People ask me how to get into the publishing business all the time. Nice, sincere people with an affinity for words and, perhaps, a degree in English. I don’t even know what to say other than Run! Run! Run away fast! (Wait, did I just say that out loud?)
Honestly, kids, I don’t know what to tell you. Publishing’s in flux right now. (First rule of job-seeking: Know your industry. Know what’s going on with it right now. Know what people in the biz are talking about.) It’s all gonna shake out sooner or later, but jobs in publishing are not particularly thick on the ground at the moment.
But since you asked, this is what you need:
• good handwriting
• to have read a lot of really good books
• a good vocabulary
• a good knowledge of grammar
• a mind for detail, pattern, and organization
• great spelling skills
• familiarity with the Chicago Manual of Style *
• familiarity with proofreaders’ marks
• a willingness to meet deadlines
• an open mind (because you’re not always right, you know!)
• thick skin
You can expect to start as an intern, perhaps. An internship is a foot in the door. I started in marketing. I also wrote a lot of cover copy. Then I started reading book proposals (which was an education in itself). After that, I did a lot of proofing. If you can get work as a proofer, you can move up the publishing food chain from there, as long as you do good work and meet your deadlines.
This is an interesting article about what you might expect if you apply for a job at the University of Chicago Press. It explains the concept of proofing, and describes in detail what the work entails. If you read it and get it without wrinkling your nose, you’ll do fine as a proofer. :)
I always worked on clean pages in a first-pass proof—not “against copy” as in this example. Frankly, the process described here sounds like a second-pass proof to me. That is, the first pages were proofed, corrections were marked, and in the second-pass proof, those corrections were checked against the marked copy. (A copy edit would have so many marks it would be a little crazy to proof against them.)
To this I would add a proofer is not a copyeditor; the task is correction, not revision. When the approved, copyedited pages are typeset, the publisher is looking for errors introduced by the process of typesetting—faulty word breaks, for example—as well as other typographical errors, and doesn’t really want you tweaking sentences unless it’s a truly egregious issue. Do the job you were hired to do.
But how to get hired? That’s definitely the rub. I had the benefit of working for a publisher; when I left, I called all my friends at various houses and asked for work. So I don’t know what seeking a job in this industry looks like, honestly.** But you’re young and smart—you can figure that out. :)
* There are other style guides used by various sectors. The AP Stylebook is used by most newspapers and magazines, for example. APA Style is widely accepted in the social sciences, while the MLA Style Manual is generally used in scholarly publishing.
** Here’s a list of places to look for work from a very thorough editor; she also includes a list of organizations for networking purposes.
UPDATE: There’s more on this subject here.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”