When I graduated with my BA in Literature, my limited work experience and the lousy economic circumstances at the time led me to believe there were no jobs for me. So I promptly moved to Japan and started teaching English.
But after I began looking into grad school programs for translation (and ultimately settled on the MA in Translation and Professional Language Skills at the University of Bath), I learned that there are actually lots of different jobs for people who want to write professionally (but not as novelists). And in the years that I’ve been working since then, I’ve discovered even more possibilities.
So for all those English majors out there (or anyone who dreams of writing on a daily basis), here’s a quick rundown of five writing jobs, what they involve, and how to get them. This is by no means a complete list; it just covers my personal experience with each of these positions.
Job title: Proofreader
Where does a proofreader work? Magazine or newspaper office
What does a proofreader do? Check the proofs of the publication before it goes to print. Let the editor know about any typos, formatting mistakes, or factual inaccuracies.
Typical day: I would arrive, get my hands on the proofs (a printed document that’s very close to what the finished publication should look like), read through them, make notes of any typos, mistakes, or questions; and relay those to the editor.
Pros & cons
Pros: It’s fun to see a publication before the rest of the world.
Cons: Generally not a full-time position.
How do you get a proofreader gig? I once went to interview for an editor job at a magazine, and part of the process involved completing a proofreading test. They ultimately didn’t offer me the editor position, but they called me a few weeks later to see if I’d be interested in proofreading for them.
I got a few other positions after interning at various publications. Once I’d proven my worth as an editorial assistant, the editor or publisher of that magazine offered me the proofreader position. At small publications, the proofreader tends to be a contractor who just comes in for a few hours each week or month rather than a full-time staffer.
Interesting tidbits: Personally, I really like proofreading for a few reasons. First of all, finding a genuine error and catching it before it goes to print is immensely satisfying.
I also like the fact that proofreading is a little more straightforward than editing. With editing, it can sometimes be hard to judge if you’re making a change because it actually improves the piece or if it just makes it sound more like something that you would write. With proofreading, you’re just correcting mistakes, plain and simple.
Job title: Editorial assistant
Where does an editorial assistant work? Magazine, publishing company, or website
What does an editorial assistant do? Research, conduct interviews, edit, proofread, and write articles, and depending on the publication, blog content and social media copy, too.
Typical day: I would often conduct a phone or in-person interview with someone. If that was the case, I’d spend time researching the person, writing the list of questions, making sure all recording equipment was set up properly, etc. Post-interview I’d transcribe and edit the text. I’d also spend a lot of my time researching, writing, or editing other articles.
There’s usually a mix of writing your own pieces and editing or fact-checking those written by others. Fact-checking is a somewhat tedious process that involves finding all the facts in a story (things like the spelling of people’s names, book titles, etc.) and ensuring that they’re accurate. The internet obviously helps a lot with this, but sometimes you do have to try to contact people by phone and it can take forever for them to get back to you.
I also participated in design meetings, so we’d look at mockups the art director had created and give feedback on the images, colors, font choice, layout, etc.
One of the magazines I worked at was a food and lifestyle magazine, so we also did things like test out products that people sent us and recipes that we’d be featuring.
Pros & cons
Pros: If you’ve always loved magazines, it can be a lot of fun to learn how they work and what it takes to get to that finished product.
Cons: In general the hours are long and the pay is low. It’s also not a very promising industry since more and more people consume information digitally rather than in print. Le sigh.
How do you get an editorial assistant gig? Just through finding listings and applying. The interview process generally involves some sort of writing element (like being asked to write a sample article or blog post) as well as a proofreading test.
Interesting tidbits: All the magazines that I’ve worked for have had a surprisingly small number of full-time staff members. They tend to have a core of full-time editorial staff (usually between two and five people) and rely on freelancers (and often unpaid interns) to write the bulk of the content. This means that getting a paid position depends a lot on timing, which can be very frustrating if you’re trying to make the move from unpaid intern to full-time staffer.
As an editorial assistant at food and lifestyle magazine VegNews, I occasionally went to trade shows to help promote the publication and learn about industry trends and the latest products. Here I’m posing with a few coworkers at the Chicago Green Festival.
Job title: Copywriter
Where does a copywriter work? In my case, I worked for a daily deals website. Other copywriters can work for creative agencies or for any type of company that regularly needs to produce written content.
What does a copywriter do? In my case, I wrote and edited the email copy and subject lines for daily deals that went out to subscribers in different geographic areas. In general, a copywriter’s job will vary depending on their client or employer. They might craft copy for a website, flyer, product packaging, or ad campaign—to name just a few!
Typical day: I’d spend the first few hours of the morning proofreading the work of my peers to make sure it adhered to our guidelines, was factually accurate, and had appropriate subject lines. I’d divide the rest of the day between writing original copy, editing copy that was supplied by freelancers, and communicating with freelancers about their work, scheduling, etc.
Pros & cons
Pros: The particular company I worked for was a start-up with a fun atmosphere.
Cons: The work we did was a little repetitive, so it could be hard to come up with dozens of fresh ideas for the same topic day in and day out.
How do you get a copywriter gig? I applied through a job listing on Craig’s List. I initially supplied a writing sample and cover letter, was then asked to provide an editing sample and further writing samples, and finally got invited in for an in-person interview.
This was my first start-up experience, so I was surprised to work in a setting where drinking alcohol was a common part of the work day. Coworkers would regularly crack open a beer around 4 or 5pm, and we occasionally had mimosas or other fancy drinks in the morning for a special occasion. I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case at all startups, but I think it’s a general trend here in San Francisco.
Pumpkin-decorating, giant cookies, caramel apples, and posing in Movember mustaches—just your average day at a San Francisco start-up.
Job title: Curriculum developer
Where does a curriculum developer work? In my case, I worked in the head office of a conversational English school in Tokyo, but other curriculum developers might work at educational publishing companies.
What does a curriculum developer do? Research and consult with linguistics experts, write textbooks, podcast scripts, web content, at-home study guides, and a variety of other learning materials.
Typical day: A typical day in the office usually involved writing material for a textbook, editing my coworkers’ writing, and proofreading various PR documents. For a while, we had a linguistics expert on staff, so I’d regularly meet with him to discuss our overall curriculum strategy and make sure that our materials were aligned with the linguistic theory underpinning our approach to language study.
Once a month, we would go to one of our schools to film our video podcasts. That was a lot of fun since it involved a hair and makeup artist, film and production crew, lots of bright lights, and the chance to meet different people.
Pros & cons
Pros: I enjoyed the variety of projects that I worked on and the podcasts were definitely a highlight. And even though I was writing at work every day, I still had the creativity and energy to pursue freelance writing projects on the side.
Cons: Some of the work could be a little tedious (like writing quizzes) or difficult (like writing high-level business textbooks).
How do you get a curriculum developer gig? In my case, I was an instructor at one of the school’s branches and when I went to a training session, they asked the participants to fill out a survey about their experience and interest in writing and editing. Since I had recently completed an MA in Translation and Professional Language Skills, some of the management thought I might be a good fit for their curriculum development department. They contacted me and invited me in for an interview.
Interesting tidbits: This job gave me a lot of “only in Japan” moments. For example, we often got requests from TV channels for native English speakers. One time I went to participate in a shoot where I just had to stand there and say the words “lettuce only.” I repeated it over and over again and they filmed me saying it from different angles. Apparently it was some sort of joke about a “honeymoon salad” (because it sounds similar to the phrase “let us only”). No one from my company really understood it (I certainly didn’t get it), but apparently it was just what the TV show needed!
Filming the video podcasts was one of my favorite aspects of my curriculum developer position. In this photo, I’m posing with the cast and crew after we wrapped for the day. The “studio” was actually one of our schools!
Job title: Content marketer
Where does a content marketer work? In my case, at AfterCollege! Content marketing is becoming more and more common, so content marketers work in a variety of industries and companies these days.
What does a content marketer do?
In general, content marketers create things like blog posts, videos, podcasts, and e-books.
In my case, I manage the AfterCollege Blog for job-seekers and the Employer Blog for companies looking to improve their university recruiting efforts. I plan our editorial calendar, write and edit content, and oversee our social media presence (with a lot of help from editorial assistant extraordinaire Kellen McKillop!)
Typical day: I often conduct interviews (both over the phone and via email) to learn about people’s jobs, hiring practices, and recruiting practices. I research, write, and edit articles, coordinate with freelancers, and look at blog analytics to plan future content.
Pros & cons
Pros: I love creating content to help college students and recent grads with the job search (I get really excited about the idea that what I am putting my time and energy into is something that can help others).
Cons: Worrying about whether enough people are reading our blog and trying to figure out how to get the word out there!
How do you get a content marketer gig? Through Craig’s List! My former manager, Teresa asked applicants to write a sample blog post. She liked mine, so she asked me to do a phone interview, then invited me in for an in-person interview.
If you’re interested in getting involved in content marketing, I’d suggest two things. One is to start your own blog. It doesn’t really matter what the topic is, it’s just that putting your writing out there, learning about blogging platforms, creating an editorial calendar, etc. are all essential skills for this job, and it’s so easy to do all that on your own.
The second is to spend a lot of time following other companies and individuals. There are so many skilled content marketers out there these days and you can learn a lot by observing them! Some of my personal favorites include my “hoop sensei” Deanne of Hooplovers, business and life coach Marie Forleo, Copyblogger, and The Suitcase Entrepreneur Natalie Sisson.
If you spend time creating your own content (even if no one is paying you for it yet) and observing others, you should be able to make a great impression on potential employers.
Interesting tidbits: I didn’t know what a “content marketer” was when I applied or really even when I started. It turns out that I had all the skills of a content marketer—writing, blogging, experience with social media—I just didn’t know the name of this relatively new job. Content marketing is actually a great fit for anyone with strong writing skills, attention to detail, and creativity.
Homework time! If you’re interested in any career in writing, start developing a portfolio of your work. You can do this through a free site like Carbonmade or Wix, or if you have any web developer friends, see if they can help you get your website set up. Offer to help them with writing or editing in return—or just take them out for pizza.
P.S. Is there another type of writing gig that you’d like to learn about? Let us know in the comments!