Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What *Do* I Do All Day?

Every so often, at work, I receive emails from students looking for tips on becoming - or being - a book editor.

They all ask different questions, based on their needs, and so I tend to use my lunchbreak to answer them as well as I can.

This week, the questions came from a 7th grader, and I thought I'd share my (slightly expurgated) answers, here, since... well... sometimes it's interesting to see what the answers are. (Remember: It was written with a 7th grader in mind, so please forgive the tone...)

(While you're reading, why not consider what your own answers to the questions would be?)
  • Full name 
 Robert Schmidt, Coordinating Editor
  • What do you do day to day?
Because of the different parts of the company, my day can be pretty varied. Most days, I start out by proofreading book covers which our designers have created to make sure that they don't have any typos on them. Then I go through my email to see whether or not any of our editors need to be paid for jobs they've completed, and whether I've gotten any new assignments. I send out new assignments if they have come up, and I reply to any correspondence (like yours). Usually, after an hour or so, I can start on my actual editing, and I do that for most of the rest of my day - which means that I sit at my desk and read and comment on manuscripts for hours every day.
Of course, since I work in an office with Graphic Designers, Book Publicists, Printing Coordinators, and e-Publishing Managers, I also spend some of my day wandering around the office talking to people to see what they're up to. And eating lunch, of course.
  • What if your favorite part of your job?
I really like being able to see a manuscript go all the way through the process. When people sign up for editing, some of them only want to have their work edited, but some are working with our other divisions and are working toward having "real" books at the end of the process. It's pretty cool to see a Word.doc go through the editing, design, formatting, and printing steps, and show up a few months later as an actual book.
  • What are some of the difficulties you are faced with in this job?
I have to admit that there aren't many real difficulties to being an editor in my job. A few things that can make it a little unpleasant, though, are things like Internet problems (since it's hard to send files back and forth - or do online research - with no Internet), or authors who ask you to edit their work, but don't want to actually listen to any of your suggestions. But neither of those things is really earth-shaking, as far as difficulties can go.

If you are a freelance book editor - meaning that you don't work for a specific company, but you have to go out and find work on your own - it can be very difficult to get enough work to pay all of your bills. Luckily, I work for one company and don't have to go out and search for work.

  • Since when have you known you wanted to be a book editor? Why?
I have always like working with words. I wrote stories when I was in grade school, and when I was in college I thought I might want to be a teacher. I found out pretty quickly that I'm not patient enough to be a teacher, but I still like helping people with their writing. That's when I started to realize that editing might be a good fit for me. 
  • What preparations did you have to make to reach your current editor status?
Hmm... I have a Bachelor's degree in English, and a Master's degree in Composition and Rhetoric (which is a fancy way to say that it's another English degree that focuses on writing). Mainly, though, I had to get a lot of practice. Just like with any job, until you have done it a lot, most people won't really want to hire you. So I did a lot of editing and proofreading for friends, and did some of that in other jobs I had. Eventually, when a position came open in my company, I applied for it, and since I had a lot of experience, I got the job. 
  • How long have you been in this field?
Well, I've been helping out friends with editing for a long time - probably at least 20 years or so. But I started at my company about 4 years ago, and have been in my current position for about 2 years.
  • What do you do to make it easier to work, or "get in  the zone"?
I do a lot of the same things I did when I was your age (which was a long time ago, I admit). I listen to music. I try to close down all of my other computer windows (so that I'm not distracted by Facebook or email). And I have a bad habit of putting my feet up against the wall and leaning back in my chair so that I'm facing away from the door. (This isn't usually too bad, but sometimes my feet slip on the wall and I end up kind of falling over - which disrupts my officemate...)
  • What is an example of a particularly difficult client(s) you've had to work with?
I worked with one author who rejected almost all of my edits in his manuscript. Then, when his book came out, he contacted my boss and complained that it was full of errors. I had to point out that the errors were things I had tried to change, but that he had kept the way they were. That wasn't fun.
A lot of the time, the authors are just very nervous - many of them haven't ever worked with an editor, so they aren't used to being critiqued. And that can be hard for anyone, so I try not to take it personally if they get upset.
  • Any particularly interesting stories you've gotten to edit?
I've gotten to read some really great stuff! (Okay - just between you and me - I'll admit that I've also read some really pretty bad stuff... ;-)
I worked on a book called El Caracol, which was all about a young boy growing up in the Labor Camps in California in the early/mid-1900s.
I worked on a novel about what it was like growing up in Germany before World War II, called All the Dogs of Europe Barked.
And I really liked a set of short science fiction pieces that a blogger sent through to me to edit - but I don't know what he ever ended up doing with them.

A lot of the books I've worked on are very personal for their authors, so although they may not be great books, the emotion in them is always very clear. And those are the ones that I like the best. 
  • Advice to someone who is interested in this career? 
Read - a lot. Read pretty much everything you can get your hands on. The best editors are people who have read all kinds of books and can help the authors find their voices. And the only way to do that is to be exposed to a lot of different writing styles. A lot of people will tell you that you have to read "great authors" to learn about writing, and I think that's true - to a point.

I think that it's really good to read some classics so that you know what writing has stood the test of time. I love reading books that have been around for years, because the style of the writing - and the words they used - makes them really interesting. But I think it's also important to read newer things so that you know what's current.
I also think it's important to read a lot of different kinds of writing - everything from poetry to science fiction, and from Shakespeare to J.K.Rowling. And don't forget that there's a lot of non-fiction out there, too, which is a huge portion of the work that gets edited every day. (Although, I admit that I prefer working on fiction.)
Once you've read a lot, then  you want to start working on editing and proofreading for your friends. The more you do it, the better you become. You can learn how to give advice without sounding too much like a hall monitor, and you can figure out ways to help people without being pushy.
After a while, you'll find that it will get easier - and that the people you work with are really happy to have you work with them. That's when you know that it's time to start getting paid!

1 comment:

Robin said...

Wonderful! And great advice. The questioner doesn't know it now but the answers and advice you gave them are awesome!