This question is on behalf of the eldest Young Chauvinist who is entering high school this fall. She writes as a hobby and as part of her social networking through Role Play. She became an avid reader by way of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter. I believe she wisely has come to realize she probably won't be another J.K. Rowling, but she aspires to enter into the world of writing, perhaps in a publishing house as an editor some day. So, we're wondering, how does one become an editor of fiction? What's the typical education/career path, if there is one?
Answer by John Murdoch
Let me suggest that you start by buying a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style. It includes an introduction to what an editor does, and the Chicago Manual is the de facto standard for book publishing in the United States.
There are many different kinds of editors; there are many different kinds of publications. My stepsister edits a professional trade journal; my wife is a freelance editor of theological books, working for three Christian publishers. She has also worked with children's book publishers, and children's magazine publishers, with both fiction and non-fiction, over the past twenty-five years.
Key point: it's probably way too early to focus your attention on being a "fiction editor."
The Chicago Manual includes a good overview of what an editor does (in the 15th edition this is chapter 2). Buy the book, read the overview--and start to explore the world of publishing. It isn't just grammar, punctuation, and subject-verb agreement; publishing is the technology that enabled the Reformation and the Enlightenment, and defined what we think of as Western Civilization.
So learn, with your daughter, about publishing books, magazines, newsletters, journals, and reference books; learn, as well, about online publishing and what's involved in bringing written content to the web.
Still interested? Editors frequently start as proofreaders, graduate to copy editors, and then grow into larger roles. Regardless of the role, though, there are two traits that are absolutely uniform across publishing--whether you're proofreading New Testament Greek, or editing the next great series of teen fantasy novels:
- You must be excrutiatingly good at spelling, punctuation, and grammar. If you ever bother to use spell-check, you're in trouble.
- You must be extremely detail-oriented. Editors manage many projects simultaneously--and manage a lot of correspondence back and forth regarding those projects. My wife presently has book projects scheduled in 2014; she has four projects (literally) in house at the moment. Keeping track of the status of each project, for each publisher, is a lot of work.
There isn't a college curriculum in editing--but there is an informal editing program at most schools. If your daughter's school publishes a newspaper, sign up. If they publish a web site, sign up. If they publish a student yearbook--sign up.
In college there will be lots of opportunities to write--both in class, and outside of class. If she's really serious about writing, editing, and/or publishing, there are lots of opportunities. Colleges with a daily newspaper provide lots of opportunities to see your byline in print. But they also provide lots of opportunities to edit--and learn about the relentless publishing schedule, and the large amount of detail that must be mastered.
Answer by Arahant
John Murdoch's answer is excellent. I would add two things. First, find other things you love. (Or in this case, your daughter should explore.) There may be some people to whom editing comes naturally. There are many others who become editors because of a devotion to something else. Many, of course, are devoted to good writing. But when one looks at editors of magazines and journals, it is not infrequent to find someone who came into editing sideways. Many people who are editing crochet magazines love to crochet or editors of woodworking magazines are woodworkers. This is also true of professional journals. I know of a gentleman who edits a journal for contractors in a Midwestern state. He was a contractor. I know an art librarian who is editor of a journal for art librarians. My three editing gigs came from being a poet and involved with poetry. Editing is difficult work with a lot of attention to detail, with deadlines, and with the necessity of rejecting people. I know that I wouldn't have done it and put up with it as long without a love of poetry. Editing on a subject you are interested in brings much more energy than editing something you hate.
Another idea beyond what Mr. Murdoch already suggested as far as school newspaper and similar opportunities is to join writing and art forums on the Web. There are many out there. Some are very good critiquing forums. By practicing writing and critiquing, one hones two of the skills one needs as an editor. One also learns how to politely call someone else's baby ugly. Of course, not all Internet forums are good. One has to explore the culture to see if they are serious. Years ago I put this together because of the foibles of critiques on one of the forums I was on: http://www.poetrybase.info/gpd/000/10.shtml I have used it as a handy critiquing guide ever since, and was told just yesterday that I have a gift for criticism by an author. If it be a gift, it was given by many thousands of hours spent reading about writing, practicing writing, and evaluating what works in writing, as well as practicing critiquing. Critiquing also makes one a better writer. One may try to excuse in one's own writing what sticks out in another's work. But after seeing how it didn't work for others, one might become more humble about it. Receiving critiques also improves ones editing and critiquing of other writers. Again, there is a humility factor there.
Good luck to your daughter.
Answer by Pseudodionysius
Here are 2 resources that no one else here will give you:
Renni discusses what editors really do, Matthew Butterick discusses how to stop the printed word from being so ugly.
Buy Renni Browne and Dave King Self Editing for Fiction Writers and buy every book she lists in the back as a reference.
You should also learn the lost art of Sentence Diagramming. I'll supply references later.