I have received many fantastic questions in my ask box. Without a doubt, the vast majority of them are variations on the same theme: How did I/does one become an editor? What should I study? How do I train? How do I get a job?
As kids around here head back to school, I thought I’d tackle the academic part of my own path to publishing.
My potentially-very-unsatisfying answer is this: I have never been in a pre-professional program to learn how to be an editor or to learn the business of publishing. I have never received a classroom education in manuscript editing, nor do I believe it’s necessary.
Like many people in publishing, I was an English major. I received my undergraduate degree from a small liberal arts college. I never trained for any specific professional discipline, but I honed my skills in reading and writing critically, which I think is a far more fundamental foundation for editing books than learning how to read a P&L (there’s plenty of time for that, later).
Another thing I accidently lucked into choosing for myself was a small school within a larger consortium of schools. It was primarily in the classrooms of those other colleges where I followed a hunch and found my deep love, understanding, and respect for children’s literature.
It’s very important to note that the blissful irony of my college education is that my college helped me in becoming a critical thinker and helped me to really discover what I loved and then stepped all over it. As avant-garde as my English department was, studying children’s books didn’t fit in. A single dismissive comment in my thesis defense pre-armed me for the next two decades of ignorant comments about books for children and teens not being of equal quality or stature as books written for adults. It really pissed me off, and I’m glad I heard it when I did. It made my resolve stronger; it made me stronger.
I then received a Master of Education degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and it was a life-changing year. While I did continue to study children’s literature, I mostly immersed myself in learning about how children and teens develop. What places them at risk and how to fight against it.
The craft of my job came much later (ON the job), but what grad school did was inspire me and solidify my resolve about what was important and the contribution I most wanted to make when I did have a job.
My education was an education. It taught me a few facts, but it mostly illuminated my way. I really believe in giving yourself that chance.
Especially in publishing, there are a million ways to break in if you have the passion and know what you really want.