What Does a Book Editor Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Grace Kim © The Balance 2019 

Book editors do a lot more than just read and edit raw manuscripts. They are a key part of the chain of command in publishing and have a lot of influence over which books get published and which ones don't.

If you love books and love to read, a job as an editor can be a dream come true. Be advised that much of a book editor’s time is spent sifting through manuscripts that never will see the light of day. You have to be okay with reading a lot of bad writing in order to find the few gems.

One of the most important things book editors do is acquire books for publication. Usually, book editors or editorial assistants read manuscripts submitted by writers—some solicited, most unsolicited—and, based on their knowledge of a genre and its potential market, determine which works are a good fit for their publishing house.

Although an editor’s fate isn’t entirely dependent on how many bestsellers are delivered, the people who get ahead in the book publishing field almost always have some popular books under their belts.

Duties & Responsibilities

Editorial responsibilities may vary according to the size of the organization, as some editors may handle more tasks than others. This job generally requires an editor to do the following:

  • Acquire manuscripts for review
  • Read, edit, and write content so that it is correct and understandable to the reader
  • Verify facts cited in material for publication
  • Work with the author to develop content in keeping with the publication's style and editorial policy
  • Maintain good working relationships with authors and other key staff such as production, editorial assistants, proofreaders, graphics artists, and marketing personnel
  • Keep track of scheduled dates to ensure manuscript publishes on time
  • Review and mark up page proofs and online content
  • Attend weekly meetings to review book schedules and discuss any issues
  • Work with marketing to promote the book by submitting content for both print and online announcements

An important aspect of a book editor’s job is to cultivate relationships with authors. Book editors often are looking to discover new talent, publish them as unknowns, and then continue working with them as they build bigger audiences.

For this reason, many authors often have only one editor for an entire career. Writers who have good relationships with their editors often follow the editors if they change publishing houses over the years. Editors who work with high-profile writers often are more valuable to publishers because they usually bring big clients with them.

Editors rarely get attention, but they often play a large role in the successes and career paths of popular authors. Sue Freestone, for example, worked as the book editor for humorist Douglas Adams, notorious for missing deadlines. Freestone had to keep him on task in addition to helping him get the most out of his prose.

Book Editor Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017, does not provide a separate category for book editors, however, it does include the title under the more general term Editors:

  • Median annual salary: $58,770 ($28.25/hour)
  • Top 10% annual salary: $114,460 ($55.03/hour)
  • Bottom 10% annual salary: $30,830 ($14.82/hour)

Education Requirements and Qualifications

To become an editor, you will need the following education and experience:

  • College degrees: Most editors have at least a bachelor's degree, usually in English, communications, or journalism. Some have graduate degrees, but it’s not a requirement. More important than the specifics of your education are a passion for reading and an aptitude for editing.
  • Experience: Experience, including internships at publishing houses and work in other media—such as newspaper or magazine editing—also is important for prospective book editors. Moreover, connections in the publishing world, whether to another editor or successful writer, also can help your chances of landing a job as a book editor. If you are interested in editing books that deal with a specific subject, such as fashion or food, you should have formal training or work experience in that area to increase your chances of getting hired. To grow your network, you can join professional organizations such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA).

    Book Editor Skills & Competencies

    To be a successful book editor, you should have the following:

    • Reading skills: Book editors love to read books, as they spend a great deal of time reading manuscripts.
    • Writing skills: Editors ensure that all written content has correct grammar, punctuation, and syntax. Editors must write clearly and logically.
    • Interpersonal skills: A key skill is to cultivate and maintain good working relationships with authors and staff. This is important for tactfully guiding the author through the development of their title, as well as working with other staff to produce the book on time.
    • Sound judgement: Editors must also determine if the manuscript is ethical and free from plagiarism.
    • Detail oriented: Editors may be working on more than one publishing project at a time and need to plan their work to ensure that all books meet their scheduled deadlines. This includes staying in touch with authors and working with staff to ensure each manuscript moves through the publishing process.

    Job Outlook

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment of editors is expected to have little change up to 2026, as print media continues to face strong pressure from online publications. Editors who have adapted to online media and are comfortable writing for and working with a variety of electronic and digital tools will have an advantage in finding work. 

    Work Environment

    Many editors work in offices, however, a growing number work from home either part of the week or full time. Those who work from home full time need the proper electronic equipment, such as electronic publishing software, scanners, and other communication equipment, to perform their job properly.

    Work Schedule

    Most editors work full time, and their schedules are generally determined by production deadlines and the type of editorial position. Some editors juggle multiple projects and deal with production deadline pressures that require them to work overtime hours to meet scheduled publication dates.

    How to Get the Job

    APPLY

    Look at resources such as Indeed, Monster, and Glassdoor for the latest job postings.

    FIND A VOLUNTEER OR INTERNSHIP OPPORTUNITY

    Look for volunteer positions or internships in your area. For example, the Daily Source is seeking volunteer editors for assignments. Also, big publishing houses such as Penguin/Random House offer internship opportunities to those who qualify.

    JOIN AN ORGANIZATION

    Join an organization, such as the National Association of Independent Editors and Writers (NAIEW) or ACES: The Society for Editing, to connect with others in the field. Publishing Professionals Network (PPN) lists jobs as well as other membership organizations. You can also subscribe to Editors Only newsletter to receive a directory of professional associations for editors, as well as current job openings.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    Those interested in a career as a book editor may also want to consider the following jobs: