How To Become An Editor

One of the reasons why I started teaching and mentoring people in editorial skills is because of this question: How do I become an editor? When I quit my corporate publishing job and started my editorial business at home 15 years ago, not too many people were working remotely back then. So when friends and acquaintances heard what I was doing, they wanted to know how they could do the same. That’s how Edit Republic started!

If you want to know how to become an editor, keep reading because in this post, I answer some of the most common questions I get, and I outline what you need to do to start. Make sure you catch the last question because I address what editors don’t do, which may surprise you.

How to become an editor

What types of editing are there?


First, it is important to know the different types of editing. To become an editor, you can choose one skill or multiple skills to offer to clients. In the publishing industry, editing skills are clear-cut and have their own scope of tasks. However, in other industries, editing can be grouped under the term Content Editing. Content editing encompasses more than one type of editorial skill, namely developmental and line editing. 

Here is a breakdown of the major types of editing:

Developmental Editing


Developmental editing is also known as structural editing, and is the first step of the editing process. After a book or piece of content has been written, a developmental editor assesses the story or project to make structural edits and give feedback for the writer to implement. They see what can be improved on, what is missing, and what needs to be rearranged.

For fiction, a developmental editor’s job is to fix issues in plot, pacing, narrative, dialogue, and characterization. For nonfiction and business content, they ensure that content meets specific expectations and the message is clear and flows logically.

Line Editing


Line editing comes after the developmental editing stage. Focusing on the style and clarity of a piece of content, line editing, aka stylistic editing, is an essential skill in the publishing industry. A line editor helps a writer refine their writing style by editing sentences line by line to ensure the right tone, emotion, and flow. This involves rewriting and rearranging sentences.

Copyediting


Copyediting is the next step after line editing, and it is a technical approach to content. Copy editors ensure the writing follows language rules and style guidelines in order to maintain consistency and the writer’s voice. It shares some tasks with proofreading like fixing issues with grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Copy editors only rewrite when it is absolutely necessary, and only then it is as minimally as possible.

Is proofreading the same as editing?


This is a very common question, and it’s understandable if you think proofreading and editing are the same. While it is an invaluable and important editorial skill, technically it is not considered editing. It is important to know how they differ because in the publishing industry they are perceived as two very different skill sets. Here is a breakdown:

Proofreading:

  • Is part of the production process of publishing a book via a traditional publisher (e.g. Random House)
  • Is part of the editorial process for all writers 
  • Is a surface-only check for issues like spelling, punctuation, formatting and errors in obvious facts
  • Is NOT rewriting or rearranging text
  • Shares some tasks with copyediting

Editing:

  • Is part of the editorial process of publishing a book
  • Is quite valuable for indie writers and publishers as it ensures a higher quality story and reading experience
  • Involves a higher look at content and is focused on structure and messaging
  • Includes line editing and developmental editing 
  • Allows you to rewrite, rearrange text and make major changes to content
  • Can involve copyediting (copy editors can rewrite some things if necessary)

Are manuscript evaluations part of an editor’s job?


Manuscript evaluations are a separate editorial skill that stands alone. It is not part of the scope of any of the above editorial skills. However, to do them, you do need to have an understanding of developmental editing since manuscript evaluators assess fiction to provide feedback on what works and doesn’t work. This skill is also called an editorial assessment or manuscript critique.

What kind of content can you work on as an editor?


Editing skills are flexible and can be transferable to any industry. The list below is just a sample of what you can work on. Editors can work on any type of content like: 

  • Fiction and nonfiction books
  • Newspaper, magazine and journal articles
  • Digital content
  • Blog posts
  • Product descriptions
  • Manuals and guides
  • Marketing material like brochures, press releases, newsletters, etc.
  • White papers and reports
  • Academic writing
  • Scripts and screenplays

Do you need a degree?


No, you do not need an English degree or any other kind of accreditation to become an editor. Any degree requirements or industry credentials are entirely up to the client. For example, an engineering firm may require you to have an engineering or science degree to work on their content due to the specific language and subject matter they have. A degree is proof that you have the level of understanding and knowledge needed to work with their material. 

There is no governing body or association that oversees the editorial industry. In general, you can work with clients and publishing houses as long as you have a professional-level understanding of the editorial process and can meet industry standards. This requires training, which I’ll discuss below.

Do you need to have prior publishing experience?


No. Like I mentioned above, it is up to the individual client what they require to vet well-qualified applicants. Many of our students go on to work for publishing houses after graduating from our programs. To work on books for a publishing house, you are must pass an editorial test. This is a requirement for both full-time and contract positions.

What kind of qualifications do you need to become an editor?


While you don’t need a degree or prior experience in publishing to become an editor, here’s what you do need:

Professional training in editorial skills – You cannot guess and Google your way through an edit. Clients are savvy and know how things should be done. Editors need to meet their expectations, whether that’s working for a publishing house, indie writer, or a start-up.

The ability to work independently – Editorial work is done alone, so you must be able to manage yourself. Yes, you may have to attend the occasional meeting, but in general, you will work alone most of the time. This means knowing how to research and fix editorial issues that arise.

How much money can you make?


Here is a guideline for how much editors can make. These rates can change based on factors like client-specific needs, deadlines, and niches. For example, the medical and software fields pay more than other industries.

Developmental Editing: $45-$75 per hour

Line Editing: $45-$55 per hour

Copyediting: $35-$60 per hour

How do you start?


To work as a professional who can command industry standard rates or higher, you must be trained. Editing is not something that involves following your gut or preferences. In fact, editing is about working against your preferences, and doing what is best for the client, audience, and message.

At Edit Republic, we offer pro-level training in editing, copyediting, and proofreading. The Art of Line Editing and High-Level Proofreading Pro are industry leading courses, and our students go on to work with publishing houses, agencies, start-ups, businesses and writers. 

We have free training in Editing 101, and we are also launching a developmental editing and manuscript evaluation course called Advanced Editing And Evaluation. To get on the course presale waitlist, you can sign up here.

Conclusion


Now that you know what the different types of editing are, and how you can become an editor, it’s time to think about what you want to do. Do you want to focus on one editorial skill? Or do you want to offer more than one service? How about offering all of the editorial skills, including proofreading, so you can meet your clients’ needs at whatever stage they’re in?

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The ultimate guide to freelance proofreading and copyediting

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