Authors, Writers, and Editors
Every year, thousands of college graduates launch careers in the literary industry. The majority of these individuals find work as authors, writers and/or editors. Though these three professions are often lumped together, each one requires unique skills that lead to a wide range of employment opportunities.
An author is generally defined as one who creates something. In the literary industry, the term has come to mean one who composes original works, submits them for publication and is entitled to copyright protection. Book authors typically negotiate with literary agents and publishing companies; today, many book authors also assist during the marketing stages of publication. Article authors (also known as journalists), on the other hand, typically deal with newspaper, magazine, or blog editors, though high-profile authors and publications may also necessitate the involvement of a literary agent.
Most authors study English literature or creative writing at the collegiate level. Most accredited four-year universities offer a diverse range of courses within their English departments. Literature classes typically focus on notable works that share a common thread, such as their country of origin, the nature of their protagonists or socioeconomic themes. Creative writing classes also target specific competencies, such as poetry, short fiction, novels, screenplays or children’s works. The workshop method, in which students break into small groups and critique one another’s work before it is submitted for a final grade, is still commonly practiced at the university level. Graduate programs for authors often require the student to compose an entire full-length novel; some additionally require the student to market and publish their work.
The term ‘writer’ is often used synonymously with ‘author’. For the purpose of this article, however, writer is defined as someone who produces written content that is his or her own original work. These individuals are also known as technical writers, and their work can be found in product manuals, journals, government documents and grant proposals – not to mention all over the Internet.
Technical writers also typically study their craft at the collegiate level. Rather than focusing on creative composition, these students tend to focus on technical courses that present writing in abstract, inflexible terms. Most accredited universities offer technical writing course sequences; journalism classes, such as newswriting or proofreading, are also useful for aspiring technical writers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, operated by the US Department of Labor, authors and writers earned a median annual income of $55,420 in 2010, which translates to roughly $26.64 per hour. Roughly 145,900 jobs writer and author positions existed that year, and the entire industry is expected to grow by 6 percent by 2020 – a difference of nearly 10,000 jobs. However, technical writing employment rates are expected to grow by 18 percent by 2018.
Authors typically find work in the freelancing field, which mostly involves contractual work instead of long-term employment. Authors who publish books support themselves from royalties generated by sales of their works. They usually earn a nominal royalty percentage (8 percent or so) for the first 10,000 copies sold; when this number is reached, the royalty percentage increases.
Technical writers have far more employment opportunities than authors – and with the rise of web-based companies and services, this demand has only increased further. Most companies employ at least one professional who can translate product information, business terminology and other dense language into user-friendly reading material, such as brochures or press releases. Online technical writers focus on building content and optimizing web pages for search engines, a complex process known as search engine optimization (SEO). And as more companies begin to shift to a predominantly online business plan (as is predicted by worldwide economists), SEO skills will only become more valuable to employers.
A common link between writers and authors is that both professions ultimately answer to an editor. These individuals are charged with maintaining correct grammar, linguistic consistency, accuracy and stylistic guidelines for a given publication. They often perform the final necessary steps before a published work is available for public viewing.
Aspiring editors often take the same classes as would-be authors and writers during preliminary college years. However, these students usually supplement their English department requirements with supplemental courses pertaining to computer science and graphic design, since modern-day publishing typically requires skills related to web layout and content management. Employers also seek out editors who can write hypertext mark-up language (HTML), the technical backbone of web content; however, many online writing platforms (such as WordPress and Blogger) allow publishers to bypass the HTML stage.
According to BLS, editors earn a slightly lower median annual income than writers and authors – just above $52,000, according to May 2011 figures. More than 57,000 editors work for newspapers, periodicals and book or directory publishers. Others find work in other fields, such as information technology/software publishing, filmmaking, radio and television broadcasting, political organizations or academia.
Editors’ Association of Canada: Education and employment tips for aspiring editors.
EditFast: An employment resource for professional editors, proofreaders and technical writers.
WritersNet: An educational resource for aspiring writers, publishers and literary agents.
AgentQuery: An extensive database of literary agents.
Technical Writing Tutorial: An independent study resource, courtesy of MIT.
The Authors’ Guild: An organization that assists authors, particularly with regard to copyright protection.