Thursday, July 12, 2007

Job Title: Editor

I'm writing a series of posts on job titles, calling, and legitimacy. The first in the series is Job Title: Artist. This is the second, Job Title: Editor.

My Own Perception I was hired as an editor in 1997 by a major publishing company to help edit a middle grades math textbook series (work that actually paid my way through HDS). I had no training in editing other than weekly participation in a writing group, and I'd actually be hard pressed to call that "editing." (It was more like "posturing.") Before 1997, I taught high school math, which is why I was hired to edit math textbooks. Since that point, I've edited science textbooks and science text (as a paid freelancer) and fiction and memoir (as an unpaid freelancer). I do perceive myself as an editor, not necessarily a good one, but certainly a decent one, and I do it often enough that editing is part of my daily work practice. I don't feel particularly called to it, and could give it up fairly easily.

The General Populace's Perception Without sounding snide, I think that most people have no idea what editors actually do, so when I say I'm an editor, they seem to believe me. They will assume that I edit fiction, of course, because for some reason people think that the only written words are those in fiction (or fashion/celebrity magazines).

Other Editors' Perception Editors perceive an elaborate hierarchy to the publishing world with an almost inverse relationship to salary. Fiction editing is perceived as much more prestigious than non-fiction editing. Fiction pays less though because so many people want to do it. And working in-house (in New York) is perceived as much more prestigious than freelancing (from wherever). And you don't have to look far to find an in-house fiction editor struggling to find a way to afford to live in Manhattan. Very prestigious, and a good way to go broke.

So textbook editing is not only non-fiction (not prestigious), it's educational (really not prestigious). And math and science are generally perceived to be unpleasant, and less prestigious than language arts (English) or social studies. So I work on a very low-rung here in the editorial hierarchy as a freelance editor of math and science textbooks. The only editors lower in the hierarchy might be those on trade magazines like Cars n' Boobs. In short, even after editing for a decade, I think many editors (particularly those in-house in fiction) don't actually perceive what I do as editing. It's sort of low-level slogging.

Academia's Perception Within the last decade or two, academia has tried to introduce programs in publishing to train editors, thus trying to establish a sort of editorial certificate where there was not one.

So, in short,

  • I perceive myself as an editor because it's the work I'm paid to do and part of what I do as a daily practice though I'm not called to it;
  • The general populace perceives me as an editor because I'm paid to do it;
  • Other editors perceive me as a low-level yucky pseudo-editor because I work with textbooks and freelance; and
  • Academia wants me to get a credential.