Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Who wants to be an editor when they grow up?

A friend's sister who has a small baby recently asked me about editing, wondering if she should pay for an expensive course in order to become qualified. In particular I think she was wondering about whether or not it would be a family friendly job. Since I wrote quite a long response and a few people have asked me about this, I've edited my response to put it up here. I should start off by saying when I was studying editing and writing, every bad sister and her stepmother came to RMIT to tell us that we'd never get to go to the ball get a job and if we did we'd all starve to death because of the low pay. I guess those with doubts or who wanted to make bundles of dosh were then deterred and those like me who think $30K a year is a goodly sum perfectly adequate Grown Up Money keep boffinning away because frankly what else are we going to do? Become accountants? Ha ha ha ha ha.

In terms of study: I am not very familiar with non-Victorian based courses. I would usually recommend a Tafe over a uni if it's an option because Tafe is cheaper and they tend to be very in touch with industry and very career focused. I did the Prof Writing and Editing course at RMIT and a lot of the people I deal with now in publishing were there with me. The Masters that I'm doing at Melbourne Uni is very academic in focus and very separate from the industry. So I'd be wary of their publishing courses, I'd want to know what hands on experience they offer, what opportunities there are for work experience, if there are lots of guest speakers/tutors who are actively employed in the industry and what industry-based background the course tutors and co-ordinators have. Also I'd be curious how old the course is and what the employment rate was of past students (doubtful anyone can give you figures, but I'd want one of the teachers or co-ordinators to be able to say off the top of their head a few students who'd found jobs and where they were working). The other thing would be to bite the bullet and contact (via email or phone) some local publishers about courses near you - if they've heard of them, if they recommend them, if there's another they'd particularly recommend. If you're polite and cheerful and friendly and keep it relatively brief, most receptionists or junior editors will be happy to at least do a strawpoll of whoever's walking past the office at that moment about what courses the staff have done to get into the field.

As far as career prospects go, you will never get especially rich being an editor. Starting wages were mid or low twenties just a few years ago, I doubt it's changed much. Commissioning Editors (it would take most people about ten years, give or take a few years, to work up to that stage, assuming the opportunities were available) earn somewhere in the 40s I think...this is for a job with long hours and high expectations. When teachers make a fuss about money (rightly so, considering the discrepancies between teaching and most other fields and the fact that I want my children's teachers to be happy and fulfilled in life rather than embittered and inwardly seething) I laugh quietly into my sleeve because compared to editors, they're riding the Gravox Express.

The reward though is most people love what they do, and work place culture tends to be good (despite the highly stressful periods with lots of competing deadlines and the swathes of guilt inducing manuscripts heaped in every corner). You also get lots of free books. The downside of all this lovin' is that there's lots of competition for jobs and once you get into a good company (especially in fiction) it can be hard to move up because no one ever leaves. However there has been a bit of expansion in the field, just recently I've noticed a few more openings have come up. Having said that I think publishers can be a bit bottom heavy...at some point some of these young 'uns are going to have trouble moving up.

However, that's all in trade book publishing, and specifically in my experience the kid's lit and fiction world. I would imagine there are more opportunities in educational publishing and editors can also find work in places like the public service and the private sector. A friend of mine earned about $45 an hour editing some very dry material for a law firm. I worked for seek.com.au editing their online content. There is heaps around, you just have to be lucky and flexible and have a back up if the work dries up for a while and be willing to do stuff that doesn't necessarily inspire you. A lot of really good editors get satisfaction out of the nuts and bolts and nitty gritty and don't mind what they work on (to a point).

I tend to only write structural reports for fiction. Editing is one string to my bow, I've had to diversify in my career, and of course writing is my number one. I've never managed to get a full time job as an editor (which I don't mind) because I am not one of those editors who gets deeply passionate about punctuation. I don't proofread or copyedit. I've been lucky enough to get into a position where I only really do what I love. But I only earn about $8000 a year from editing, probably a bit less since I've had kids. I charge about $350 for a 80-100,000 word manuscript, which is about 10 hours work.

I mostly work for Allen & Unwin, and I started there as a work experience student (which is the same for a few of the people working there - once they find someone they like they kind of adopt them into the fold, and if they wait around long enough a job is often found for them). Most publishers will take work experience students, but A&U (for example) book up a year ahead. So you need to be really proactive and persuasive and get in early. It's good to be passionate about where you're going and show some understanding of the company, and in some ways you might be better approaching a big educational publisher where you're more likely to get work after graduating.

To be honest if you're looking for a family-friendly job with a reasonable income I am not sure that editing is necessarily compatible. It takes a while to set up as a freelancer and you usually need to have some inhouse experience to do that. In terms of in-house, the hours can be long and you'll take a lot of work home with you, and while the offices tend to be mostly women, there's still a lack of flexibility in terms of career editing (moving up the chain) and parenting, most publishers I know have older or adult children. The income isn't brilliant in terms of relocating for a job (It's a lot to ask of someone to relocate for a 30K a year job, which I think is what you'd be looking at as an entry level editor) and the industry isn't huge so there's no guarantee of jobs. When they do come up there's a lot of competition, especially with the recent growth in editing and publishing courses.

But if you're passionate and patient, flexible and you just really desperately want to do it, then it's a great job with heaps of rewards. I used to tell people 'I get paid to read in bed.' I love it. Working in-house is especially dynamic and interesting. The passionate exchange of ideas is addictive, especially if you luck into working with a publisher with a really great list like I did. And I haven't even mentioned some of the great books I've worked on. It's Good Work, putting wonderful things out in the world. It feels valuable and worthwile. That counts for a lot, especially when your work is taking you away from your kids.

2 comments:

  1. I just completed a job interview today, and have one scheduled for next Thursday. I also like editing, since my major in college was journalism. Check out my feelings regarding looking for a job when you're past 60 at http://peoplepowergranny.blogspot.com

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