If you want to know how to become an editor, especially in the age of AI, this article is for you. Editing is a great career or side hustle that truly allows you to embrace working and living on your terms. That’s because editors enjoy a flexible schedule and the ability to choose who they work with.
I’ve trained people all over the world how to build profitable editing businesses. I’ve also been an editor for over 20 years, and have seen so many changes happen in the industry. I know what works and doesn’t work, and you can think of this post as your ultimate guide to becoming a modern editor.
We’ll explore the skills you need to become an editor, whether as a full-time career or as a side hustle. Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll learn in this post:
What editors do and don’t do
How AI is changing the industry
Tools you need to become an editor
The styles of editing
How to choose your niche
Types of content editors work with
How much editors earn
Train to become an editor
Different ways to work as an editor
What Does An Editor Do?
Editors work with content from a big-picture perspective. They do not focus on issues like errors in spelling and punctuation, or incorrect formatting. Those are surface-level checks that proofreaders and copy editors take care of.
Editors are concerned about the messaging, story and structure. They look at the entire piece of content and suggest edits to improve readability and comprehension in order to create the best reading experience possible for the intended audience. An editor will change words or phrasing, adjust sentence length, or rearrange content for better flow.
Editing also involves rewriting of sentences and phrases, and planning and coordinating content. If the content is lacking information, the editor gives suggestions to the writer or client.
To understand how an editor approaches content, here is an example: An editor is working on an article for people who are interested in investing in real estate, but have never done so before. They have to make sure that:
- The language used is appropriate for the audience (beginners who don’t know a lot about real estate investing)
- The message can be easily understood by the reader (how they can invest in real estate)
- Industry terms and jargon are explained and put in context (phrases the average person is not familiar with)
- The writing is aligned with the subject matter (can be easily understood by someone who is not an investor but wants to start)
How AI Is Changing The Editing Industry
There’s been a lot of talk and concern about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is affecting the editing industry. It’s understandable. As technology continues to reshape the way people work in various industries, the editing profession is no exception.
Am I worried about AI taking over editing jobs? No. Can you become an editor and build a sustainable editing business that thrives for years? Absolutely. In fact, there are more opportunities than ever now for editors because of AI.
AI Brings More Opportunities For Editors
Editors play a key role in content publishing now more than ever because of the need to humanize and fact check AI-written content. But first, let’s quickly discuss AI and why it is actually opening more doors for editors.
For writing and content creation, Large Language Models (LLMs), are powerful types of AI that specialize in understanding and using human language. Think of LLMs as writing and language robots. Some examples of LLMs you may already be familiar with are ChatGPT, GPT-4, Claude v1, and Llama.
Editors Can Fact Check AI Content
LLMs are trained on massive amounts of text like books, articles, and digital conversations to learn how people talk and write. This allows them to write all sorts of content including business copy, books, and social media posts. However, these LLMs, like ChatGPT, are only up-to-date on the data they are fed. That means if the data is relevant up to 2021, the information in the content created is current to 2021.
That is why there is no guarantee any AI-generated content can be blindly trusted. That is where an editor or copy editor is needed to fact check for accuracy and relevancy.
Editors also need to ensure that the writing is in the correct context and appropriate for the audience. For example, if it is an article about investing and the audience is high school students, an editor’s job is to make sure the language, tone, and information presented suits the comprehension level of the reader.
Editors Can Humanize AI Content
Another reason why AI presents more opportunities for editors is the need to have AI-created content humanized. If you’ve used AI to write before, you may have discovered that the writing can be stilted and cold—basically, robotic.
This is where an editor who can line edit comes in. Line editing is the only editorial skill that involves rewriting and reorganizing text to make the writing better. A line editor’s goal is to elevate the writing and make it engaging and valuable for the reader. With AI content, an editor can rewrite certain words or phrases, or rearrange text, to make it sound like a human wrote it.
An editor who can work with AI content can help clients like businesses, brands, writers, influencers, content creators, educators and bloggers. Anyone who uses AI to write content should have an editor review their text before it is published. It would be absolutely foolish and irresponsible for anyone not to look over their AI-written content before it is published.
What Tools Do You Need To Become An Editor?
You do not need a lot of tools to become an editor. In fact, all you need is a computer, an internet connection, and editorial resources. Any resources you need can be accessed online or through books. This allows you to have more freedom and flexibility in how you work. You can edit from anywhere, since you can download your work files and work offline if you wish.
What Is It Like Working As An Editor?
Working as an editor is fulfilling and creative, while also being logical and disciplined. It is creative because you get to choose how writing can be improved and presented. Editors have the authority to decide how best to present the information written on behalf of the client.
I always tell my students that every editor is different. One editor may suggest something totally different from another editor, and that is okay as long as the editor has done their best work possible for the client.
You also get to draw on the logical side of your brain by laying out the different possible ways information can be presented and perceived by the audience. Editing also always works within boundaries, keeping an eye on the client’s preferences, brand voice, and the needs of the reader.
The Styles Of Editing
In the editing industry, there are two kinds of editing: line editing and developmental editing. Each of these skills allow you to work with fiction, nonfiction, business, and AI content.
If you enjoy writing, line editing is perfect since it is the only editorial skill that involves rewriting words and phrases. Line editors are focused on style, and work with content sentence by sentence, and make changes to improve the writing and readability. They correct issues like redundancies, inappropriate word use, and poor tone. Line editors work directly in the document to delete, add and rewrite text.
If you’ve ever read a sentence of paragraph and thought, “That could have been written better”, then line editing is for you. In fact, we have a free 5-day ecourse on line editing for you to learn more about this in-demand skill. You can enroll in Line Editing 101 and get your first lesson sent to your inbox ASAP.
If you enjoy reading and assessing content or fiction stories and giving your feedback for improvement, then developmental editing is ideal. Editors who do developmental editing look at writing from a bird’s-eye view to see how all of the information works together as a whole.
Their goal is to make sure the story or message is a fulfilling and valuable reading experience for the reader. They look to see if the structure needs to be rearranged for better flow, if there are holes in the content structure, or if something has to be removed.
Developmental editors provide suggestions based on their assessment and knowledge of what the target audience needs. They do not actively change anything in a document; rather, it is up to the writer or client to make the changes the editor suggests.
Copyediting can also be considered editing because it does involve some rewriting when necessary. Copy editors are mostly concerned with correcting facts, establishing and maintaining technical style, and fixing grammar issues. It pairs really well with line editing since the two skills work at the sentence level.
Copyediting also involves fixing spelling and punctuation, which is what proofreaders correct. However, proofreading is a surface-level only quality check of content. Copyediting goes deeper into technical issues, allows you to work with AI content, and pays more than proofreading.
How To Choose Your Niche
Having a niche allows you to target your ideal client and position yourself as an editorial expert within a certain industry. Editors who focus on one or more niches can also make more money and create more effective marketing strategies. Instead of trying to attract any kind of project, your efforts can be geared towards drawing in a specific kind of client.
To choose a niche, you can leverage your current skill set, experience and background. This allows you to draw on your knowledge of a specific topic, which makes the job of understanding context, jargon, target audience and client expectations much easier.
For example, if you have a background in finance, it would be easier for you to work with financial newsletters than it would be to work with chemical engineering white papers. While every client has different needs, if you have experience or background in a specific field, you can get your editing career going much faster by narrowing down to a niche or niches.
Of course, when you become an editor, you can work on any kind of content you wish since editorial skills can be applied to any industry. (I’ll get into this more below.) It is also possible that you may start with a niche but then later change your mind and focus on a different niche. Having a niche isn’t set in stone and you can pivot whenever you wish.
Types Of Content Editors Work With
Editing is a highly adaptable skill. It can be applied to any industry, and on any kind of content. Here is a sample of what kind of content editors work with:
- Print books & Textbooks
- Guides & Manuals
- Newspaper, Magazine & Journal articles
- Blog posts & Online articles
- Academic content
- White papers & Reports
- Newsletters & Emails
- Marketing material
How Much Editors Earn
Currently, the median salary for an editor is $76,107 (USD), according to salary.com. This figure covers various levels of editing and can change depending on the industry.
Niches like medical, business, and computer engineering pay more than general interest fields like lifestyle, for example. That is because highly specialized fields like medical require someone with previous editorial experience or knowledge of medical-related topics. Also, potential employers can ask for an editor to have a background in the specific field, which would result in higher pay.
Editing projects requires time, effort and knowledge. Editors typically do more than one pass over a project. Freelance rates per hour and per word for editors is also higher than they are for proofreading. Charging per project is also at a higher scale.
Hourly rates can vary, and in general, copyediting hourly rates can start from $35/hour and up. Line editing can start at $45/hour and up, while developmental editing starts at $45/hour and up.
Do You Need A Degree To Become An Editor?
You do not need a degree in English or any other field to work as an editor. However, a potential client can ask for a degree in a specific field. This could mean they want someone with specialized knowledge and/or experience in that field (as I mentioned above). They can also ask for a degree as a way to weed out applicants and to ensure they attract editors who have a clear understanding of their content and audience.
Ready To Become An Editor? Get Professional Training
While you don’t need a degree to thrive as an editor, you do need to have professional training. It is not enough to rely on Google to edit a project, hoping to figure things out along the way. As mentioned before, editing is a skill that is unique to the editor, something AI and the internet cannot replicate.
When you are trained to work as a professional editor, you:
- Know how to meet client expectations
- Know industry standards and how to meet them
- Are familiar with resources and processes
- Are able to use editorial tools
- Can communicate effectively with and manage clients
- Know how to stay within the scope of a project
At Edit Republic, we offer professional training courses in all editorial skills so you can work with clients in any industry. In addition to equipping you with technical editing skills, you also learn how to market your services, manage clients and projects, and handle admin tasks.
Different Ways To Work
There are different ways to work as an editor: freelance, in-house, and as part of your current job description. For the latter, editing can easily be incorporated into any position, especially if you work with content in any capacity. Adding editing to your current skill set can even allow you to upgrade your position within a company or command a higher wage.
Freelance editors work for themselves. They run their editorial businesses from home or anywhere, and can set their own schedules. When you work for yourself, you also take care of other tasks like marketing, invoicing, client communications, etc., unless you hire contractors to help you or use AI.
As a freelance editor, you can work with clients on different levels. You can work with clients on a project-by-project basis. You can also have regular clients who have steady work for you on a weekly or monthly basis. Or you can be a contractor for a company, where they hire you full-time for a specific project for a certain amount of time.
Not everyone wants to freelance or run their own business, and that’s where working in-house is attractive. In-house editors are hired on by companies to work exclusively full-time for them. The work can be physically in-house or remotely, as is the case these days.
In-house editors are official employees of a company and earn a salary. They also have benefits like medical, dental, pension, and other deductions. Schedules are not as flexible; typically in-house hours are the traditional 9-5.
Making Editing A Side Hustle
If you want to take on freelance clients on the side in addition to your day job, editing is perfect because of the flexible and low-stress nature of the work. The key is to manage your time so you meet deadlines. Many Edit Republic graduates who are in-house also have private clients they work with that are not in conflict with their full-time job.
If one of your goals is to be a full-time freelancer, then starting with a side hustle is a great idea. That way, you have the security of a regular paycheck while you build your editing clientele on the side. Here is an interview I had with a former teacher who started editing as a side gig before going full-time.
The future of editing is bright, and if you want to start a new career or a side hustle as an editor, now is the perfect time to start. Editors are needed in all industries, for all kinds of content, whether they are written by a human or AI.
If you are seeking a flexible way to earn a living, editing allows you to set your own schedule and work from anywhere. Having an English degree isn’t necessary, but you must be professionally trained so you know industry standards and can meet client expectations. Investing in editorial training also means you aren’t really starting “from scratch.”
To start, I recommend you learn about line editing, which is the key skill you need to work as a modern editor. It is essential for working with all kinds of writing, especially AI-written content. Join our free line editing course, Line Editing 101, and learn how to become an editor via lessons sent to your inbox.