What Do You Do? Editor vs. Copyeditor vs. Copywriter

{Image via Duke Yearlook}

No one really understands anyone else’s job completely, but I wanted to give a shot at explaining what’s the difference among three popular writing jobs: an editor, a copyeditor, and a copywriter. In short, one is writing, one is grammar, and one is selling. I’ve professionally held two of these three positions, but part of each job is performing a combination of all of these tasks. Here goes nothing…

As a magazine editor or newspaper editor, you’re not just editing other people’s work. You’re a writer first and foremost. As a newspaper editor, (in theory) you get to send out all of your reporters to do the dirty work like attending city council meetings or reporting on breaking news for your beat (the department you’re in charge of). But mostly, you have to do the work yourself. A reporter may write a story for you, but then you have to edit the article ruthlessly — and possibly re-write parts — when they turn it in. As a newspaper editor, you have to be good at interviewing people for great quotes, writing headlines, editing your work and other people’s work, and reporting all this information in the form of a coherent article on a short deadline.

At a magazine, an editor gets to be more creative. Interviewing and reporting are still important but there’s a lot more “editorial” writing going on. Magazines have a “voice” that you can emulate in your writing and you want to make the readers happy. In theory, magazine editors have freelance writers (or assistant editors if you’re lucky) working for their department, but again, it’s often easier and quicker to do the work yourself. If you are a really awesome magazine editor — like I was. Wink, wink. — you get to go to photo shoots and partake in the design elements of the magazine by working closely with photographers, designers, and stylists. You have to make sure the “editorial” side of the magazine is being voiced through the photos, illustrations, and styling of the models and props as well. And you have to be able to voice your opinions to these people. As a magazine editor, you have to be super creative, generate a ton of story ideas, put a new spin on topics that have been covered hundreds of times, and be a very visual person.

This is all about grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Along with legal mumbo-jumbo, readability, consistency, and a bit of design — you don’t want “rivers” flowing through your copy or weird line breaks. Copyeditors are saints from the high heavens. They are SO important to any publication. After an editor writes something, it’s the copyeditor’s job to fix any errors (because, let’s be honest, not all magazine editors have perfect grammar). Copyeditors are the last eyes on the document before it goes to print, so they have the incredibly stressful job of making sure every word is perfect! (Honestly, the editors will see the copy a few more times, but the weight really lies on the copyeditor’s shoulders.) Copyeditors must make sure they don’t step on editors’ toes and suggest changes that may be completely opinion-based instead of solely grammar-based, although it occasionally happens. They also have to make sure all of the legal bases are covered — are the appropriate trademark signs used, are we allowed to say that in that way, is that company spelled correctly…it’s a LOT of policing.

Copywriters write words that sell. Think ad agencies like in Mad Men (although you can also work directly for a company when you’re a copywriter). These words are used for advertising or marketing, in retail or e-commerce stores, and in customer relationship management (CRM) materials like rewards programs, mailers, subscription renewal notices, etc. Copywriters get paid more money because it’s business-focused. Copywriting is creative like magazines but it’s also restricted by characters and information-filled like newspaper writing. The copy is often pretty short and sweet which is a big challenge. Plus there is always an ulterior motive — selling. If you’re a really good ad agency copywriter, you could become legendary while writing catchy jingles or penning memorable ad campaigns like “I’m loving it.” Copywriters can also write for an e-commerce website and punch out product descriptions all day. Or, they could write for a direct marketing company and draft lengthy four-page magazine renewal letters. To be a copywriter, it helps to stay on top of pop culture references, to be witty, and to work under tight deadlines. And also to be a copyeditor. Everyone’s going to ask you about grammar because you’re the copy person. It can be annoying.

Wouldn’t It Be Awesome If … You Volunteered For a Year?

Name: Katie Gavle
Age: 26
Occupation: Spanish Teacher
Current city: Madison, Wisconsin

Why did you decide to volunteer?
Graduating with a degree in Spanish Education, I knew that I wanted to spend some time in a Spanish speaking country before starting my teaching career. Ultimately, I found a great way to spend a year immersed in Spanish language and Mexican culture by volunteering with YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission). It is designed to place young adults, between 19 and 30 years old, in different volunteer sites around the world.

How did you find out about the program?
Gotta love my mom and snail mail! During my last year at UW, she stumbled on an article about YAGM and sent me the clipping. After looking at the program online, I sent in the application and the ball started rolling quickly after that. Before I knew it, I did a phone interview with program alumni. Then I was invited to the “DIP” weekend event (Discernment, Interviews, and Placement) in which all of the potential volunteers learn about their top country sites and the work done there; meet the country coordinators and other potential volunteers; and are finally selected for one of the country sites. The process went quickly and was very assuring – it was clear from the beginning that a lot of care and deep consideration was taken to make sure that volunteers are well matched to their placement and are capable of meeting the needs of their host communities.

Where did you live?
I served in Cuernavaca, Mexico, as a preschool teacher at two different work sites, both in extremely marginalized communities. I lived with a host mother, whose children were old enough to be married and have their own  families (although they visited often). My host mom was the highlight of my experience. She is a strong willed woman who has led an incredibly challenging life, always emerging with grace and hope for what lies ahead. She is passionate about her faith and caring for her family and community. I learned so much from her during that time and we still maintain a great relationship thanks to her grandkid’s technology and emails and Skype!

What was a typical day like?
My morning work site was at La Estación, a small school for preschool aged kids in the poorest community in Cuernavaca. I taught basic skills bilingually: colors, shapes, numbers, and the alphabet in English and Spanish. Lots and lots of silly songs we used and I can still smile when I remember the voices of the kids singing along to our color song. I went home for lunch with my host mom and we often shared a long conversation over delicious home-cooked food. Then I would head out to my afternoon work site at Casa Tatic. Again, I was working with extremely marginalized children from the surrounding neighborhoods and the children of the people who work in the markets. We provided lunch and basic educational support (for my preschool group, we did a lot of games and art projects). Then I would spend the evening back at home with my host mom. Often, her daughters would visit with their families and the house would buzz with all the people.

What did you love most?
I LOVE the people of Mexico. It is a warm and generous culture and I
walked away from the experience deeply touched by the hospitality of my
host family and the kindness of the people who I met and worked with.

What did you love least?
I had the most difficult time adjusting to my work sites. No fault of the sites, it was my own struggle with reconciling the difference between what my work site communities needed and what I expected them to need. I had to “hit a wall” time and time again before I started to realize that my concept of “education” was not going to fit the communities where I worked. It was a painful process, but I ultimately learned a valuable lesson that has made me a better teacher.

Any tips for someone who would like to do a program like this?
Do your homework and some soul searching. Spending a good chunk of time outside of the United States is an incredible thing that has opened my eyes to realities far bigger than what I could experience on a vacation or read in a book. It taught me about ways in which we are all human and how to celebrate finding myself among brothers and sisters that are so different than me on the surface. It also taught me about my own strength and independence and how to trust myself and my convictions. It was a life-changing opportunity and one of the best things I have ever done for myself. However, culture shock can be a beast of a thing and it takes serious commitment and desire to stick out the tough times. There were times when I considered quitting, but I’m so glad I didn’t. If I had quit, I would remember it as an awful experience and never had the chance to really find the happiness that came by the end. If you are considering pursuing an experience abroad, make sure you find one that fits your personality and make sure that you have the gumption to truly immerse yourself in your host culture. If you can, you will walk away from an invaluable experience that will change your life too.

Anything else you’d like to add?
YES! If this information at all perked your interest in international volunteer work, please check out more information about the YAGM program. I was really happy with the way the program is run and it is incredibly supportive of the volunteers.

Thank you for sharing, Katie! Another thing I’d like to point out about Katie is that she blogged while she studied abroad in Italy during college and while she lived in Mexico for a year. It was a really great way to keep tabs on her and learn about all of the amazing things she was doing while they were happening. I loved it!

You know you’ve done something awesome. Yes, you! So e-mail me a quick note and then I’ll e-nterview you. Just a few questions over e-mail and then you’ll be featured on my blog. Ta-da!