Literature Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career in literature? Get real job descriptions and education requirements to see if a career in literature is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Literature

Aside from becoming a professional writer, literature jobs tend to be largely based in education and academia. Unfortunately, many of these positions may see below-average job growth. Some popular career choices that relate to literature are high school English teacher, postsecondary literature professor, librarian, and writer/author. Here's a quick look at each of these professional choices:

High school teacher Postsecondary teacher Librarian Writer/author
Career Overview High school English teachers teach students about literary works and writing. Postsecondary professors teach college-level literature courses and conduct research. Librarians organize and assist people in finding information and literature. Writers and authors produce original written content for a wide number of different mediums.
Education Requirements At least a bachelor's degree and teacher preparation Almost always a doctoral degree At least a master's degree (although there are exceptions) Varies widely, however a bachelor's is commonly required
Program Length About 4 years full-time About 6 years full-time after completion of a bachelor's degree About 1-2 years full-time after completion of a bachelor's degree About 4 years full-time
Certification and Licensing Licensing is required in all public schools None May need certification in some states None
Work Experience Entry level May need teaching experience Entry level May need writing samples
Job Outlook for 2012-22 Slower than average (6%)* Faster than average (19%)* Slower than average (7%)* Slower than average (3%)
Median Annual Salary (2014) $56,310* $60,160* $56,170* $58,850*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

High School English Teacher

As a high school English or literature teacher, your primary job is to provide students in grades 9 through 12 with the education they need to graduate high school and prepare for college. You will guide students as they read and interpret a wide range of literary works. Writing assignments are also a major part of the curriculum in a high school literature or English class. As a high school teacher, you could potentially help junior and senior students prepare for the literature Advanced Placement (AP) exam. This college-level exam covers reading, writing and analysis of literature and may qualify students for college credit. Some of a teacher's daily duties may include planning lessons, grading assignments and meeting with students and parents regarding a student's progress.

Requirements

In order to teach English at the high school level, you need to earn at least a bachelor's degree in literature, English or a related field. Additionally, you need to complete a teacher education program. Depending on your school, you may have to major in English or literature and then enroll in a separate program for teacher preparation, or you may find schools that offer majors in secondary education with a focus in English or literature. Alternatively, some schools offer an education concentration within the English or literature major. Regardless of the format, you can expect to study a wide range of literature and teaching methods for teaching literature and writing concepts. You also participate in student teaching where you gain practical learning experience in actual high school classrooms.

To teach in a public school, you'll also need to earn a teaching license from the state in which you intend to work; private schools may not require teachers to have licensure. Each state varies its requirements for obtaining licensure, but the BLS reported that most states require you to have a bachelor's degree, complete teacher preparation, have student-teaching experience and pass exams and background screenings. Continuing education is necessary to keep the licensure valid. In some states you may have to earn a master's degree within a certain time period after earning your license.

In November of 2012, some of the following requirements for high school English teaching positions were posted online:

  • A nonprofit organization was looking for high school English language arts teachers for charter schools around the Northeast region. Two years of experience with a high student achievement record and a bachelor's degree were required, but a master's degree was preferred.
  • A college prep academy was seeking culturally adept English language arts teachers for locations around the country. Applicants needed bachelor's or master's degrees, state licensure and at least 2 years of experience, preferably in an urban setting or charter school.
  • A public high school in Connecticut was seeking a state licensed long-term English language arts substitute teacher with excellent communication skills.

Standing Out

With below-average job growth expected over the next few years, according to the BLS, it's imperative to stand out from other prospective high school English/literature teachers. As high schools continue to incorporate technology into classrooms, you can set yourself apart by learning teaching methods that integrate the use of computers in various ways. You can stay updated on the latest technology developments for education through organizations like the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). As an ISTE member, you may receive access to trade publications, webinars and other resources.

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary literature teachers typically work in universities, colleges, community colleges and technical schools. As a postsecondary literature teacher, you may focus on a certain type of literature, depending on your area of expertise. For example, you could teach modern American classics, British literature, African-American literature or many others. In addition to teaching literature courses, you might also conduct research and write scholarly books, essays, articles and other academic works.

Requirements

Although there may be community colleges and technical schools that accept candidates with master's degrees, most jobs in academia require you to earn a PhD in Literature, English or a related subject. To do so, you'll not only need to attend courses, but choose an area of interest to conduct research in and write and defend a dissertation based on that research. The BLS stated that most postsecondary schools prefer to hire teachers with previous teaching experience. You may be able to obtain this experience by becoming a graduate teaching assistant while you're enrolled in your doctoral program. One of the benefits of a postsecondary teaching career is that you may be able to earn tenure, which provides job security. However, competition is intense for tenured positions, and it can take up to 7 years to acquire tenure status.

Here are some requirements that employers were looking for in November 2012:

  • A university in Kentucky was looking for a full-time assistant English professor to teach undergraduate and graduate coursework and supervise field experiences. Candidates needed a doctorate degree in English education, 8-12 years of teaching experience and proficiency in literature, writing, grammar and reading.
  • In Florida, a college sought 5 new tenure-track English composition and literature faculty members with technology skills and master's degrees in English, literature or linguistics.
  • A Pennsylvania university was seeking a tenure-track English professor with a doctorate degree, strong composition skills and knowledge of American literature.

Standing Out

Getting a job as a professor, particularly if the position is tenure-track, can be a competitive and difficult process. For this reason, it can help to have your research published in scholarly journals. While earning your PhD, you can submit your dissertation to peer-reviewed literary or academic journals. Having computer skills can also help you stand out since computers are used in various areas of professors' work. Additionally, postsecondary institutions use a variety of technology platforms for supplemental education or communication methods.

Librarian

Librarians are usually in charge of stocking, organizing and taking care of large amounts of information from many different kinds of sources. A massive quantity of the world's literary output, both current and historical, may be found in a library system. As a librarian, you may read book reviews, make decisions about which books to add to the collection, take inventory and help manage finances. You may also plan community programs, events and classes. You can look for employment opportunities in specialty, school or public libraries.

Requirements

For most positions, you'll need to earn a master's degree in library science or a related field. In a Master of Library Science program, you can expect to spend 1-2 years learning methods for helping people with a variety of information needs and organizing and maintaining collections. Your coursework may include cataloging, resource selection and research methods. The BLS noted that librarians who work in specialized libraries, such as medical libraries, may also need a degree in that field.

To work in a public library or public school, you may need to earn some type of certification. Public school librarians may need teacher certification. Some states require librarian certification for librarians working in public libraries.

Here is a sample of requirements that employers were looking for in November 2012:

  • A governmental department in New York City was searching for a librarian with a master's degree in library science or a related field. The ability to speak and understand French was a bonus.
  • A university in North Carolina was seeking a librarian with a bachelor's in library science or related field and instructional technology skills to assist students and faculty with accessing resources and to maintain digital and print materials.
  • A New York public library sought a correctional services librarian with a master's degree accredited by the American Library Associate (ALA) and experience managing library or educational programs for correctional facilities.

Standing Out

According to the ALA, libraries are working to stay current with the technology age. The BLS also stated that as more information becomes available through electronic resources, a greater demand for librarians in research and specialty libraries might be needed in order to help organize information. Your knowledge of current, up-to-date library technology and your savvy with computers and the Internet may not only help you stand out from other librarians, but help ensure your future employment.

Writers and Authors

As a writer or an author, you may write books, articles, advertising copy, screenplays and/or other types of original written content. You may find employment opportunities with magazines, book agencies, television companies, film companies, advertising firms, newspaper companies or online media companies. According to the BLS, more and more writers are working as freelancers, which means they're paid per assignment and may need to continually seek out writing opportunities. Writers can typically work anywhere where they have computer access; however, more opportunities may be found in major cities with prominent media markets.

Requirements

To become a professional writer or an author, job requirements vary a great deal. Some salaried positions may require that you earn a bachelor's degree in English, literature or a field related to the area in which you'll be writing. In a bachelor's degree program in English, you can expect to read and study various types of literature and take classes in various genres of writing. Some programs may have concentrations, such as creative writing or technical writing, so you can take classes tailored toward the type of writing you want to specialize in. In many cases, your work experience and writing samples may have more impact on your employment potential than formal education.

Some employers were looking for the following requirements for writing positions, according to December 2012 online job boards:

  • A candidate with a bachelor's degree in English, communications, journalism or a related field and website design experience was sought by a cancer center in Houston, TX, to conceptualize, write, edit and distribute medical communications materials.
  • A national corporation hired for a copywriter in Massachusetts who had a bachelor's degree in English or advertising and marketing-focused writing experience to originate copy that aligned with the marketing strategy.
  • An editor/writer was needed in Washington DC to write reports, blogs, fact sheets and other materials about economic and political issues and policies for a major political think tank.

Standing Out

You can expect to face keen competition in this field due to its popularity. Some ways to establish a positive professional reputation are by always meeting deadlines, gradually taking on more difficult assignments and acquiring assignments in larger markets. As the publishing industry continues to move toward online media, developing multimedia skills also makes you more attractive to employers. You can take classes in graphic design and/or page layout to help you learn these sought-after skills.

Additionally, you can become familiar with various software programs that are integral to the field. Extensive knowledge and experience with Microsoft Word, Excel and Project can be helpful. Many online writing jobs may require that you be adept at writing wiki code and using search engine optimization (SEO).

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