I was at a wine tasting last night and a guest asked me whether I could provide some advice to a young student who is hoping to become an editor. What I would ask that student is: as an editor, do you have a specific specialty or set of specialties that make you stand out from the crowd?
The editing profession is intensely populated and competitive. Solid positions as an entry-level, mid-level, or high-level professional are hard to come by. Many editing positions are actually hybrid administrative positions. Or a variation on a theme of a staff writer plus other tasks.
In my experience, the job of an editor is an interesting position, and has plenty of room for professional growth. The trick is knowing what career path you want to take, and leveraging each piece of the job search or career puzzle to get you there.
Editors usually come under the purview of a department other than a “Writing” or “Editing” department. Unless you’re at an agency. Editors can fall under departments like communications, publications/product development, marketing, research, admissions, or some such area. In some companies it’s an entirely, entry-level and/or administrative role that serves a variety of departments.
Typically, companies like to hire editors who have experience in their industry: technical, IT, medical care, finance, retail, etc. This highlights the importance of having a specialty area or areas as a competent and resilient editor.
In my particular case, I like to think I have two specialties: foreign languages/cultures and social media.
I began adding specialization components to my main area of study back when I was still a bachelors student at Northern Illinois University in the mid 1990s.
I added anthropology to my language and international business classes for my translation major. I then had a better understanding of civilization, culture, business practices, business lingo, and other themes.
For journalism with an emphasis in PR, I added graphical layout classes to my public relations and journalism requirements in order to add some dimension and flexibility. I actually enjoyed the layout work so much, that after graduating in 1998, I signed up for a multimedia and graphic design certificate at a private university.
I realized back then that graphics and the web would be playing an important role in publishing and journalism. These days, there’s already integrated programs that blend these two practices.
For years now, I learned, studied, and read books and articles on how to design websites and code HTML. I’ve read about CSS and XHTML. Now, I know enough to have an intelligible conversation with IT and other service providers when I need to talk about product landing pages and their SEO aspects.
Social media is another specialization. I’ve always been a vocal supporter of integrated marketing channels, and social media is just the latest weapon in our promotion arsenal besides the usual suspects (print, direct mail, telesales, trade press).
I’ve also been reading for the past several years how a print product can be leveraged in electronic book format for portable devices. There’s many tools that do all the work for you, you just need to work with your design and production staff to get compatible layouts.
All these developments make editing an exciting and ever-changing profession. What will the next hot thing be? Who knows. But you if you keep your radar active, you’ll surely be able to catch the wave and add a great specialty to your professional profile to stand out among the crowd.