Changing Careers: From Book Editing to Technical Editing

Written by Leslie Brown

I wanted to be a writer for most of my life, but with a college degree in creative writing, it wasn’t easy to find a job or a career. I knew it was wishful thinking to think I might someday become a successful novelist or poet. So what then?

My career as a book editor

I searched around for any job that had something to do with writing or editing. Luckily I got a break, and I was hired as an assistant editor for a book publishing company in Los Angeles. Aside from answering phones and typing author and agent correspondence, I reviewed unsolicited manuscripts and made publishing recommendations based on character and plot development. I had stumbled into the beginning of my editing career.

After a year I made the move to New York. All the major publishing houses were there and it wasn’t hard to find another position as a book editor. The only problem was that on an assistant editor’s salary, the city was a struggle. So I moved back to Los Angeles and found a job at one of the only book publishing companies in the area. Once hired, I worked with famed authors and budding novelists. But soon the company cut back its business and most of us lost our jobs. So what then?

Introduction to computers

While pouring over lists of jobs, I kept seeing ads for word processors. It was 1983, and I didn’t know what they were. But if it had something to do with words, I thought I’d better find out. One day soon after, I saw a free introductory class to word processing. When I got to the class, the instructor asked if someone would help demonstrate what a word processor could do. I volunteered, and as I moved words around on the screen and formatted them with simple commands, I became completely hooked.

The personal computer industry was growing fast, and I thought there must be something a writer could do. As it turned out, there was a great need for computer manuals. I felt a door open.

My career as a technical editor

Again I got lucky, and without too much effort I landed a job as a technical editor at a major computer company. I completely embraced the technology, and my new career took off. Working closely with programmers, subject matter experts, and graphic designers, I wrote and edited user guides, installation manuals, online Help, computer-based training, release notes, and later, web content. There didn’t seem to be an end to the technical communication opportunities.

Today I am still fascinated by technology, and am still writing about aspects of it.

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