Editors may work in a publishing company, for a magazine, for a newspaper or for the web. The role of an editor varies depending on the nature of the organisation they work for but, in summary, they are responsible for ensuring that their company stays profitable by selecting and commissioning books or articles for publishing.
Editors work with authors, journalists or writers, and are responsible for selecting and commissioning new work, keeping up-to-date with market trends and deciding on the direction of the publishers or publication that they work for.
They usually manage a team of people including copy editors, editorial assistants and freelance writers or journalists. Editors must have good business sense as they are responsible for working out costings, schedules and publishing proposals.
It is important that editors also have a good understanding of target audiences and can monitor the market effectively in order to commission work that will sell.
Editors can earn anything between £18,000 and £80,000 per year, depending on the nature and size of the company that they work for. Newspaper and magazine editors generally earn between £30,000 and £80,000, whereas those working in a book publishing company usually earn between £18,000 and £28,000 per year.
Working as an editor has many responsibilities. These include:
- Selecting new authors and titles that are likely to sell well.
- Monitoring how well current authors and titles are selling.
- Monitoring trends in the book market.
- Developing ideas for books and identifying suitable authors.
- Deciding whether to accept or reject submitted manuscripts or articles.
- Preparing publishing proposals.
- Issuing contracts to agents and authors.
- Making decisions relating to revising and reprinting books, putting out new editions and withdrawing titles from print.
- Commissioning articles.
- Determining content for a newspaper or magazine.
- Finalising the layout of a newspaper or magazine.
- Liaising with authors, project managers, printers, editorial assistants and proofreaders.
- Managing the production of book covers.
- Proofreading books and articles.
- Managing a team of people.
Finding work as an editor is difficult and highly competitive so employers will expect good qualifications coupled with enthusiasm and a commitment to the role. Good A-Levels and a degree in English, media or a related subject will be an advantage, as will a postgraduate qualification in publishing. In academic publishing an expert knowledge of the subject is necessary over and above a more generic qualification – for example, an art historian would be a suitable person to edit specialist art journals.
To be an effective editor it is important to have:
- A good command of the English language.
- Strong writing skills.
- A good working knowledge of IT.
- Creativity and visual flair.
- The ability to work with finances and manage budgets.
- Good business sense and commercial flair.
- An eye for detail.
- Good vision and the ability to see new potential.
- A good understanding of target audiences.
- The ability to negotiate and make decisions.
- Excellent communication skills.
- A capacity for planning and organisation.
- Project management skills.
- The ability to work to an agreed deadline.
- Good administration skills.
- The ability to stay calm under pressure.
- The ability to work independently and as part of a team.
Editors are usually expected to work long and irregular hours, particularly as publishing and print deadlines approach. They are based in a busy (and often stressful) office environment but regularly travel away from the office to meet clients. An editor is a high-pressured role with tight deadlines and budgets which need to be met. Good negotiation skills are a must as editors must be able to deal calmly with conflicting demands from authors and publishers.
To work as an editor it is not enough to just have good qualifications. Relevant work experience is just as important, if not more so, as employers will want to see that an editor has a good working knowledge of the industry. Undertaking a work placement, completing an internship or work shadowing are all good ways to build up contacts and get some experience working in the field.
Editors could find work for book publishing companies, magazines, newspapers or even web development companies. The majority of publishing companies and large newspaper and magazine officers are based in London, although there are academic publishers in most of the main university cities. Alternatively, editors may choose to work on a freelance basis working for various different companies.
Editors within a publishing company usually begin working in a junior position, such as an editorial assistant, before progressing to a copy editor or production editor and finally a commissioning editor who takes responsibility for commissioning new work.
Newspaper and magazine editors begin as a sub-editor and then as the editor of a particular area of the magazine such as ‘Arts’ or ‘Sport’. With commitment to the job and a significant amount of experience, editors could then progress to become Editor-in-Chief, which means they are responsible for the overall development and production of the publication.
A good way to develop as an editor is to complete a training course run by the Publishing Training Centre or the Society of Editors and Proofreaders, which will ensure editors are abreast with the latest developments in the field.
Also known as…
- Newspaper Editor
- Magazine Editor
- Project Editor
- Web Editor
What’s it really like?
Lisa S is a 33-year-old Production Editor. She gives us the inside story.
I’ve been editing for nearly 2 years, first in Shanghai and then in the UK.
Before this job I taught English in northern China, which is how I ended up with my first editing position in Shanghai.
On a typical day I check my emails for messages from authors, project managers, printers, editorial assistants and commissioning editors. I also act as a go-between between authors and project managers, answering queries from each and solving production problems that occur during the process.
I examine the budgets of new projects to decide which project manager will make the book for me. Overseas ones are generally cheaper but we have relationships with local ones and some are skilled in different areas, so therefore if a book is straight text it can usually be made overseas, but if it has a lot of art work it will probably be done closer to home, and these are the kind of decisions that I have to make.
I also oversee the production process directly for some books rather than send them out to an external project manager. If I do it ‘in-house’ I hire freelance copyeditors, indexers and proofreaders to do the various tasks. I then monitor the production process to make sure my project managers and freelancers are on schedule.
Hold-ups often occur when authors are delayed answering our queries. This means I have to juggle the schedule and chop out days for other tasks to make sure we go to print on time. I check the covers for books to make sure they are error free and have been made to our design specifications. If it’s a standard cover – no art, illustrations or graphics – from one of our series then I can make the cover myself using a programme we have. I also check the covers of the other members of my team to double check that they are error free.
What I love most about my job is working independently on my projects but also being part of a larger team of people who all work on similar books. I also enjoy establishing relationships with my authors, project managers, printers and designers and being responsible for such a wide variety of tasks. On the downside I dislike dealing with difficult authors and project managers who feel their project is the only one I should be concentrating on, when in reality I usually manage around 30 at a time.
To anyone interested in going into the industry, I would advise that they try to get a foot in the door with an internship if possible, take extra copy editing and proof reading courses, or volunteer to proofread or copy edit local publications so that you can show you have the experience.
The Society of Young Publishers is a good resource to check out, and they have monthly speakers and meetings which are always interesting. I love my job so much that I don’t have plans to move upwards or elsewhere for a few more years. I guess I’d like to get more into commissioning work over time, and to plan new projects with authors. There is a fast turn over for editorial assistants – they become full editors quite quickly. So if you are interested in that kind of work try to get in as an editorial assistant first and work your way up.