Wednesday, November 08, 2006

MFA and Editing Career

This is a response about Editing Careers and MFAs. It's just the type of thing we'd like for the blog. Thanks spamela77!

I work as a book editor in NYC and I have my MFA in fiction.

I started my (low-res) MFA and a job at Penguin at the same time, about five years ago. It was tough, but I'm really glad I worked in publishing throughout my grad program. I'm actually about to leave my full-time job in the publishing/editing world to write full-time, but I've made so many connections working in publishing that I'll be able to freelance to support myself, and contact several agents I know when my first book is finished.

For me, working in publishing has helped me make contacts and get to a place, professionally, where I could stop working an office job.

It's a great job when you're an MFA student or a young writer, but editing books (especially as you rise through the ranks) will only get in the way of your writing, eventually. Most editors do not do their editing at the office. When my manuscript reading began to eclipse my writing time, and I knew it would only get worse, I decided to quit.

A few very talented editors are able to write and edit full-time (Jill Bialosky being one of the best), but I think they are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Keep in mind I'm talking about the NYC editing/publishing scene, which tends to be very hectic for editors, who are severely underpaid and must often work another job to make ends meet when they are assistants and junior editors. They are often, these days, asked to buy more books than they can ever possibly edit themselves.

To me it feels like you really have to love editing--and it has to be your first love--to make it in NYC editing.

Also know this: even if you have your master's degree, in publishing, you must always start at the bottom. This means becoming an editorial assistant. Becoming an editorial assistant is no easy task. If you want to become an editorial assistant at a literary imprint, it's really difficult. Your MFA might help you a little, there, but a BA from an Ivy League or Seven Sisters school will help more.

Basically, yes an MFA has helped my editing, but (at least in NYC)editing eventually demanded too much of my (writing) time to stick with it.

(sorry so long!)


Writing_PA said...

Excellent post! Thank you! Not too long at all!

Anonymous said...

I've worked as an editor for almost ten years, six of those at Houghton Mifflin in Boston. But I've always edited educational products, textbooks mostly.

The really good part about training at a publishing company is that now I can freelance exclusively and that gives me freedom to write too.

But yes, it's extremely hard work in-house and the pay really sucks.

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