Student guest post: Three lessons from my publishing internship

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Jackson Smith is a UNC-Chapel Hill senior with a double major of editing and graphic design and history. He is an avid player of golf and tennis, and he enjoys hobbies in carpentry, woodworking and gardening. He has interned in news design and publishing, and he is training in SEC compliance standards in preparation for graduation.

In the spring of 2018, I started an entry-level unpaid internship as an assistant copy editor at a small publishing company. Through this internship I was able to gain many valuable experiences in editing that I have condensed here into three basic principles.

1. Don’t be set on that college stylebook

As a student in the School of Media and Journalism, I have learned a great deal about the editing processes of journalism, but the field of copy editing is vast and ever-changing. The positions are becoming less rigid in their structure, and the fields that editors work in are much more than just the newsroom today.

In publishing, as with many fields, the AP Stylebook is not always king. While at school we worked almost exclusively in AP style, at my internship I was quickly introduced to the wide range of style choices in academic media, most notably the Chicago Manual of Style.

The differences between these two stylebooks are stark. In the office, Chicago style relied heavily on the Oxford comma, and after years of being almost totally averse to using any non-necessary commas, to change in my thought process was difficult. My advice to the burgeoning editor is to be flexible on your principles of punctuation and rigid in your discipline, and the difficult change of style books can be greatly diminished.

2. You have to be a team player.

In the world of publishing, in the office or anywhere else as an editor, you will be faced with a variety of challenges when it comes to your coworkers. The process of copy editing is a long one, especially in the publishing field.

Starting at the initial look-over, the documents from the client can go through up to three edits, then composition, then proofing and indexing, then a final round of editing among various people to eliminate any mistakes, and improve the flow of the story. Among your colleagues in the office, many people can touch the proofs before and after they are formatted and converted either into an ebook or a PDF for final printing. This process is arduous, and takes many hours of reading and editing. Working with your fellow editors to know their strengths and weaknesses and being able to spot these in read-behinds is vital to all editors.

3. It is all in the details.

Editing is one of the most detail-oriented jobs in the media world. It is good to imagine yourself as an artisan of grammar.

In my experiences with copy editing at my internship, I realized that a book can have thousands of mistakes, large and small, that have to be corrected and reordered before the project is ready for publication. A young editor should be prepared to learn a great deal in a short time, and to put that knowledge to practice in the job.

Being diligent in your initial readings, light edits and read-behinds is vital, even if you have read the same five chapters of a book five times. Even when it is boring, or your eyes hurt, it should be your prerogative to look at every page like you have never read it before and are starting fresh. You cannot transpose that pesky quotation mark before punctuation mistake after printing.


Copy editing is a detail- and team-oriented job, with processes that require many stages of alterations. When you first start that internship or job, the best advice I can give you is to focus and not let the overwhelming materials get the best of you, and you will become a grammar artisan in no time.