Your day begins with a steaming cup of coffee and your favorite newspaper. As the stimulating drink trickles down your throat, you take a bite of your toast and skim the headlines. You chuckle as you flip to the next page, reading the quote you insisted one of the writers to include. After a few minutes, you take a shower, dress up, and then leave for your office. Once you arrive, you watch as people turn to greet and smile at you, and as you settle into the huge wooden desk, you glance at the clock. People filter in, and you flip your laptop open. It is almost time for your morning meeting.
Is that how you envision your life to become after a few years? Well, the scene above describes what can be called a stereotypical morning of an editor. Perhaps that is an occupation you wish to have, though if you are reading this article, you may be wondering if that is possible despite your lack of a college degree.
Becoming an editor without a college degree seems to be very daunting in this modern age. After all, more and more people are graduating with a degree. If more people hold degrees, then there is more competition in the job market, and according to Education Data, that idea is at least partly true. For instance, in 1900, 27,410 students graduated with a bachelor’s degree, while 1.98 million students graduated with a bachelor’s degree. That is a difference of over a million people.
Of course, the population and society are very different from the population and the society we live in. Fewer people entered college then, and more focused on apprenticeships and training for their chosen vocation. Today, it seems impossible to reach your dreams without spending a few years in college. Still, if you want to become an editor without a degree, it is possible, and this article will show you just how to do that!
What is an editor?
Before we can list what must be done to become an editor, we must define what an editor actually is. From the name itself, an editor’s primary job is to ‘edit,’ proofread, check, and refine other people’s written work. This is where the stereotypical image of an editor wearing glasses while holding a pen may come from, though what kind of written work an editor works with may vary.
Furthermore, there are many kinds of editors. For those familiar with magazines and newspapers, their idea of an editor may be an editor-in-chief. From their depictions in popular media, like Miranda Priestly, editors-in-chief seem a tad intimidating, though their image is similar to that for a reason. After all, the editor-in-chief can be considered as the manager of writers and editors. They often hold the highest position in a newspaper or magazine writing team. Besides writing their own columns and articles, they check their subordinates’ work, provide ideas, distribute the work, and manage the majority of the writing team. Without them, a paper may lack direction and coherence and may not even be printed on time.
Another type of editor those acquainted with magazines and newspapers may be familiar with is the associate editor. What do they do? The associate editor usually sits on the editorial board if there is one and holds one of the highest positions in a magazine or newspaper. Aside from reading through the written pieces of their subordinates, associate editors have the additional responsibility of determining the actual content of the section they are responsible for. They spend their time refining story ideas and may ask their writers to write and research certain things. Often, associate editors also have a regular column or at least write pieces frequently, and they are usually consulted when major decisions need to be made.
One more kind of editor that is common in magazine and newspaper writing teams is the copy editor. Aside from checking areas like facts and grammar, they also look at the format of the piece. Copy editors are usually graduates of related degrees like journalism or English. This is because they need to study grammar and language extensively, and they are also often familiar with certain proofreading symbols and styles.
On the other hand, though they seem the same, a proofreader is different from a copy editor. Firstly, the proofreader is the kind of editor employed by almost all kinds of businesses, even those that are not focused on magazines and newspapers. They mainly look for grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes and offer little to no opinion on the content and the written word’s message.
Aside from editors in magazines and newspapers, there are also editors in other writing realm areas, like the literary world. One is the beta reader. Usually, the beta reader is a type of editor that is more common in fiction than in non-fiction. As beta testers for video games, they essentially act as the first reader of a finished written piece, which is why they may be seen as the ‘beta tester’ for articles and stories. Their feedback is often general and may range from informing you of any mistakes in grammar, punctuation, and spelling that they caught to express what they think of your written work’s content and message.
Finally, one editor frequently seen in almost every business that dabbles in writing is the content editor. Like the name itself suggests, the content editor looks at the overall written piece. Besides checking if there are any grammatical or factual mistakes, a content editor determines whether the content itself is accurate and appealing to the target audience.
Those are just the most common types of editors. There are more obscure kinds that usually work for niche markets, though they may also be considered as subtypes of the more usual ones. For example, a proofreader may choose to work only a certain job, like editing only novels, short stories, and other similar literature. This becomes their niche and specialization, allowing them to further develop their skills regarding a certain genre or type.
Do you need a degree to become an editor?
It is easy to believe that a person needs to study communications, journalism, or something similar to become successful as an editor. Some people hold on to that belief despite others telling them that it is not always true. There are times, though, when a client or a company prefers degree-holders and hires only an editor with an educational background, which they deem necessary and sufficient. Still, a college degree does not need to be a prerequisite to succeed in this work line.
Of course, like all other occupations, having a college degree has its own advantages. First of all, a college education in a field related to a future job as an editor, like a major in English or journalism, can provide a structured education. This ensures that one receives a good foundation in all of the subjects necessary for their future occupation. The information is often provided in an organized manner, allowing one to progress from the basic and foundational skills and ideas to more advanced topics they can master to gain an edge in the future.
Second, studying in college and majoring in a related degree also allows one to develop relationships with the people who are in or who might go into the publishing world. This can be called networking, and one can do this even before they graduate from college. The people a college student meets can often help them once they enter the professional world, and developing a foundation for their professional relationships early is often wise and practical.
Third, graduating with a degree looks good on one’s resume. In fact, hiring managers may be less inclined to question one’s skills as they usually see a degree as proof of one’s expertise and knowledge. Of course, holding a degree does not make one automatically knowledgeable and skilled.
On the other hand, aside from the actual degree itself, there are other ways to gain those advantages, though they may be less straightforward and take more time.
Of course, there are reasons why one must want to become an editor without a degree, and this article talks about that, not about why one needs a degree to become a successful editor.
What are the skills necessary to become an editor?
Before we outline the actual steps to achieving the goal of becoming an editor without holding a college degree, let us examine what the necessary skills and qualities are to become an editor.
First of all, to become an editor, one needs to be a good reader that reads as many diverse books as often as they can. This is necessary because a good reader can usually identify what considers a piece of writing as good. Additionally, reading can expose one to more writing styles and develop their critical eye.
A successful editor is not only a good reader, though. They must also be a good writer. As an editor, especially one with a high rank, you are essentially critiquing how another person writes. An editor who lacks good writing skills will find it difficult to land clients and respect their colleagues. After all, if you cannot write well, why should they accept your opinions regarding their work?
Aside from that, all other language skills must be developed. The nature of an editor’s job lies almost entirely in languages, and to succeed at that job, one must be able to have excellent and developed language skills.
The kind of necessary skills to succeed in this venture are not entirely just language-based abilities, though. To truly succeed in this occupation, one must have excellent people skills. They must be able to communicate and work with others well. Often, they must deal with and resolve conflict as quickly and as painlessly as possible and must work to avoid miscommunication.
Why is that? Well, all editors have to deal with people, though the kind of people they deal with and how they deal with people usually differ. For example, an editor chief usually deals with people who are considered their subordinates. They must be comfortable with leading a team and resolve the miscommunications and arguments that often arise when working with many people. On the other hand, a book editor usually deals with fewer people and often with their clients. They must be tactful and learn to communicate critiques, opinions, and ideas in the kind of manner that does not offend their client.
Finally, an editor must have learned to manage their time well before they have even started their job. Like people skills, time management is an ability all editors must possess, though the reasons for this generally differ depending on the specific kind of job. For instance, magazines and newspapers print issues on a regular schedule, which ensures that magazine and newspaper editors have to stick to a strict schedule to print their paper at the right time. In contrast, book editors may appear to have more leeway regarding timelines, but publishing houses often have their own deadlines.
How can I become an editor without a degree?
After reading the previous sections, you may be disheartened and find the goal of becoming an editor without a degree far too difficult. Well, like all ambitions, it has its own set of challenges, but if you think a college degree is not relevant to your goal of becoming an editor, then here is how you can become one without it.
Firstly, think and reflect on yourself, your goal, and your plan. Identify your strengths and weaknesses. Do you enjoy reading but find writing and looking for mistakes a tedious task? Are you comfortable with your skills as an editor but find it difficult to communicate with other people? Is the idea of working with details too overwhelming?
In line with that, determine what kind of editor you want to be. Some types might be harder to achieve if you have no degree, so do your research. Think of the strengths and weaknesses you have identified earlier, and ask yourself which kind of editor is best suited for you.
Secondly, as discussed in the previous section, you must have strong language skills. This is the backbone and foundation necessary to become an editor. More specifically, the ability to write well is a must for any editor.
If you go to college, this is one of the skills you will have first to develop. Still, without a college education, there are ways to develop your language and writing skills. For example, determine what language you would like your specialty to be. If you want to be the editor of an English newspaper, you must be fluent in English. If you want to edit a Spanish magazine, then you must be fluent in Spanish.
Developing your language skills begins by developing a strong foundation in the rules of the language. You must be familiar with the grammar, syntax, and punctuation, and spelling rules. To be able to do so, you do not need to memorize the rules involved. Reading constantly – starting from your current level to more advanced texts – will almost always be enough. Of course, you must not just read what you are comfortable with. To really develop your skills, you must read things outside of your comfort zone, whether it is because it is a little too difficult or because you are unfamiliar with the genre. Reading a lot also has the additional benefit of introducing you to new words and different writing styles.
Once you are confident with your language skills, you must practice. How do you do that? Well, look for people who need editors. At this stage of your education and career, you should not charge for what you are doing. Offer your editing skills for free, and ask the people whose works you edit for comments about your editing skills. This does not just train you to look at a work with a critical eye but also develops your communication and interpersonal skills. Those two skills are essential when you become an editor because you almost always will be dealing with people.
Additionally, do not forget about the other skills important in this job, like time management and communication skills. Look for ways to develop them. If possible, put yourself in situations that are not dangerous or harmful but may put you out of your comfort zone and develop these skills.
While practicing your skills, you should also look for relevant jobs. This does not mean you have to apply for an editor’s position immediately. Relevant jobs include becoming a researcher for a writer or maybe a fact-checker. If possible, you can also find a successful editor and work for them temporarily as an assistant. This exposes you to an editor’s work environment and allows you to observe how one can be successful in the business.
After you have accomplished this, it may be time for you to apply to an editor’s job. If you do not get hired on your first try, do not give up. Keep applying for editor’s jobs, or if it starts to seem futile, work for a writing team as a researcher or writer, and then work your way up to an editor.
Once you have a job – whether as a writer or already as an editor – it is time for you to socialize and network. Talk to other people in the writing world. Introduce yourself to writers, editors, and magazine owners. Build your reputation as someone who can be trusted, and before long, someone may approach you with a project or a position.
Yes, you can become an editor without a degree.
Whether you begin your journey by graduating with a college degree or not, there is a long road to becoming an editor. Think of everything written in this article. As with the first section, define what an editor is. Do your research about the kinds of jobs an editor has. It is much better to have a clear idea of what an editor is and what they do daily early on before spending much time and money.
We also asked whether a college degree is necessary to become an editor, and we have established the answer to be a resounding no. Of course, there are advantages to holding a degree, and becoming an editor without going to college involves some less traditional and less common roads. Still, if one wants to do it, then it is generally possible.
After that, we learned about the skills necessary to become an excellent and successful editor. Some of those skills are quite evident and obvious that an editor needs them, like strong language skills. However, other abilities seem to be less related yet are equally important, like time management and communication skills.
Lastly, we listed the steps one may take to become an editor without a degree. We showed that with a concrete plan in place, one need not worry and wonder whether they can achieve their goal. First, reflect on yourself, your goal, and your plan. After that, educate yourself. This does not have to be through college. Read books a lot, and talk to people who know these things. Next, look for relevant jobs, and do not stop until you have reached your goal.
The job of an editor involves developing your language skills and nurturing professional relationships. Without one or the other, it may difficult to achieve your goal. Apply the steps I have listed above, and sooner or later, you might become the editor of your dreams.