HOW TO BECOME A BOOK EDITOR: A GUIDE FOR BREAKING INTO THE PROFESSION

By Kelly Jensen

Ever been curious about how to become a book editor? This is a question that I’ve gotten a number of times as I’ve gone through the process of editing three young adult anthologies. And while my own experience in how to become a book editor is one thing, it’s only my experience. There are so many different avenues of editing books that, in order to best answer the question, I turned to a handful of experts.

Editing books can come through a variety of means. There are opportunities to edit books on the side of developing an anthology (i.e. you work with a publisher or independently but aren’t an employee of the company for whom you’re editing); you can be a freelance book editor (i.e. you help other people edit books independent of or as a preferred partner of a publisher or other industry professional); and you can also be an editor who works as an employee of a publishing company.

Even within editing books itself, there are a number of avenues. There are content editors, copy editors, proofreaders, managing editors, and more. But because the question of how to become a book editor often comes from those who really want to know the nuts and bolts of how to edit books—as in putting eyes and pens to the product itself and offering guidance for how to make the book the best it can be content and storywise—this particular guide will focus on that.

The ins and outs of how to become a book editor is worthy of a book in and of itself, so take this as more of a field notes approach. It won’t answer every question and certainly will be limited. But it will help kickstart the interest in those just trying to figure out what they want to do in their lives, as well as those looking for a new or additional career path.

HOW TO BECOME A BOOK EDITOR

THE EDITING PROCESS

The structure of how books are edited changes with each person and each book. My own experience looks something like this: I develop a project proposal, which my agent and I polish. That proposal goes to my editor, who will either purchase the project, request a revision and resubmission, or decide it’s not something she’s interested in. In the case of the book being accepted, the editing process continues with soliciting contributors and working back-and-forth with them to shine up their writing to the best of our abilities.

For some contributors, this could mean a significant amount of back-and-forth consultation on organization, structure, or cohesiveness. My personal editing style is to look at pieces as a reader first and foremost. I know my intended audience for a book, as well as the goals I have for it, and I use those as tools for asking the contributor questions in places where I’m either confused, think they could dig deeper, or feel that they’re not getting their point across in the way they hope to. I’m quite hands-off, as I think approaching editing from the point of view of a reader and asking questions allows writers to shine more strongly in their early drafts. It also allows their own writing voices to really stand out, and it doesn’t encourage writers to fit into a certain mould or to worry about fitting my personal ideal for how they share their story.

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