admired, or launching a project that I’d been worked on for over a year. Most days involved less exciting tasks: slogging through slushpiles and having to write rejection letters to twenty people in a row (uplifting!); dealing with last minute print problems; training staff and interns; reassuring an author who’s in tears because a publication date has been moved for the third time; writing reports and applications for funding. This was at small press where it was necessary to do a little bit of everything – larger companies will be likely to have more rigid structures. That editor role you’re looking at on the Guardian could involve anything – from being someone’s PA to running a company.

  • The word ‘Editor’ means a different thing to almost every person we speak to. This is why we like to meet candidates face to face, and why we talk to our clients about every vacancy we advertise. We need to find out exactly what an editorial (or any other) position involves before we can find the perfect candidate for the job. To some people, being an editor means simply proofreading or copyediting, to some it means they want to be involved in project or people management.
  • What does it mean to you?  Do you like the idea of working very closely with content? Can you negotiate a better deal than Delboy? Would you be more suited to a production editorial role? Do you see yourself as a ‘bigger picture’ editor? Would you give away your Grandma to be involved in commissioning? Do you have amazing networking skills? Prefer to work alone? Do you edit onscreen with InDesign or write all of your blog posts in HTML? Can you balance a P&L sheet with your eyes closed?
  • There’s also the question of content and format. It’s not so much about what you enjoy, as what you’re good at and what your professional background is – as Stephanie mentioned in last week’s post, a passion for ‘books’ is not enough. What subject knowledge do you have that makes you unique? Perhaps you know the Singapore educational system inside out, or you’ve written dissertations on the digital evolution of journals. Maybe you have a law or medicine degree, or have taught English in twelve different countries. Maybe be you’re an app addict and could win Mastermind with your knowledge of Moshi Monsters.

Before you go to an interview and tell someone you want to be an editor because you enjoy reading, please have a long, hard think about everything else that particular job entails (that four page job description IS your friend) because it’s likely that’s what you’re going to be doing for most of your time. Make sure you’re a really good fit for every role before you apply and you’ll be much more likely to convince someone else, and to come away with the result that you want.


If you’ve got the skills and experience to be a top editor, we’ve got loads of editorial vacancies in educational, STM, academic, and other sectors. If production editorial is your cup of tea then you should look at these. And to prove just how specific an editorial role can be: if you’re fluent French and Spanish, have a biomedical degree AND experience in STM, this might for you. If, however, after reading this post you’re still only interested in editing experimental poetry from the Ukraine, we wish you the best of luck – you never know, it could happen – but you might want to boost your CV (and your bank balance) with some publishing-based temp work while you’re job-hunting!


Filed under Advice

2 Responses to So you want to be an Editor? Why?

  1. Pingback: The Perfect Cover Letter | Atwood Tate

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