I received an email from an undergraduate student who wanted to pick my brain about how to get into editing and publishing as a career. Though my current career is "grad student," I've worked extensively as an editor since 2006. I thought my response could be useful to others, too. I've changed some details for the sake of privacy, but I think the info here could be widely applicable.
Moreover, whenever I spend a while writing something, I feel like it's worthwhile to put it on my blog, too. Maybe that's another piece of advice I want to share. Or maybe it's weird.
Finally, this doubles as a mini-bio when it comes to publications/editing experience, which I think is kind of cool in and of itself.
Hi S.! Nice to meet you.
It's so great that you've found your passion. I'm happy to give you whatever information I have based on my experience.
I'll try to answer your questions in order:
1) How do I get started in the editing and publishing industry/get my foot in the door?
2) To become a proofreader or an editor, do I need to have extensive experience as a published writer first?
The answer to these depends on the type of editing you are looking to do in the future. You could edit magazines/blogs, news, books, journals, etc., and all of these types of editing require different skill sets and have different style guides. No worries if you don't know which type of editing you want to do right now, but if you know you'd rather work for, say, an academic publishing house than a newspaper, let me know, and I'll tailor my answers in the future.
The most important thing you can do is get experience editing rather than publishing your own writing (though that's rad and helpful, too!).
First, have you spoken with the Arts and Humanities Student Council on campus? They have a publications team that publishes essays and fiction written by students multiple times a year. I just went and spoke with the Editor-in-Chief (their office is next to mine) to see if she needed volunteers for editing, and she said yes, and that she'd email me to get in touch. Once I hear from her, I'll forward it to you. I highly recommend getting involved with them because it's fun and it looks great on your CV. I was the Editor-in-Chief in my fourth year here at Western, and though you won't be able to take over as EIC since you're graduating, it would be great to get that experience before you leave Western.
I also volunteered for campus newsletters when I was in undergrad. I didn't work for the Gazette, but it might be worthwhile checking out if they're looking for proofreaders. Here's the volunteer page. It seems that they have a dedicated person answering emails about copyediting, so there's probably a good chance that you can get some work there. I realize that doing both of these things in the last semester of your university career could be a bit much, but the lines on your resume or CV will be helpful, in my opinion.
Back in undergrad, I sent an email to a blog I really like letting them know that I love their work but the writing could use some help. I said I'd volunteer, just for the experience. The publisher wrote me back saying thanks but no thanks, and then six months later wrote me again saying "Actually, if you're still free, we could really use someone to copyedit -- and we'll pay you." I ended up working there for five years, all remotely over the internet. I acknowledge that this was a huge stroke of luck, but I encourage you to try the same thing. If there's something you enjoy reading that produces content daily or weekly, it can't hurt to get in touch with the editorial board and volunteer your services.
As far as publishing your writing, like I said, that won't hurt. If you want to do that, you should totally look into the aforementioned Arts and Humanities publications, the Gazette, and any websites you like to read that accept submissions. Let me know if that's something you're interested in and we can talk more about that, too!
Finally, if you feel like you'd like to start your own publication, I can provide info for that, too. Running your own publication is its own special type of madness, but it provides extensive experience and shows a lot of initiative. I started a graduate student journal during my MA that mirrored and continued the work I did for the Arts and Humanities undergrad journal, and the experience I've gained has been invaluable. Plus, it's really fun to do it your way, for once!
3) Do I need an additional degree or certificate in editing in publishing? If so, is there a specific school/institution that has a good reputation in this area?
As far as a degree in editing/publishing goes, I actually don't have a lot of info on this, because I didn't take that path myself. But I've put my feelers out to see if I know anyone who did, so I'll let you know. I see based on a Google search that Ryerson offers a program in Publishing. It seems pretty comprehensive:
But like I said, I don't know anything about it when it comes to its practical use, or its value for tuition money. I don't know if it would provide funding (but I can make a good guess that it won't), and in my opinion, if you're going to do post-grad degrees, you should do a program where your degree is covered by the school. For example, if Ryerson doesn't offer any funding for this program, it would mean that you're going into a considerable amount of debt (factoring living in Toronto into the picture!) for a degree that might not actually be necessary or even helpful for working in your chosen field. But if you were to attend Western for your MA in English instead, your funding package would cover your tuition, and you're guaranteed a TAship where you'd be grading student papers. Obviously, grad school in English isn't a good idea if you don't love literature as much as you love perfect punctuation, so don't choose an MA in English just because; but I do think it's a viable option for someone looking to go into publishing.
An undergrad degree seems to be the new high school diploma, so an MA might really distinguish you from the crowd of applicants when you go for publishing jobs. What's more is that there are plenty of opportunities to work for publications on campus and elsewhere while you're in grad school. For example, the English department has a publication called Word Hoard that has a rigorous reviewing process and needs keen editors. Once again, I admit my bias toward grad programs that fund you, and that I don't know anything about Ryerson's program, but I think that an MA in English could help you be as competitive in the job market (if not more?). I also think that it would be a better use of your money and time to do something that calls itself a degree -- whether that be at Ryerson or similar or a Master's -- rather than a college certificate. Maybe you should shop around and see what each program could offer? Admissions to grad programs are usually due in January, so you have some time to really do your research (and I'm available to answer questions on this front, too).
4) Does it help to have a web presence? Is it too late to start now?
In general, my response to this question regarding almost any career is yes -- a web presence always helps! Especially if/when you start proofreading and editing for web publications (which are the majority when it comes to editing jobs these days I'm sure). It goes without saying that a web presence needs to be a thoughtful one when it comes to searching for a career. But if you're interested in writing anyway, starting a blog and a Twitter account shouldn't feel too uncomfortable. It's good to have a body of work to point to even if it's a "personal" blog and Twitter. I have my CV online (I call it my portfolio) so you can check that out if you like.
It's DEFINITELY not too late to start! I realize that I come across as a super-keener when it comes to this because I was doing it starting in second year, but I know based on my peers in the PhD now that I'm in the minority there. Most people don't figure out what they want to do until later, and get their feet wet with it in grad school. So you're in good shape!
Sorry this email is so long. Let me know if you have any questions! I'm happy to talk shop anytime.