An American Editor

April 7, 2014

On the Basics: Is There a “Best Industry” for Editors?

Is There a “Best Industry” for Editors?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The publishing business is supposed to be declining, if not actually dying. I’m not sure that’s the case, but there certainly are a lot of challenging changes going on. In case publishing really is heading for extinction, does any other industry offer editors good potential for job satisfaction, career opportunities, and pay?

I say that any and every industry has that potential.

Too many people think the only way to work as an editor (or writer, proofreader, etc.) is to be in publishing per se—to work for publishing houses, publications, presses, maybe authors. They don’t seem to realize that editing (and, of course, writing, proofreading, photography, graphics, layout, etc.) also happens in every profession, business, and hobby there is.

If you aren’t finding success in editing work in traditional publishing with traditional clients such as book publishers, it’s time to start thinking in new ways. A number of “industries” still, and should continue to, need editors and offer opportunities for many of us.

Some of my editing work is for magazines, which I would classify as part of traditional publishing, but some is for law firms, marketing or public relations companies, professional offices in various areas of medicine, associations in a wide range of topics (including my high school alumni group!), businesses, and not-for-profit organizations.

A recent project involved writing and editing award nominations for a local hospital. Another was editing the required annual description of services for a financial advisor. I’ve also edited and proofread websites for several clients, including one for a heating/plumbing company. I write blog posts for a website for veterinary businesses. I just heard from a company in the transportation industry about proofreading its annual report. I’ve done the writing, editing, proofreading, and/or layout of newsletters and special reports for a variety of not-for-profit organizations. Trade and membership associations are hotbeds of publishing activity, producing newspapers, newsletters, magazines, websites, blogs, and conference materials. I edit letters and blog posts for the owner of a company that packages businesses for loans and sales.

None of these might be what colleagues consider publishing, but all are firmly in the realm of editorial work, and most, if not all, will continue to be needed and thus to need us.

Many such projects require skilled editing more than any particular industry experience or knowledge. These clients are comfortable with the technical or industry side of their material, but aware of their shortcomings in grammar, usage, even spelling and punctuation, which so many of us consider basic to our very cores. If you come across industry-specific technical details that you aren’t sure of, you can flag them for the client to check or verify.

Government agencies and nongovernmental organizations often seek editing services. I’ve done work for the World Bank, which has hundreds of programs and projects that require various levels of writing, editing, and proofreading. And that’s just one entity. I know of someone who has a contract with a local college to edit professor and student papers and, of course, many colleagues work directly with graduate and postdoctoral students on editing their theses and dissertations.

Judging by what I see and hear from several of my colleagues, there also is a lot of work to be had with authors in other countries whose native language is not English, but who need or want to publish their academic work in English-language journals.

Someone is writing and, therefore (in most cases), someone is editing and proofreading all kinds of sales and marketing materials. Think about things like product packaging. Someone has to write, then edit and proofread, the information on every label, box, bag, bottle, carton, pouch, etc. That goes for food, drink, medications, equipment, tools, CDs and DVDs, etc.; even those annoying labels in clothing that stick up from your collar or scrape the back of your neck. Someone also has to write directions or instructions on how to use some of those same items; not all of that is done overseas.

And don’t forget advertising copy, which often desperately needs an editor!

Even though many of us bewail aspects of it, the constantly growing self-publishing industry also can be a fertile field of opportunity for editors. It may take some extra effort to find self-publishing authors who understand the value of having their work edited, but those authors do exist, and their numbers may increase if reviewers and readers react more volubly to sloppy writing that cries out for a skilled editorial hand. And some of the packaging or service companies now offer editing to the people who come to them with manuscripts to publish; the rates from those companies may not be the highest, but some opportunities do exist in those corners of the industry.

What this all comes down to is that there is no one “best industry” for editors—all industries are good hunting grounds for work as editors. Opportunities are out there. Widen your search, and you might be surprised at what you find.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

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