Top 5 skills an Editorial Assistant needs

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Zoe Sharples is Temporary General Editorial Assistant at Vintage Books, and a student on the UCL MA in Publishing. She has recently completed internships with The Publishers Association and Granta & Portobello Books. She is an Editorial Committee member of the Society of Young Publishers. 

1) Communication

Forget about those hard skills like Biblio, Adobe and Office for a second; I’m going to focus on some vitally important soft skills. The cheese to the crackers. And who doesn’t like cheese? Verbal and written communication are essentials. You’ve got to be able to pick up the phone, no matter who’s on the other end: relax, take details and don’t be afraid to say you’ll call back. Most people are nice, and you are a competent snowflake. When you’re communicating with the written word, think about the context you’re writing in and who your audience is. We’re all about readers, so make their day with your well-crafted email/blog post/blurb.

2) Attention to Detail

I don’t think this is specific to Editorial, but it certainly comes in handy. Everyone has hiccups, but being able to maintain your attention to detail throughout a working day is vital, especially with multiple tasks on the go. This skill encompasses not only spelling and grammar but replying to emails in a timely manner, following up with contacts and ensuring you have all the information you need before a meeting. If you’re writing a cover letter to apply for an Editorial Assistant role, make sure you’ve triple checked it.

3)  Initiative

I’m going to sidle creativity in with this one, a cheeky 3.1. Never think, ‘I am doing an administrative task’. You are probably doing an administrative task, but consider where your task fits in to the publishing process. Think about the most efficient way to achieve the task. If you’re reading a manuscript which is up for consideration, make connections to current books/films/trends. When you’re investigating image rights before sending to a foreign publisher, make like you’re on Heir Hunters.

4)  Teamwork

Linking in with NO.1 – communication – make sure you converse with your colleagues. Get to know what they do, and ask if you can be of any help. If you’re given a task by someone, keep that person updated on your progress. At interview stage, you’re thinking, ‘I hope they like me’; remember, it’s important to gel with the team, too. I’ve been lucky enough to work in wonderfully interesting and diverse teams, each with a good sense of humour and a mutual objective.

 5)  Organisation

If you’re reading BookMachine, I’m sure you’re well-organised. I constantly use all of my will-power and the myriad tools at my disposal (calendar, diary, apps, pens) to remain organised. The most valuable thing I’ve learnt so far is the importance of prioritising tasks, and being realistic with allocating your time. Try not to productively procrastinate, with too many networking events or that wonderful book your friend just lent you. I’m still learning.

 Thanks to Norah Myers for sourcing this guest post. 

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