Each week The Old Editor will attempt to address your entreaties for information and advice on grammar and usage, writing, writer-editor etiquette, and related subjects.
The Old Editor does not address marital and relationship matters, dietary questions, or automobile mechanics.
The question: I'm writing to ask your advice on becoming a copyeditor. I graduated almost two years ago from journalism school, but it left me without much knowledge about pursuing copy editing. If you were a young buck trying to break into the field, what would you do? My biggest question, I think, is how to prove to a hiring editor that I can copy edit.
The Old Editor answers: It is not as easy to break into the glamorous world of big-time copy editing as it used to be, largely because the War on Editing has greatly diminished the number of positions. But there are ways for newbies to worm their way into the business.
Internships: For students still in college, or even freshly graduated, internships have been a reliable portal. They provide on-the-job training in the actualities of the craft, and interns who are smart, enegetic, and able wind up with references to cite in pursuit of a permanent job.
The gold standard of interships is the Dow-Jones News Fund program, which combines first-rate training in an editing boot camp with an internship on one of the participating publications.
Degrees and certification: Obviously, taking a course in editing while an undergraduate or graduate student is advisable. Additional training is also available.
The Poynter Institute, in cooperation with the American Copy Editors Society, offers a program of courses leading to a certificate in editing, as do the University of California, San Diego and the Editors' Association of Canada (currently rebranding as Editors Canada). Ryerson University in Canada has an intensive program in publishing.
As with any such program, one must weigh the cost of completing it against the potential advantage. It would be a good idea to speak to people who have completed such certification to see how it has worked for them.
Conferences: Cheaper than a certification program are the national conferences of the American Copy Editors Society and Editors Canada. I have had experience with ACES conferences since the first one in Chapel Hill in 1997, and they offer an incomparable array of sessions by some of the most reputable editors in the business. In addition to the actual sessions are the opportunities to talk with editors and network. ACES also offers regional workshops that are worth a look. Join ACES. Go to conferences. Make yourself known. Ask for advice. Listen to the lore.
Discussion groups: There are a number of sites at which the professionals discuss editing. One such is the Editors' Association of Earth. Check it out. That is another place to get to know some veteran editors and see what the issues and opportunities are.
Blogs: There are many well-informed people writing online about grammar, usage, editing, and related topics. There are also a great many dunces mouthing trash. That you are reading this blog indicates that you are a person of taste and refinement. Keep reading, and make sure to check out the writers and sites I mention favorably.
Take a crappy job: There are not as many copy editing jobs as there used to be, and there are many formerly employed copy editors scratching for a living as freelancers. If you are inexperienced, take what you can get, learn what you can, and jump to something better when you get a chance. Newspaper, newsletter, magazine, business, agency, or university department: Everyone is pumping out text, and most of it is sadly in need of editing.
Editing is a craft. You learn it by doing it. When you get that first crappy job, identify who the most knowledgeable people are and learn from their example. Find a mentor. Ask for criticism and pay attention to it.
Also, diversify. Editing for print only is a limitation. Learn online skills. Learn photography. Learn video editing. Any skill you add to editing—while keeping in mind that editing is the core skill—will help position you for that better job down the road.
Keep reading: All knowledge that you add to your general store is valuable.
Got a question for The Old Editor? Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your name will not be used unless you specifically authorize it.