I’ll be posting more advice on editing and common issues I see, but this post is aimed at giving you a peek at house editors. A lot of authors have no clue how editors get hired at publishing houses. Aspiring house editors sometimes aren’t even sure how the process works until they go through it. It’s different than other jobs where it’s just cover letter, resume, references, and an interview where you chat over your experience with whoever is doing the hiring.
So what to expect when you apply as an editor for publishing houses? Editing tests. Editing tests for every single house. For some, more than one. In order to get hired, you have to be up to snuff on the tests. I saw some statistic floating around that big houses generally only hire about 2% or less of the editors that apply. Talk about tough competition. To get hired and noticed an editor has to be at the top of their game on editing tests. For editors, the test is the interview.
I’ve worked with seven houses and I’ve taken a lot of editing tests. I still hate them. Sure, I edit for a living, but some places purposely try to trick you during the tests. It makes me second guess myself in fear of some trickery going on. Not to mention the nervousness of wanting the position and knowing the text could make or break my chances. But if anywhere offers to hire editors without a test, it’s usually a red flag unless the editor is extremely experienced with references to back that up or was recommended.
What are the editing tests? A lot of places will give you a chapter or two and tell you to edit it. Some places make their tests feel like an English class homework assignment with correcting each sentence and pointing out dangling modifiers. The shortest test I’ve done was probably about three pages, and the longest closer to 50. Granted that last one included part of a few mangas, making it picture heavy. In my experience, the bigger houses often had pretty in-depth tests. Even if you look at indie publishing, editors still take tests in a way. Most editors offer free sample edits, which act as a test for the author to see how they like the editor. So basically as an editor, you’d better get good at tests.
Something I’ve always noticed is that when houses put out calls for editors they usually get swamped, making it easy to get lost in the application pile. Every house that has hired me did it after I e-mailed them up out of the blue and asked if they’d have any openings and how to apply. Most calls for editors I apply to I never hear back from. I think it might have been for Tor, but one of the Big 5 put up an ad for an assistant editor this year and got over 300 applications. Talk about some bad odds if you were one of those 300+ hopefuls.
What’s any of this mean for authors? Well whether you are traditionally published or independent, if you get an editor who has house experience you know they passed an editing test and met standards for whichever house they worked at. This is different than editors who might have no house experience, are just starting out, and offer to work with indie authors. You need to be careful who you hire. When you are traditionally published your house usually picks one of their editors for you. But if you are an indie author, you want to look at an editor’s credentials before hiring them. House experience can be a pretty good sign, but again, look up the houses to make sure they weren’t scams or vanity presses.
And remember, don’t be afraid to get to know your editor!