Nice work if you can get it: Editor

This is part of the Yes and Yes work interview series in which I talk to friends of mine about their fantastic, enviable jobs. Erin is one of my favorite internet girl friends and not just because we were both be-sparkled competitive dancers in high school. She’s a talented and funny writer and mother to The Cutest Baby Ever. And she’s a travel writer! Stop living my dream life, Erin. Seriously.So what’s the deal? What do you do?
I am a custom publishing editor for a travel industry newspaper. When I tell people that, they usually nod and throw in an I’m-trying-to-be-interested-but-don’t-know-what-that-means “Oh!” Basically, our sales team contracts with the Travel Bureaus and Convention and Visitors Bureaus in cities and countries around the world, and my team and I work with them to create publications about those destinations that are then distributed to our readers.

Tell us about an average day in editorial world.
Most of the day-to-day excitement of this job comes from interacting with my coworkers (everyone in my office is in their 20s). I do a lot of online research of reputable websites (i.e. official ones, although for non-work-related information I’m a google, wikipedia and imdb JUNKIE). I exchange the occasional email with a correspondent or freelancer, and edit any stories that come in. Sometimes I have a conference call to talk with our clients and hammer out the vision for their publication. I often proofread and edit our publications during the client approval process. On a daily basis, I work with a project manager and a graphic designer. I also help out our newspaper’s marketing team (we share an office) by proofreading surveys and coming up with brilliant copy for publisher’s letters, conferences, awards shows, and other marketing materials. Apparently, I’m adept at taking up the mantle of a middle-aged man through the written word.

Did you go to school for this? Or get any special training?
Sort of. I got the generic English degree, because reading/writing has been my shtick since I was little. Of course, now I don’t illustrate my own stories, mainly because the stories I write for work don’t feature pioneer families in multilevel wooden houses riddled with secret passageways like they did when I was 8. As far as special training goes, I’ve had some stellar on-the-job mentors who clued me in to how newspapers and magazines really work. I’ve also actually just started taking a couple graduate-level classes through the University of North Carolina, specifically geared toward writing and editing. On a separate note, my personal travel experience helped me get this particular job, although I wouldn’t say that traveling is a big part of what I do.

How did you get into this line of work?
It all started in a small apartment (that was probably really nice when it was built in 1974) on an old computer (that ran really fast when it was bought in the year 2000), where a passionate yet skeptical recent college grad (me) searched job websites for anything relating to writing and editing. I found a listing for an entry-level editing position at the local paper, applied, went through a terrifying process of interviews and proofreading tests, and got the job as Celebrations Editor (read: weddings, births and anniversaries, although I had more than one request to post a divorce announcement in the weekly celebrations section). Then, through sheer awesomeness (the sorry state of newspapers had nothing to do with it), I quickly rose in the ranks and serendipitously became involved with the ground-up launch of two magazines on a team of highly experienced, fantastic individuals. Invaluable experience.

Are there any drawbacks to working in writing?
Simply, yes. Although writing is ultimately a creative function, it’s hard to convey the creative process to non-writers and non-editors. It’s also difficult when I have to write about a subject I don’t know much about. But then, that’s also the fun of it–getting myself to the point at which I actually do know something. On the editing front, it’s difficult to be able to read the same text through several different finely tuned lenses–copy editing, content editing, proofreading–with limited resources. I currently work on a very small team, whereas before I worked with a much larger one with multiple editors. Also on the drawbacks list: Burnout.

What are the highlights?
I’ve gotten to travel to interesting places for the job I have now (mostly to New Jersey. I know, very exotic). But there’s always the possibility of more travel to cool destinations. With writing for publication, I’m always meeting new and interesting people. When I wrote announcements for the local paper, I actually wrote announcements for a fairly famous online entrepreneur as well as an NBA star. Once, the paper’s Washington Bureau Chief stopped by to visit me when she was in town because of an admiring email I sent her. Now, it’s not uncommon for me to exchange emails or conference calls with someone in London or Paris or South America, not to mention various places around the U.S. And when I first started getting paid to write, I would drive around town wondering how many people that I encountered had read something I had written: a fascinating and empowering but also terrifying thing to do, particularly as a novice writer. Now my stuff is distributed across the country (though to a select group of travel professionals). Seeing my name in print is always a bit of a thrill.

Are there any misconceptions about working at a magazine?
Unfortunately, it’s almost never as glamorous as one might think (unless, I assume, you’re a writer or an editor for a fashion magazine).

What suggestions would you give to people interested in getting into this?
I’ll say what that Bureau Chief (who, incidentally, also started her career writing wedding announcements in a small town) told me: Don’t stop writing. Keep doing it, always trying to improve your craft, and you’ll go places. Other than perhaps the hope/dream of writing a book one day or writing for a big-time magazine, it takes far more grit than luck to have a successful writing career. Also, carry around a Moleskine notebook. It’s imperative to jot down thoughts as you have them, because the more you write down your thoughts, the more thoughts you’ll have worth writing down. Plus you’ll look cool and feel a little like Hemingway. Oh, and one other thing: Know the rules–thoroughly–before you break them. That way you’ll always write with purpose, and can defend your creative choices intelligently

I know there are heaps of wanna be editors out there! Ask Erin some questions!

4 Comments

Designated Writer

I’m an undergrad at UNC and I was wondering if you would recommend going to grad school. A lot of people I talk to say in this industry (writing/editing for magazines/newspapers) experience is a lot more valuable than a master’s degree. So I’m kind of wondering with all the cool stuff you’ve done, why you’ve decided to head back to school.

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Erin

Great question! As an undergrad, I knew I wanted to get a master’s degree (and possibly a doctorate) because I’ve always enjoyed teaching (I worked in the writing center while in college). Experience is CRUCIAL. Honestly, I think work experience is enhancing my degree, rather than the other way around. As part of my writing/editing MA track, I’ve taken a nonfiction MFA writing workshop, which has been excellent for my writing craft. So, I really think experience and a higher degree complement each other, and both are valuable for moving into roles with more responsibility. But–I’d go experience first, degree second. Good luck!

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