Getting ready to do editorial work for publishers

I’m frequently asked for help by editors trying to get established as freelancers. Not surprisingly, many people want to know how to get editorial projects from publishers, as obviously this could be a good source of ongoing work.

So when I received the following question, at first I thought of it as a “how to get work from publishers” question:

“I was wondering if you could give me a little guidance about contacting publishers to put me on a list for editing jobs. My concern is that I don’t have enough experience (that’s pretty much my concern all the time these days) and I’m not sure the best way to spin my background to look appealing enough to a publisher. Any advice there would be greatly appreciated.”

But when I started to answer this question, I realized it wasn’t really about how to get work from publishers (“send an LOI!”). It was about not feeling ready to get work from publishers.

And that’s a different thing. The writer says, “I’m concerned I don’t have enough experience” and “I’m not sure the best way to spin my background.” Both of these things are about self-assessment in the context of the demands of the marketplace.

In other words, maybe the editor isn’t ready. But how would she know?

That’s where learning how to evaluate your own abilities makes all the difference. It allows you to connect the dots between what you can offer and the work you want to do. If there’s a big disconnect between the two (“I’ve never read a novel” but “I want to edit fiction”) then it doesn’t matter how you spin the items on your resume, you’re highly unlikely to land a contract with a publisher.

But if you can narrow the gap (“I’ve edited a ton of fiction for satisfied indie clients” and “I’d like to edit fiction for you”) then you’re more likely to get the kind of response you’re looking for.

So, what experience do you have? What classes have you taken, what manuscripts have you edited, how many clients have produced successful revisions based on your edits?

Now, compare that to what a publisher is looking for in an editor. You can use your imagination for this—you can guess that a publisher is looking for someone who has the skill to effectively edit (whether copyediting or developmental editing) manuscripts in the genres they publish (fiction, nonfiction, memoir, whatever), won’t blow the release date by being three months behind on the edit, and won’t annoy the author so much she takes her project and goes somewhere else with it.

And you can supplement that imaginary effort by checking out job ads to see what other skills and experiences are valued (for an academic publisher this might be an advanced degree; a specialist publisher may look for industry knowledge).

Then you compare the “what publishers are looking for” list with your “what I can offer ” list and see where the intersections are. If you can’t find any, then consider what steps you need to take next to make some.

Join the Club!

how to become an editor

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