Authors, Writers, and Editors - What They Do

Authors, Writers, and Editors Authors, writers and editors produce a wide variety of written materials in an increasing number of ways. They develop content using any number of multimedia formats that can be read, listened to, or viewed onscreen. Although many people write as part of their primary job, or on online chats or blogs, only writers and editors who are paid to primarily write or edit are included in this occupation

Writers and authors develop original written materials for books, magazines, trade journals, online publications, company newsletters, and advertisements. Their works are classified broadly as either fiction or nonfiction and writers often are identified by the type of writing they do—for example, novelists, playwrights, biographers, and textbook writers. Writers such as songwriters, screenwriters, or scriptwriters, produce content for radio and television broadcasts, motion pictures, and other types of performance. An increasing number of writers are producing scripted material directly for the Web and other communication devices.

Copy writers prepare advertising copy for use in publications or for broadcasting and they write other materials to promote the sale of a good or service. They often must work with the client to produce advertising themes or slogans and may be involved in the marketing of the product or service.

All writers conduct research on their topics, which they gather through personal observation, library and Internet research, and interviews. Some staff writers who work in the newspaper or magazine publishing industry are news analysts, reporters, and correspondents and like most writers are typically assigned articles to write by editors and publishers, and may propose their own story ideas. Writers, especially of nonfiction, are expected to establish their credibility with editors and readers through strong research and the use of appropriate sources and citations. Writers and authors then select the material they want to use, organize it, and use the written word to express story lines, ideas, or to convey information. With help from editors, they may revise or rewrite sections, searching for the best organization or the right phrasing.

Most writers and editors use desktop or electronic publishing software, scanners, and other electronic communications equipment in the production of their material. In addition, because many writers today prepare material directly for the Internet, such as online newspapers and text for video games, they should be knowledgeable about graphic design, page layout, and multimedia software. In addition, they should be familiar with interactive technologies of the Web so that they can blend text, graphics, and sound together. Some writers maintain blogs or issue text messages as a way of keeping in touch with readers or providing information to them quickly, but only those who are paid to write their blogs or send text messages may be considered writers.

An increasing number of writers today are freelance writers—that is, they are self-employed and make their living by selling their written content to book and magazine publishers, news organizations, advertising agencies, or movie, theater, or television producers or by working under contract with an organization. Some writers may be commissioned by a sponsor to write a script; others to write a book on the basis of a proposal in the form of a draft or an outline. Many freelance writers are hired to complete specific short-term or recurring assignments, such as contributing a column or a series of articles on a specific topic to a news agency or for an organization's newsletter.

Editors review, rewrite, and edit the work of writers. They also may do original writing. An editor's responsibilities vary with the employer and type and level of editorial position held. Editorial duties may include planning the content of books, journals, magazines, and other general-interest publications. Editors also review story ideas proposed by staff and freelance writers then decide what material will appeal to readers. They review and edit drafts of books and articles, offer comments to improve the work, and suggest possible titles. In addition, they may oversee the production of publications. In the book-publishing industry, an editor's primary responsibility is to review proposals for books and decide whether to buy the publication rights from the author.

Most editors begin work as writers. Those who are particularly adept at identifying stories, recognizing writing talent, and interacting with writers, may be interested in editing jobs.

Major newspapers and newsmagazines usually employ several types of editors. The executive editor oversees assistant editors, and generally has the final say about what stories are published and how they are covered. Assistant editors have responsibility for particular subjects, such as local news, international news, feature stories, or sports. The managing editor usually is responsible for the daily operation of the news department. Assignment editors determine which reporters will cover a given story.

In smaller organizations—such as small daily or weekly newspapers—a single editor may do everything or share responsibility with only a few other people. Executive and managing editors typically hire writers, reporters, and other employees. They also plan budgets and negotiate contracts with freelance writers, sometimes called “stringers” in the news industry. Copy editors review copy for errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling and check the copy for readability, style, and agreement with editorial policy. They suggest revisions, such as changing words and rearranging sentences and paragraphs, to improve clarity or accuracy. They may also carry out research and confirm sources for writers and verify facts, dates, and statistics. In addition, they may arrange page layouts of articles, photographs, and advertising; compose headlines; and prepare copy for printing.

Editors often employ others, such as interns, fact checkers, or editorial assistants, for some entry-level positions. While gaining practical experience in a newsroom, they may carry out research and verify facts, dates, and statistics for other writers. In addition, they may arrange page layouts of articles, photographs, and advertising; compose headlines; and prepare copy for printing. Publication assistants who work for book publishing houses may read and evaluate manuscripts submitted by freelance writers, proofread printers' galleys, and answer inquiries about published material. Assistants on small newspapers or in smaller media markets may compile articles available from wire services or the Internet, answer phones, and proofread articles.

Work Environment

Writers and authors held about 143,200 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of writers and authors were as follows:

  • Self-employed workers - 68%
  • Professional, scientific, and technical services - 9%
  • Information - 8%
  • Educational services; state, local, and private - 3%
  • Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations - 2%

Writers and authors may work anywhere they have access to a computer.

Jobs are somewhat concentrated in major media and entertainment markets—California, New York, Texas, and Washington, DC—but improved communications and Internet capabilities allow writers and authors to work from almost anywhere. Some writers and authors prefer to work and travel to meet with publishers and clients and to do research or conduct interviews in person.

Work Schedules

Some writers and authors work part time. Most keep regular office hours, either to stay in contact with sources and editors or to set up a writing routine, but many set their own hours. Others may need to work evenings and weekends to produce something acceptable for an editor or client. Self-employed or freelance writers and authors may face the pressures of juggling multiple projects or continually looking for new work.

Education & Training Required

A bachelor’s degree or higher is typically needed for a job as an author, writer, or editor. Because writing skills are essential in this occupation, many employers like to hire people with degrees in communications, journalism, or English, but those with other backgrounds and who can demonstrate good writing skills may also find jobs as writers. Writers who want to focus on writing about a particular topic may need formal training or experience related to that topic. For example, textbook writers and fashion editors may need expertise in their subject areas that they acquired either through formal academic training or work experience. The Internet and other media allow some people to gain writing experience through blog posts, text messages, or self-publishing software. Some of this writing may lead to paid assignments based upon the quality of the writing, unique perspective, or the size of the potential audience, without regard to the absence of a degree.

Training and experience for author, writer, and editor jobs can be obtained by working on high school and college newspapers, community newspapers, and radio and television stations and submissions to literary magazines. College theater and music programs offer playwrights and songwriters an opportunity for them to have their work performed. Many magazines, newspapers, and broadcast stations also have internships for students. Interns may write stories, conduct research and interviews, and learn about the publishing or broadcasting business.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)

Authors, writers and editors must be able to express ideas clearly and logically and should enjoy writing. Creativity, curiosity, a broad range of knowledge, self-motivation, and perseverance are also valuable. Authors, writers, and editors must demonstrate good judgment and a strong sense of ethics in deciding what material to publish. In addition, the ability to concentrate and to work under pressure is essential. Editors also need tact and the ability to guide and encourage others in their work.

Familiarity with electronic publishing, graphics, Web design, and multimedia production increasingly is needed. Use of electronic and wireless communications equipment to send e-mail, transmit work, and review copy often is necessary. Online publications require knowledge of computer software and editing tools used to combine text with graphics, audio, video, and animation.

Authors, Writers, and Editors - What They Do - Page 2

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