In 1989 and 1990 Chuck Daly led the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back NBA championships. In 1997 Scotty Bowman coached the Detroit Red Wings to their first Stanley Cup win in forty-two years. It wasn’t the first season coaching for either man. They didn’t just wake up and decide to become professional coaches. Though neither of them played professionally, they both started at the bottom of the ladder. Daly assisted at the college level. Bowman played junior hockey. They both started small and gained experience. The more they learned, the better the job offers. They worked for their successes.
If you’ve decided you want to edit books, set similar goals for yourself.
1. Read. You don’t have to be a writer to be an editor, but you should know the basics. Daly didn’t play professional basketball, but he knew the rules and understood the basics – he knew basketball. If you want to edit fiction, you need to read fiction. You don’t have to write it, but a working knowledge of the product is a must.
2. Start small. Yes, it would be great to edit a New York Times best selling novel, but that shouldn’t be your starting point. Ask your pastor if you can edit the church bulletin, or offer your services to local businesses publishing fliers and brochures. Start with the small stuff, then work your way up.
3. Keep learning. Just because you passed high school English doesn’t mean you’re grammar and punctuation skills are where they need to be for magazine publishing. Book publishing has different standards entirely (if you didn’t know that, you need to do some research). Get involved in a group, take some classes, and buy some editing resources. Make sure your skills are up-to-date.
4. Be realistic. As is the case for most of life, what you see in the movies isn’t an accurate portrayal of what most editors do. If you’re expecting Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, talk to some editors first. I spend most of my time alone in a home office. Others may wear suits to work. Ask around and find out what you can expect in your area. Make sure you know what you’re getting into.
I’m still growing my editing business, but I’ve put in my time. I’ve had over 300 articles published, am an experienced fiction writing judge, have membership in four professional writing and editing organizations, and attend conferences and/or take writing and editing classes every year. I haven’t edited a best selling novel yet, but I will. In the meantime, I’m learning the game.