If you’re like me, certain editorial projects peak your interest more than others. For me it’s horror, but others may favor historical fiction, memoirs, or short story collections. While focusing on these types of projects may speak to your individual passion and expertise as an editor, is pursuing a specialized career path an option in a world filled with such broad topics?
The quandary of specialist versus generalist is not unique to the world of publishing, with leaders across many industries advocating for one over the other. Bill Gates has come to the defence of generalists, crediting Microsoft’s success to generalists that have broad experiences. Others, however, warn against the old adage about the jack-of-all-trades, but master of none. They argue that specialists have deeper knowledge of subjects and are more aware of emerging opportunities and patterns within those subjects.
The benefits of specialization really comes down to what subject matters you wish to pursue. Editing literary fiction requires less specialization than something more technical, which may demand an editor be familiar with narrow topics and industry terms not well known to the general public. On the other hand, literary fiction still requires editors who know how to work with fiction writing. For instance, an editor who works mostly with memoir or nonfiction would probably not be a good fit for to edit a piece of pure fiction. Because of this, the line between specialization and generalist becomes blurred due to different levels of specialization.
Specialization not only comes down to genre, but also the levels and types of editing you are preforming. For instance, it may be more beneficial to be a specialist in historical fiction when doing a developmental edit, but not necessarily needed when copyediting the same piece of writing. This offers an opportunity to further refine your specialization within specific genres and subjects, but be wary of narrowing your field too far to be effective. Focusing in a popular genre could make you an in-demand editor, while working exclusively within a less utilized topic could eliminate other opportunities outside of your specialization.
So what does this all mean for entering a career in editing? Is it still possible to specialize in a genre you love? Yes! Being passionate about a particular genre or subject matter will mean that your editing will benefit the writer and help them refine their work. That being said, more doors will be open to you if you embrace broadening the types of projects you take on. This leaves room to pursue your unique passions and interests while also being a strong editor in other areas.
Editing pieces that speak to you or at least peak your interest certainly makes working as an editor more interesting, but I think there is a fine line between being a versatile editor and a specialist with too narrow of an expertise. There is certainly a balance to be struck between these two ranges of editing, and finding a good balance for yourself could result in being successful in the industry while still being able to work with the type of writing you are interested in. While some may warn about being a jack-of-all-trades but master of none, remember it can be better than being a master of one.