Become A Great Editor With These 6 Essential Steps

Want to become a great editor? Whether you want to be a book editor or you want to work on any kind of content, including business writing, there are certain qualities you need to succeed. In this post, you’ll discover the top six essential steps you can take to start on the path to editorial success.

6 Essential Steps To Become A Great Editor

#1 Learn To See The Bigger Picture

Editors look at the “big picture” view of content, and they professionally assess what needs to be changed based on several factors. They edit to refine the message or story in order to fulfill genre expectations and to meet the client’s needs. 

For both line editing and developmental editing, being able to look at the bigger picture is vital. Unlike proofreaders or copy editors who look at the micro — the fine details like spelling, punctuation, consistency, and formatting — editors look at the macro. Editors are focused on how effectively language, structure, and pacing communicate the message or story.

#2 To Become A Great Editor You Must Put The Reader First

A professional, great editor must be able to put the reader first. Always. After all, the reader is the person who is going to consume the content. Writers create content to connect to their readers, and they have a specific goal in mind. 

Editors work with writers to meet that goal by elevating the content with edits that refine the message or story. Line editors work with content on a line-by-line level in order to achieve clarity in language, flow, and tone. This type of edit helps the writer craft content that is impactful. Put the reader first, and you will have a clear path in your workflow. 

#3 Be Able To Put Your Preferences Aside

To become a great editor, you should be free of bias. That means personal preferences should be put aside. If you favour one particular solution to an issue and your client doesn’t… Guess whose direction should be followed? That’s right—the client’s. 

Changing content when it isn’t necessary usually leads to a change in the writer’s style. It is important to suspend your own preferences; while you may write something a specific way or use different words, you cannot do that. That is imposing your style on another’s. 

This is why it is important to be professionally trained in line editing. Editing doesn’t mean changing a word because you feel it would sound better; there always has to be a reason for a change. This leads us to our next step…

#4 You Can Work Within Boundaries

One thing I teach students in my line editing course, The Art of Line Editing, is how to work within the parameters of a project. There is a methodology to follow; having the knowledge and power to edit content and rewrite it doesn’t mean that you have carte blanche as an editor. 

Editing is not a skill that is wielded without reason. You have to be able to recognize why a sentence is awkward and then, based on various factors, write an edit that is suitable.

You also have to respect the writer’s boundaries. Most writers have a clear idea of what they like and don’t like; some of their preferences can be negotiable, while others may not. Part of an editor’s job is to work within the writer’s preferences and balance that with what is best for the reader.

#5 An Ability To Focus For Lengths Of Time

Editing requires focused work for a long stretch of time. It is not like proofreading or copyediting, which can be done in short chunks of time, and allows you to jump in and out of a project without losing your train of thought. 

Editors start with a familiarity of their client’s writing style and expectations. When they work, they have the client’s voice in their head. 

To do great work, you have to be able to stay in that frame of mind so you can edit effectively. It is difficult to maintain that level of focus if you are distracted and pulled in and out of a project. You should be able to work for a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour at a time uninterrupted.

#6 Develop Your Client Relations Skills

Editing is a solitary skill that suits introverts and people who like to work independently. Usually, editing doesn’t require presentations or a lot of meetings. However, since you are working with messaging and the client’s voice, you may be required to communicate at times with clients to resolve issues. 

Most communications can be done via text, messaging or email. I personally prefer email since you can create a thread that can easily be referenced in the discussion. Email also allows you to copy and paste specific passages of content that you want to address with the client.

Writers should always be approached respectfully. Unfortunately, some writers have had bad experiences with editors who talk down to their clients, as if working with language somehow makes them superior. This is extremely unprofessional and is indicative of someone who does not put the reader and the client ahead of their own expectations. 


You’ve discovered the six essential steps to become a great editor. One who gets referrals and repeat clients, and who is professional and respectful. Keep your preferences aside and remember to preserve the writer’s voice. These are the qualities that make not just a great editor, but an excellent one, and will lead to a thriving editorial business.  

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