Career Corner: How to be a Children's Book Editor

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Career Corner: How to be a Children's Book Editor

Ginger interviews Kathryn Williams, an associate editor at National Geographic Kids Books

This fall, the Teen Council will be interviewing local professionals for a series called "Career Corner". The goal of this series is to give teens the inside scoop on what it takes to get different jobs. Check out Ginger Holmer's interview with Kathryn Williams, Associate Editor at National Geographic Books. 

Are you interested in becoming an editor? Editors edit pieces of writing in many industries, anything from hotel descriptions to books! Kathryn Williams, an associate editor at National Geographic Kids Books, currently working on the Weird But True series, shares the inside scoop of what it’s like to be an editor and advice to prospective editors. 

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I've been living in D.C. for the last five years working in non-fiction children's publishing at National Geographic. I started off as an assistant, and now I'm an associate editor. I mostly work on books for kids ages 8-12-- with a focus on science and animals. I'm editing National Geographic Kids' Weird But True series right now, as well as a bunch of other cool titles. 

I'm originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, and I went to college at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where I majored in Creative Writing. In high school, I worked at a zoo teaching visitors about animals, and I feel like my job now is the perfect combination of my interest in animals and writing! (My favorite animal is the hognose snake.)

In my free time, I like to make art. I've started painting and embroidering more this year, since we've started working from home and social distancing.

How did you get started as an editor?

I started off as an editorial assistant with pretty much no experience. I did some freelance writing in college, and I was the managing editor of our university literary magazine. But other than that, I just applied to a lot of jobs after graduation and ended up in the right place at the right time. That being said, I've always enjoyed helping my friends (and others) improve their writing and tell better stories.

What do your typical workday and workweek look like? Is it the same type of thing every day or something new?

It's pretty different every day. Some days, I'm doing kind of what you'd expect from an editor: I read manuscripts, line edit them, and send them back to authors for revisions. But other times, I'm collaborating with designers to get all the words and images in a book working together in a way that looks good, or I'm planning a photoshoot, or sometimes I'm even writing part of a book myself. Other days, I'm brainstorming new book ideas. I also do less-exciting but really important things like planning project budgets and reviewing book schedules. 

What’s the most exciting part about your job at National Geographic? What do you like most about being an editor?

I love all the different people I get to work with! It takes writers, editors, designers, photo editors and a bunch of other people to make just one of our books. Plus, at National Geographic, we have the opportunity to meet scientists and explorers who are out in the field learning new information about the world-- and then we get to tell their stories or use their work in our books. 

I also love that I get to learn something new pretty much every day. The books I edit have information about everything from high-tech space travel to the cutest, fluffiest animals on earth. So I'm pretty much a library of random facts at this point. 

What skills have you found vital to your job?

Creativity and flexibility. I brainstorm a lot of ideas for new books, but I also have to be flexible when something doesn't go quite right or when a project turns into something new that I wasn't expecting.

You wrote a book about plants, do you have any personal interest in plants?

I love plants, but I wouldn't say that I particularly have a green thumb! A lot of times when you're editing or writing a book, you have to do a ton of research beforehand just to learn about the topic. In this case, I had a general knowledge of plants, but I also learned a lot while I was writing the book. So, I think writing the book gave me even more of an interest in plants than I had before.

What advice would you give to teens looking to become writers or editors? 

Write and read as much as you can. Try to find opportunities writing for a magazine or online publication, if one is available to you. You might not find the perfect opportunity at first-- I started off writing hotel descriptions!-- but it's great to get out there and just do it. 

What is your favorite book and why?

It's so hard to pick just one! I just read The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, and I loved it. I like to read sci-fi and fantasy in my free time. I love the way sci-fi explores big questions and ideas through imagined settings. And they're often just really fun to read. N.K. I also really love the short story collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell. I'm always impressed when a writer can make something beautiful and weird out of such a short amount of text, and I think Russell is great at that.

Do you have any upcoming future projects that you’re working on you can share?

We keep a lot of our projects under wraps until closer to when they publish, but we have some really fun books that have come out recently. Some of my favorites are Weird But True: Halloween, Pet Records-- an awesome book about the biggest, smallest, most athletic, weirdest, pets in the world-- and Nerdlet: Animals-- a quirky little book about the weird, fascinating animal nerds. They're all non-fiction and full of amazing facts and photographs. 

Kathryn shares that a love for reading and writing, putting yourself out there, being creative, and incorporating your interests can help anyone aspiring to be a professional editor. Get out there and start reading and writing!

Find what you love and read the other Career Corner articles to learn more about potential career options at dclibrary.org/teenscorner.