In the comments sections, an author asked me what someone could do to "prepare" for a job in the editorial department, and I responded by listing some of the things I look for when hiring an assistant or intern:
-passion for children’s books: you need to be well read, ideally in a wide variety of genres–not too helpful if you only read fantasy, or only read romance. Be able to speak about the books you’ve read in a way that goes beyond “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it”
-bookstore or library experience shows a commitment to working with books.
-internships with publishers or literary agencies also show commitment to working in publishing.
-working with children is a plus, too.
-taking classes specifically in children’s literature at college or otherwise shows passion/interest as well
I thought I'd expand on this a bit to talk more about other things one could do to prepare for a job as an editorial assistant, and therefore a future editor.
In addition to the above, you could also:
-Take a writing class, and/or read books on writing. A few I'd recommend: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, On Writing by Stephen King, and The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner. This will help with the editing process.
-Take a class in advertising or marketing writing, and/or study jacket copy: practice writing your own jacket copy
-Join a book club, practice speaking critically about books
-Hone your public speaking skills: as an editor, you'll have to present books at acquisitions meetings and sales meetings in front of rooms ranging from 10 people to 50 people. It's also helpful to be able to give talks at conferences, sometimes for rooms up to 1,000 people. The latter isn't a requirement, but it's a good skill to have. Join Toastmasters!
-Take a proofreading and/or copyediting course, and/or study up on grammar rules and learn proofreader marks.
-Read up about the publishing industry: read Publisher's Weekly, School Library Journal, the Horn Book, blogs (Fuse #8, Galley Cat, Nathan Bransford's, etc.), articles, book reviews, etc. It's especially helpful nowadays to try to keep up with what's going on with electronic publishing.
-Read read READ as much as you can. Read both classics and contemporary work. Read as many different genres as you can. Have your preferences, both in terms of genre and format, but be able to evaluate books of all genres and age groups.
-Learn how to juggle ;)
Here are the qualities/skills I think are most essential for gaining a job as an editorial assistant:
-ability to multitask
-ability and willingness (no, eagerness) to tackle administrative duties such as filing, photocopying, and answering phones
-love reading and books!
-be able to speed read
-be able to also read carefully
-passion and energy
-ability to work well with others
-ability to keep calm under pressure
-good spoken and written communication skills
If you're serious about working in publishing, you'll have to move to where the companies are: mainly New York, Boston, and San Francisco. It's extremely hard to get an interview if you're not in the city where the job is located--I believe this will be the case no matter what industry you're trying to break into. As I told another commenter:
If you want to work for a publishing company, you’ll probably have to move to where one is. Most are in NY, some in the Boston area, a few in CA…but if you’re not able to relocate, you could research to see if there are any literary agents living nearby, and see if they need interns and/or manuscript readers. As I mention above, you could also work in a bookstore or library. There are many ways to have a career in books! But it’s tough to break into an industry if you don’t live where the industry is housed.
And finally, if you're interviewing for a job in children's editorial:
-Be prepared to answer the questions: What are your favorite books? and What have you read recently that you've liked? Why? If you haven't read any children's or young adult books in the last six months or so, the interviewer may question your commitment and love of children's books.
-Make sure you've done your research, both about the publishing company (know and have read a number of books published by the company) and the person interviewing you (I fully expect people I interview to have Googled me and found my blog).
-Practice standard interview questions, such as, What are your strengths and weaknesses? and Where do you see yourself in five years? For the latter, if you say that you see yourself anywhere other than in publishing still, don't expect to get the job over candidates who want to be in publishing long-term.
-Above all, show your passion and interest in children's books
I hope this is helpful! Any questions?
In other news, I love this blog post about tackling social media. Also, the School Library Journal Battle of the Kids' Books is beginning! Yarrr!