Guidance for the Publishing Field

Meet our esteemed alumna, Trish Brown, a valued member of both Binghamton University’s alumni circle and our dynamic Fleishman Career Center team. With a genuine passion for literature and a natural talent for wordsmithing, her journey from student to professional in the editing and publishing world is truly inspiring. Below, she graciously shares her insights, drawn from her time at Binghamton and her subsequent career experiences. From the pivotal role her alma mater played in shaping her career trajectory to the essential skills demanded in today’s editorial landscape, she offers invaluable advice with a blend of expertise and encouragement. I invite you to delve into her words and absorb the wisdom, especially if you’re a college student aspiring to venture into the realms of publishing and beyond.

How did your experience at Binghamton help prepare you for your first position after graduation?

My experience as a student at Binghamton University solidified my desire to pursue a career involving books, reading, writing, and/or editing in some fashion. I had some truly inspiring professors in the English Department who were instrumental in my decision to become an English major. I developed a deep appreciation for literature and was able to practice and improve my persuasive and creative writing skills through the courses I took. Upon graduating, when I saw an entry-level position at a local publishing firm, I saw it as a chance to get my foot in the door, and eventually I moved up through the ranks. Even though I learned much of the practical knowledge I needed to work in the field of publishing on the job, Binghamton University provided me with a solid foundation in critical thinking, taught me to be disciplined, and bolstered my confidence in my abilities. It also gave me an expansive worldview that served me well when working on books and scholarly journals in a range of subjects and with authors from around the world.

For a career in your field, what skills do you think are most important right now?

Although I’m working in higher education right now here at Binghamton University, I still do freelance copyediting and proofreading on the side, and these two fundamental high-level skills are the ones you need to be a successful freelance editor or proofreader. These skill sets involve much more than spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and you will need to develop a professional-level understanding and proficiency because the field is very competitive. You may be able to get some of this training on the job, like I did. But if you really want a leg up in preparing to enter the field, there are a number of certificate or master’s-level publishing programs available that will teach you the practical, day-to-day processes of the publishing world. If you’re not quite ready to make that kind of commitment, the Editorial Freelancers Association offers affordable online editing and proofreading courses and even has a section on their website called Paths to Freelance Editing Careers. Other resources include the University of Chicago’s Certificate Program in Editing, ACES: The Society for Editing, and the ACES Guide for New Editors. Becoming familiar with the major style guides in the industry you are interested in is essential, as many freelance opportunities require you to be proficient with specific style guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA Style Guide), or Associated Press style. Like many organizations, Binghamton University even has its own style guide for communications and marketing professionals on campus whose jobs revolve around creating content. Additional, more general skills that are essential in the editing/proofreading field: being highly organized and extremely detail-oriented!

What is one thing you think a student can do before senior year to be ready for the job search?

See what relevant courses are being offered by the English Department, such as RHET 440P, Editing a Literary Magazine. Get as much editorial experience as you can, in whatever way you can. Join the staff of Pipe Dream or an on-campus literary magazine. Become their copy editor or proofreader if that is where your interest lies. Then springboard off that experience into an internship at the type of organization that you think you would like to work at. It might be on campus, such as in the Communications and Marketing Department. Or it might be at a big-name publisher, such as Penguin Random House or Simon & Schuster, who have established internship programs, some of them even offering remote options. The staff of the Fleishman Career Center can help you find other editorial internship opportunities, and even let you know where other BU students with similar career interests have interned. Anywhere there is content being created (which is basically everywhere), there is a need for someone to edit or proofread it before it goes out into the world.

What is the best piece of career advice you would give to current students?

My best advice would be to get as much practical experience and knowledge as you can while in school to make yourself a strong candidate for an entry-level editorial position. It is much easier to start off in an in-house position and then transition to freelancing either full time or on the side like I do, because you will build the skills and connections you need to get regular work as a freelancer.

Also, although the word “networking” can be intimidating, I have a story to tell about how a single connection can make a big difference in the direction of your career. As a freelancer, I was interested in branching out from academic, scholarly editing to trade or popular publishing. Even with my editing experience, when I applied on the job section of the website of one of the big trade publishers, I did not hear anything back. But when I reached out on LinkedIn to an in-house production editor at the same company, she agreed to let me take editing and proofreading tests for her. Happily, I did well on the tests, she added me to the freelance pool, and I started to be assigned interesting projects such as editing young adult fiction. An editing test also allowed me to secure a freelance job with an educational organization that I have been doing for almost three years. One of the advantages of this field is that you will often be given a chance to demonstrate your skills by taking a test. Keep in mind that these tests are intentionally challenging, because the professional administering the test wants to be sure you have a comprehensive understanding of all the things you need to be looking for and keeping track of beyond basic punctuation and spelling. The level of proficiency required only comes with training and/or experience (see above!).

Finally, check out online job descriptions for freelance editors/proofreaders or entry-level editorial positions and see what organizations are looking for. If you do this now, you can begin to take the steps to acquire the skills, knowledge, and experience you need to confidently apply when the time comes!

By Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith Senior Career Consultant