The pay is low to start, the hours are long, the competition is stiff, and there is no guarantee you will make it all the way to executive editor. Why try to make it as an editor? Those entering the magazine, book or newspaper publishing industries know the pitfalls of the job but recognize them as necessary evils of a labor of love.
Working from the bottom up
The bottom rung of the publishing ladder is the editorial assistant, a glorified secretary to an editor. An assistant takes care of all of the editor's clerical tasks, setting appointments, writing letters, reading and assessing manuscripts, and most of all soaking up the mechanics of the editor's job. Assuming they don't burn out, assistants spend about two years at this level before becoming promoted to assistant editor. Many editors are former writers who have demonstrated an ability to "be the boss" and encourage and motivate people.
Why stick it out? Editors at major book publishing houses get to make stars out of new writers. At the highest level, editors command six-figure salaries and rub elbows with the most famous people in the literary world.
Magazine editors enjoy similar benefits. They dictate the creative direction of a magazine and work with art directors, photographers and writers to execute their vision. The editor-in-chief of a magazine is a full-fledged member of the jet set, with a salary to match.
Newspaper editors, especially those at large dailies like The New York Times, enjoy much of the same prestige as famous magazine editors. Section and managing editors are also treated well, as they are in charge of large amounts of content and employees.
Editors are bibliophiles and workaholics and though they find little time to rest their eyes, they claim to be among the happiest professionals in the world.
An editor's career often begins with an internship at a magazine or a publishing company to establish contacts. Although college interns are not always guaranteed a job upon graduation, the knowledge and contacts they glean from working in the industry can give them a leg up during the job. Finding an "in" is essential in book and magazine publishing, and many employees in the industry recommend placement and temp agencies as a way of getting a foot in the door. A crack editorial assistant will have sharp reading and comprehension skills and be able to write clearly, as part of the job entails summarizing manuscripts for an editor. Other entry-level positions include fact-checkers, researchers and copyeditors, all of which can be pit stops on the track to editor.
After making assistant editor, the next level is associate editor, followed by senior editor and then a top editorial position, such as editor-in-chief or executive editor. The road to the top is long and hard, and the competition in both magazines and publishing companies is cutthroat. Promotion comes with dedication, which comes with a love of reading--lots of reading. In book publishing, editors take home five to 10 manuscripts a week, and usually work on weekends. There is no getting out of "homework," since an editor's day is taken up by paperwork and deal making.
Slightly different is the path taken to a job as a newspaper editor. Many writers are promoted to editor after demonstrating leadership and organizational abilities. The newspaper editor is often in charge of a stable of writers and assigns, edits and occasionally writes stories.
"This is not a field to dabble in, really," says an assistant editor. "The first couple years are devoted to learning the business, and it's not until a few years in that an editor can really begin to work on his or her own projects." Editorial assistants are "secretaries, let's face it," sources say. The work is "grueling," and editors can be tough on their assistants. One editor says that as an editorial assistant, she used to "cry a few times a week." This bleak world can sometimes be attributed to the harshness of editors; the attitude in publishing that "time is of the essence" means there is little time to "explain and explain again." But, as one editor explains, "once you have paid your dues and suffered through years of eating TV dinners, the rewards are so much sweeter." But life as an editorial assistant isn't entirely dim. Assistants in both book and magazine publishing "catch the leavings" of their editors in the form of "invitations and free books."
Becoming an editor requires that you "spend a lot of time schmoozing" and, in addition to being able to spot new talent, "be a manager of people and their egos." Magazine editors, particularly at fashion magazines, are "rarely in the office." An intern at a high-profile fashion magazine remarks that she "had never even seen the editor-in-chief until she had been working there three months." Magazine editors attend conferences, gallery and restaurant openings, and photo shoots to spot trends and ensure that the magazine is keeping up with "what's hot and what's not." Book publishing is more intimate, and editors spend much of their time reading and working with authors. Says an editor at Random House, "the best part of being an editor is discovering manuscripts and bringing them to life as books. It's a very personal, educational and rewarding process."
Proximity to interesting people; Abundance of career options; Free books
Low starting salary; Long hours; High stress level; High level of dissatisfaction
Creative; Detail-oriented; Assertive; Honest; Bibliophile
Disorganized; Rigid; Outdoorsy
Average about 50 per week
Median income: $46,990
Bachelor's degree; Good writing and communication skills