An American Editor

February 25, 2013

Veterinarian or Editor?

The New York Times had an interesting article on February 24, 2013: “High Debt and Falling Demand Trap New Vets.” The article made several points that surprised me.

First, the profiled veterinarian had $312,000 in student loan debt solely from veterinary school. Second,

This would seem less alarming if vets made more money. But starting salaries have sunk by about 13 percent during the same 10-year period, in inflation-adjusted terms, to $45,575 a year, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Third, that fewer vets will be needed in the future and that new vets can expect to see further erosion of starting salaries. And, finally, fourth, that  a vet who is paid $60,000 a year is considered to be well paid.

I know that I spend a small fortune every year at our veterinarian’s office for our dog and cat, let alone the fortune I spend on the food they eat. Had I been asked to guess at the starting salary for a vet, I would have guessed $85,000, and for the median salary, I would have guessed $115,000.

If one of my children had asked me whether they should be a veterinarian or an editor, from the strictly income perspective, I would have said veterinarian. Not after reading this article.

Interestingly, what is being seen in the world of veterinary medicine is also being seen in other fields. Going to law school or obtaining an MBA from a business school, although it resulted in high student loan debt ($150,000 to $300,000), meant a good chance at a high-paying career. But not today. Today, law school graduates are struggling to find jobs and those they do find pay $40,000 or less. The same is true of those with an MBA degree. The only ones making money are the schools that offer these expensive programs.

I look at all this costly education and wonder why anyone would choose such a career path — especially when an editor can earn significantly more than these new lawyers and vets and MBAers — only to put themselves in a position where they can never get out of debt and never enjoy the fruits of their labor.

The job market is changing drastically. Consider this article from the February 19, 2013, New York Times, “It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk.” As noted in the article,

Even the office “runner” — the in-house courier who, for $10 an hour, ferries documents back and forth between the courthouse and the office — went to a four-year school.

What will that mean for editors?

I think we will see, in the not too distant future, many universities and colleges offering “advanced” degrees geared to editing and we will see publishers and authors demanding that editors have such an “advanced” degree — even if the degree is really meaningless. After all, what will the editor study to warrant the cost and time of an advanced degree? We know that the schools will insist on it being at least a 1-year, if not a 2-year degree.

More importantly for editors, I think we will see a glut of new editors and a further depression of fees based on a tiered system (see my earlier article, Does the Future of Editing Lie in Tiers?). Those editors with just B.A. degrees will be paid less than those with the advanced degree, even though those with the advanced degree will not be paid very much because of the glut of editors.

As it stands now, editing can be a very good profession economically, even with the depression of fees. But newer and younger editors do not seem to be doing so well in today’s editorial market, or at least not as well as those of us who have been in the profession for a decade or two (or more). I am constantly amazed at for how little new editors are willing to work.

In a way, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Everyone in the “food” chain seems to devalue editorial skills. Authors and publishers will someday face the problem of a shortage of capable editors. The shortage will be the result of the penurious approach to paying for editing skills that is in force today. Just as fewer people are thinking of entering the legal profession, fewer people will think of entering the editing profession, if barriers are raised.

These barriers to the editing profession will be the need for advanced degrees and the simultaneous depression of pay. Younger generations are much smarter than my generation when it comes to the need for the cost of the education to balance against the financial gain that can be expected as a result of incurring that cost. In my college days, cost was a secondary, if not a tertiary concern — getting the education and degree is what mattered because the more advanced the degree (generally speaking), the higher the income earnings would be.

Can editors still earn the “big” bucks? I’d like to think so, but I’m not really in a good position to know, because my earnings are derived from a combination of factors, not least of which are 30 years’ experience as an editor and consistent application of business principles to what many colleagues consider a craft.

Would I recommend to my children that they become editors? It depends. It depends on how they would approach the profession, how skilled they really are, and what their expectations are.

Would you recommend editing as a profession to your children? Would you do so if an advanced degree were required?

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