||Um, are you sure you want to do this? Copy editing isn’t nearly as great a career as one might be led to believe. Then again, I find it hard to imagine doing anything else. If you think you might feel the same way (and you like the idea of working from 3 till midnight), read on.Three things to get you started:
- Get an Internship. If you’re just starting college (or still in college mode, no matter what your age) and you want to be a copy editor, make “internship” your mantra. If the place that hires you as an intern likes you, that place will hire you full time. If the fit isn’t quite so nice, you’ll have invaluable experience and an invaluable addition to your resume.
- Start Small. Copy editors are in high demand, so if you go far enough down the food chain you might find a paper that isn’t exactly inundated with copy-editor applicants, and you might persuade the people there to give you a test or a tryout based on your eagerness. Memorize the AP stylebook and a good list of most commonly misspelled words, and you’ll out-test 90-something percent of the competition, no matter how much experience they have. If you can test well and interview well, you’re in.
- Explore Your Options. Keep in mind that there are plenty of copy-editing and “production editing” (copy editing plus layout and maybe paste-up and whatever) jobs at places other than newspapers. Non-profit organizations, big companies — any place that publishes anything, even if it’s just a newsletter. It might not be where you want to end up, but jobs like that can build a resume to the point where a daily newspaper would be willing to give you a chance. One of my younger brothers got an entry-level editing position mainly by knowing his stuff and testing well, and he’s worked his way up through half a dozen jobs and is now doing quite well at his second daily newspaper. As you might imagine, geographical flexibility will go a long way toward determining your success via this route. If you’re determined to start at an actual newspaper, this might mean living in a small town. If you decide to start with a non-newspaper editing job, a big city is the best place to look.
Bill Walsh, chief of the Business copy desk at The Washington Post, also runs The Slot (www.theslot.com), a World Wide Web site on usage and editing. This article is reprinted from the site with permission. Walsh’s first book, “Lapsing Into a Comma,” was published in August 2000.