What Can I Do With An English Major

By: Jessica Romrell

The Editing Minor

The number one question I get when I tell people I am an English major is, “What are you going to do with that?”

At first, I never knew how to answer this question. The truth was that I just love English, and I chose the English major because I love the study of literature and I love to read and write.

And if I’m being honest (and I know I’m not the only one here), the other reason I could never answer that question was because I always wondered what would happen if I got married, and my primary role was not to be the moneymaker.

One day I said to my dad, “I just want to get paid to read! Can I just get paid to read?” Not long after that, I saw the movie The Proposal. The main character in the movie played by Sandra Bullocks plays an editor at an established publishing company. For her job, she read manuscripts, talked to authors, and published books. She got paid to read books.

From that point on, I determined that someday I would get paid to read. That started my journey into editing. I found the editing minor at BYU, which is full of courses that are made for grammar geeks and book nerds.

What is Editing?

Whenever people ask me this, I tell them that editing is what happens when a book nerd and a grammar geek are combined. Editing involves working with an author to make changes on their manuscript to make them look better.

And editor is the go-between person between a reader and a writer (and sometimes also a publisher). An editor will help the author say what they’re trying to say, and say it well. An editor will be behind the scenes, helping the reader by making the sentence structure of a manuscript clear.

An editor gets paid to read, but even more than that, to think, to find gaps and plot holes, places where characters could be developed greater. And an editor also finds the misspellings in a document, the subject-verb agreement errors, and other things that will make the author look good.

There are two main elements to editing: substantive editing and copy editing. Substantive editing is working with the big picture. Are there plot holes? Does this character say something that seems “out of character?” Did Sonya just walk in the door twice in one paragraph, but never walk out? This is the essence of substantive editing.

Copy editing involves fixing the commas that are out of place. That quote that isn’t quite correct, and the “they’re” that should really be “their.”

Options Within Editing and Publications

There is a secret about on-campus jobs that few people know. There are two jobs offered just about anywhere on campus, and they happen to be the two highest-paying student jobs: computer programming and editing.

Almost every college on campus has their own computer programmers and their own editors. Student editing jobs run from $11 an hour to $15 an hour.

In the world of publishing, everyone needs an editor. There are four main areas involved with the editing world: magazine editing, book editing, freelancing, and graphic design.

Magazine Editing

Magazine editing involves editing articles that will be published in a magazine. This means that you are probably working with the same few authors, with an occasional new author. In magazine editing, you work on site and with several other editors performing rounds of substantive and copy edits on articles. In general, when working with magazines, you will be involved in all stages of editing, not any particular one.

Magazine editing is fast-paced, and deadlines are of the utmost importance (since most magazines publish on a monthly basis), meaning you will almost always be busy. However, magazine editing can be highly rewarding, and will make you an expert on a host of topics. As an editor, you will be reading articles that fall into many different genres, and you will have to learn a lot about a specific topic in a very short period of time. But if you like to learn, this is a wonderful option for you!

Book Editing

Book editing is what I witnessed in The Proposal. In book editing, you work for a publishing company. Most publishing companies already limit the genres that they publish. For instance, the publishing company Tor specifically publishes science fiction and fantasy novels. However, there are many publishing companies that publish books in several genres.

In book publishing, you will not necessarily be involved in all stages of editing. Many publishing companies will hire a specific editor to be in charge of acquisitions and substantive editing and a different editor to be in charge of the copy editing. This means you will specialize in one particular area.

In book editing, there is also an added element of pitching ideas. This is especially true if you are the editor in charge of acquisitions. When you find a submission that you think is publish-worthy, you would then pitch it to the board and try and convince them to buy it.

Unlike magazine editing, in book editing, you will likely be working with a different author each time. Occasionally you will work with an author who is writing a series being published by your company, but each time you edit you’ll be editing something new.

The editing will also likely be genre specific, taking away the element of learning that you’d get from magazine editing, but adding an element of fun. This is especially fun if you just love to read.

Beware of confidentiality! As much as you love to read these books and as much as you just want to go home and talk about them with all of your friends, most publishing companies maintain a confidentiality policy that prohibits you from saying anything about any of the submissions before the books are actually published.

Freelance Editing

Freelance editing is becoming bigger and bigger as self-publishing is increasing. Traditionally, when an author wants to publish a book, they submit to a publishing company, who buys their book. Then their book goes through editing with the editors hired by said company, and then the book gets published!

This option has traditionally been the most common because publishing a book is very complicated and often very expensive. There is the editing, of course, but then there is also the designing of the book, selecting the art, contracting with book stores, and then, of course, the actual printing of the book, which is very expensive.

Publishing companies often have their own photographers, already have contracts set up with various book stores, and get discounted prices on printing because they print so often.

However, recent print on demand technology has changed everything. Now, there are options to sell your book through electronic websites like Amazon, reducing the cost of printing. While this is still far more expensive for the author, there are still many authors out there who prefer self-publishing to a publishing company.

This has opened up a whole new area of freelancing editing. These authors still need editors to edit the book. They still need designers to design the book. But instead of working for a company, this work can now be done at home.

With freelancing, you will likely acquire friends as you edit. People will send you their work, like it (or not) and then send you any work they do in the future. You will also get a variety of work, ranging from editing blog articles to novels to technical manuals.

Some of the work will be boring, but it can all be done from home, which provides a fantastic option to stay-at-home moms who want to earn money on the side.

Graphic Design

Graphic design is an area that is oddly linked in with the editing minor. As you progress through the courses and volunteer on student journals, you will find more and more “editing minors” who don’t really want to edit, they want to design.

As a designer for a magazine, book company, or even as a freelancer, you will work primarily with InDesign in the creation of documents and books. You will choose the art that goes best with the book, the fonts for the title, where the page numbers will fall, what colors will be used, and everything else that goes into the final product of a book.

This can be very fun. If you like to create things, this is the niche for you! Many companies (book or magazine) will hire a designer who never touches the manuscript except when they are placing it into the design frames of the templates they have created.

The Big Picture

The truth is that there are endless options within editing. You could work as a freelancer from home. You could work for a publishing company. You could be a blog writer, and edit the blogs for a company. You could work as a technical editor, editing the instruction manuals for crockpots.

There is never any shortage of things to read, which means that there is always a need for editors. If you noticed right off the bat that Harry Potter saw thestrals in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but the carriages were still horseless at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire after Cedric died, editing is the right minor for you. Whether you’re a writer, designer, creator, reviser, or just someone who loves to read, there is a place within editing for you.

One thought on “What Can I Do With An English Major

  1. Susan Dahl

    Fascinating article! I started out with an English major in college in New Zealand, but asked myself that famous question: “What am I going to do with this major?” And that is when I started my journey on the path to becoming a teacher to enthuse children to read.

    Thanks for sharing this comprehensive discussion of the various aspects of editing. I know you love it! You are in the right place.

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