Being a Book Editor: A Newcomer's Guide
Have you always been curious about what it takes to become a book editor? We get asked this often as we have a roster of freelance book editors and ghostwriters who are incredibly skilled at their work.
Sure, it might not be as glamorous as the editorial depiction that you may have read about or seen in The Devil Wears Prada, but it still is an exciting, fulfilling, and purpose-driven career for those who feel called to pursue it.
In this article, we will explore more about:
How to get started as an editor: The qualifications, how long it takes to get started as an editor, the availability of jobs, and if it is difficult to become a book editor.
How to get into editing books: The different editing forms and the diverse editing jobs.
Learn to be an editor (hint: it's more than technical skills—hello soft skills).
And get a firsthand look at the journey of becoming an editor.
If you love reading and writing, and have always wanted to make an impact and help others tell their stories in a way that is interesting, clear, concise, and flows well, becoming an editor or a freelance book editor may be the right career path for you.
How Do You Become an Editor?
Obtaining book editor jobs is possible through various avenues. You can work with a publisher independently, as a freelance editor, editing per project (anthologies, collaborative books, or solo publications). Or you can apply to be a full-time book editor at a traditional publishing house or an indie publishing company.
The publishing industry is a diverse field, and editing jobs can range anywhere from:
and much more.
If you've been thinking, I want to be a book editor, or if you've been wondering, how do I become an editor of books... this is the blog for you. We'll explore the nitty-gritty aspects of becoming a book editor.
While this won't answer every single question you have, it will give you ample insight and information so that you can make an informed decision before choosing a freelance book editing career or even starting a side hustle as a freelance editor and looking for freelance editing work.
How to Get Started as an Editor? What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Book Editor?
Most book editors who pursue editing typically have a university degree relevant to the field, such as a bachelor's degree in English Literature, Creative Writing, and/or Linguistics, History, or Social Science, Communications, Journalism, or Publishing. Many go on to obtain a master's degree in their respective fields.
If someone is a medical editor, chances are they have a bachelor's degree in science and a master's degree in editing. Although it isn't needed, having a master's degree will help you stand out from fellow competitors, as it isn't always easy to break into the publishing world.
Having these qualifications shows to future clients and employers that you know your material and have expertise in the complexities that come with this career path.
Don't mistake having a bachelor's degree or master's degree as your lottery ticket to landing a job in publishing and editing. It takes a lot more than a piece of paper to make sure you can stand out in this competitive world and actually start freelance work.
Are Editing Jobs and Book Editors in High Demand?
Gone are the days when publishing was restricted to a chosen few. Yes, that gatekeeping still takes place within traditional publishing, however, we are living in a time where self-publishing is on the rise, which means indie publishing and hybrid publishing are also gaining popularity. There is always a need for manuscript editing.
In short, there will never be a shortage of editing jobs to choose from, but you do want to make sure that you choose the ones that align with your interests. Perhaps that means you will enjoy freelance work.
How to Get Into Editing Books: Areas of Editing
Before you make the leap into editing, identifying which type of editing job you'd love to take on is ideal. Writers will always need a book editor. If you are using words to convey a message, you need an editor—whether you are entering the world of publishing, working in a corporation or small business, or doing freelance editing.
Aside from a book editor for literary pieces, narrative nonfiction or creative fiction, if editing has piqued your interest, some other areas of editing you can pursue are medical editing, script editing, news and magazine editing, academic editing, and historical editing, to name a few.
In the realm of publishing, you will typically have the following editorial roles to pursue:
Developmental editing helps the author plan, develop, and refine their body of work—be it a book, or a short novella. Developmental editors usually take into account character development, character timelines, fact checking (ensuring accuracy of place, person, and context), and narrative styles. They may even suggest using elements of storytelling and narrative styles.
Substantive editors come into the picture when diving deeper into a manuscript or body of work. Substantive editing typically focuses on overall big picture edits, and suggesting changes to the overall flow and structure of the material.
Substantive editors help the author remove redundancies and add any material that enhances the piece. They play an integral role in helping the author convey a compelling story and message to their readers.
If you are someone who loves to cross their t's and dot their i's and notices every single detail, line editing or copy editing is perfect for you.
As a line editor (also known as a copy editor), you are responsible for the strengthening of language, grammar, punctuation, syntax, fact checking, and adding cohesion, clarity, and connectivity to the manuscript and message.
A proofreader is the last check point before a manuscript goes to publication. Freelance writers rely on editors to do the actual editing for them, as they are not editing books themselves.
At this stage, there is no structural editing, developmental editing, or copy editing taking place.
A proofreader is responsible for ensuring there are no syntax, grammar, or spelling errors and that the formatting us correct.
Common things a proofreader would assess would be image formatting, page numbers, author name, and book title and subtitle, ensuring that there is accuracy across the board.
The cool part about being a proofreader? You get to read a lot of cool books, learn something new with each book, and proof a manuscript as both a reader and a book editor.
Blog or Web Editor
Blog and web editors are responsible for the editing of all web copy, such as website pages, newsletters, social media, and other ad hoc content required by the business, brand, or corporation.
Having relevant skills such as SEO optimization and copywriting are often handy.
News editors work within broadcast media, such as local radio, newspapers, and news channels. They are responsible for the editing of all communication that streams through these channels on web and print platforms.
Having a journalism background is often a criterion to becoming a news editor.
As the title indicates, academic editors focus a large part of their careers on editing essays, academic journals, textbooks, research papers, etc. and often assist other editors with book editor work.
Many of them often have a degree relevant to the respective academic field they edit within and are familiar with academic editing styles guide such as the APA, CMOS, and MLA.
Also known as an executive editor, managing editors manage the entire publication cycle.
Executive editors are never involved in editing or writing any content. Consider them your quality control. They are responsible for content strategy, timelines and deadlines, and people management.
Editor in Chief
Yes, the coveted role. As the editor-in-chief, you are responsible for everything—from operations, to budgets, to production management, people management, content management, and overall publication quality and vision.
It is a heavy crown to wear, but it is worth it if you know this is the path for you, as this is an integral part of the editing process. This is one of the reasons people want to become an editor, to enjoy the process from start to finish.
True to their name, acquisitions editors scout the market for new and aspiring writers. It is their role to acquire new content, sift through book proposals, and evaluate manuscript submissions that align with the organization's overall brand, tone, values, and profitability plan. This is also a novel part of the publishing process.
Freelance editors can edit web copy, book manuscripts, magazine articles, news articles, research papers, academic journals, and much more. You need to be more than just a good editor to make it in the freelance world, as other editors can easily surpass you if you do not use book editing techniques that will set you apart.
If you are a freelance editor, it means that you are working as a contractor and are not employed by any particular organization. You might not have the specific title of the editor position, but everyone knows that editor jobs are essential for publishing professionals.
However, freelance editors also have a set code of editorial conduct and rules to abide by in terms of editing skills and editorial styles.
Check out your regional association for resources. A good place to start for any freelance editor is an editorial association in your local state or country, like Editors Canada, the Editorial Freelancers Association, and the American Society for Editing.
They often have entry-level positions, certifications, and courses for further professional development as an editor. Here you can move from being a good editor to becoming a great one. Many use their own editing tools in order to get the job done. Investing in those tools and tricks of the trade might help you even more than a bachelor's degree when you want to become an editor.
What Editing Skills Does a Professional Editor Require?
Regardless of the type of editing you do, an editor's job involves having eagle eyes for the following:
Strong attention to detail.
Excellent command of the subject matter they are editing.
Great communication skills to work with the author and the rest of the editorial team.
A strong understanding of linguistics—grammar, language, context, syntax, punctuation, and other elements of writing and storytelling.
Keeping within the word count, ensuring all language, syntax, and context are being used appropriately for the audience and genre.
Additionally, ditors can have more specialized skills to increaset he services or projects:
Some editors are highly skilled at developing the big vision of the book—the theme and context.
Some editors know how to add stories and improve the author's voice while getting rid of any unnecessary words and keeping the author's style, voice, and message.
And some editors know exactly how to format, proofread, and technically edit the manuscript or document before it goes into publication.
Book editors are responsible for the 4 Cs: Cohesion, Clarity, Connectivity, and Creativity—within a text or body of work. These are some of the basic tenets of editing that book editors and every freelance editor need to know and implement at a very basic level to do book editing or copy editing.
Do Editors Get Paid Well?
As a freelance book editor or copy editor, your range is limitless—you can charge per project or by the hour.
Some editors charge by word count. Others charge by package and project. Truly, the choice is yours.
Eventually, some freelance editors end up having a small team of editors, editorial assistants, and designers themselves, thus giving way to the assisted self-publishing business model.
As their demand grows because of their editorial prowess, so too does the demand on their time, at which point they have a choice: increase their rates and take fewer clients, or increase their rates and expand their team.
How to Get Started as an Editor?
Sourcing editing jobs is easier said than done. But don't let that scare you.
Some excellent places to look for an editing role are:
Publishing houses—traditional, indie, and hybrid.
Online freelance job sites such as Fiver, UpWork, Flexwork, The Urban Writers, and Scribe.
Editorial organizations such as the Editors Canada, the Editorial Freelancers Association, and the American Society for Editing are available.
Academic institutions, medical offices, and hospitals, small businesses, and organizations, to name a few.
We live in an age and time where we can earn thousands of dollars every single day at the tips of our fingers. And we have evidence of this with the rise of entrepreneurship growing steadily over the years.
Network online with fellow editors and writers via social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Build your editor brand.
Apply for subcontracted work under experienced editors.
And often, once you've landed one editorial client, word-of-mouth marketing is your best friend, especially if they are happy with your work.
In-Person Events and Networking
While remote work and connecting via Zoom and Slack are the events du jour and paving the way for remote communities, nothing beats an in-person event.
Attend local events such as book signings, writing and publishing conferences, book festivals, author workshops, writing groups, and business conferences.
These events are full of industry colleagues as well as your dream clients. You never know where you will find your next long-term opportunity. Stay open to all of it.
Learning to Become an Editor
Now that you know the nuts and bolts of editing, the areas of editing, and where you can find your next editing gig, let's explore what sets a great editor apart from the rest.
As book editors, or editors in general, you are entrusted with someone's life's work—be it manuscript editing, or blog editing, or academia.
They are counting on you to help them convey their message in a way that is compelling, effective, creative, and connective.
Go the extra mile
Treat every manuscript as if it were your own. Edit each piece of work meticulously but passionately.
Be selfless and objective
Great editors are unbiased. While they may get closely attached to a body of work, they are able to compartmentalize and offer objective feedback that will benefit and enhance the book and the message the author desires to convey to their intended audience. They are able to empathize and stay detached at the same time, making them a sieve, not a sponge.
Great editors refine the author's voice instead of infusing their voice into the author's work. This requires a great deal of self-control, discipline, and creativity. They are able to understand the author's vision and help bring it to life through editing and offer other developmental suggestions that support the book's progress and vision.
Be confident and humble
You might think that one cancels out the other, but they both go hand in hand. Confidence is never loud. Great editors leave their egos at the door, are humble when offering suggestions and feedback, and receive feedback from authors with grace.
Yes, there are often terrible writers, but no story is less important. Every voice matters—this is a principle that great editors live by.
Truthfully, what matters most is that the author is able to share their thoughts on paper. The editor's job is to quickly improve and put together a piece that people will want to read again and again.
The author and the editor work together to make prose that is interesting, creative, flows well, and gets to the heart of the reader.
Great editors are masterful at communication. They aren't afraid to give and receive constructive feedback with respect, honesty, and tact. Ego has no room within the communication.
The purpose of an editor is to help a manuscript or blog, or piece of writing convey its message powerfully, which is why it is important to be able to give candid, tactful feedback without holding back or feeling like you need to tiptoe.
Yes, not every author will be thrilled about feedback, but that's a part of the job. And a good editor knows when to push forward with suggestions to make necessary changes and when to back off to avoid more friction and conflict (though some friction is always good).
Great editors are masters of the written word. They have excellent writing skills. They don't need to be the next best-selling author, but they do need to have an excellent command of writing and narrative styles, stylistic elements, and much more.
It is this prowess and their obsession with language, linguistics, grammar, and syntax that makes them great editors. They can tell the difference between active and passive voice and despise redundancy. An editor's writing skills are almost as important as their communication skills.
Thriving as a Freelance Editor
Freelance editing contracts
When applying for editing gigs, something you might get asked often is to clarify the scope of the edit.
Many authors and businesses, unless they are a publishing houses or content creation companies, don't have firsthand knowledge of the diverse areas of editing and the various types of editors.
So, your first order of business—be it in your job interview or a prospective client's call—should be to explain the different types of editing services you offer and provide an overview of what that looks like.
The misconception is that editing is the same as proofreading. But we know it is so much more than that. If you offer a service guide on your website, make sure you do the same when giving a quote, estimate, or proposal.
Frequently, most clients, unless they are seasoned authors or a publishing house, don't go snooping around in your experience for ad hoc projects.
They are, however, budget-conscious enough to find quality editing at an affordable rate, which is a win-win situation. However, don't sell yourself short, and showcase an itemized price range for the various editing services you offer, any revision rounds, and any on-demand projects.
Test project submissions
Clients and employers alike might ask you to submit a test project. In some cases, your time will be compensated for the test project, and sometimes that won't be the case.
Either way, they want to know if you are familiar with their industry, their subject matter expertise, and, of course, the respective stylistic and editorial guides for their industry. For example, if you are working with literary fiction, you will probably use MLA or Chicago. If you are editing social sciences, history, or legal work, you will probably use the APA, and so on.
Teamwork makes the dream work
No matter your qualifications or experience, none of it matters if you are unable to work with a team of diverse personalities and opinions. It will be harder to become an editor.
A lot of clients and organizations look for team players, and in most cases, they want to know if you can liaise and work with other freelancers, assistant editors, and permanent staff writers.
Agility is your best friend
Where talent won't take you, agility will.
What we mean by this is having the chops to be adaptable, and having additional hard and soft skills that go beyond editing and publishing.
All clients and employers want to know if you are adept at SEO, writing catchy copy for the web and print, know how to use email marketing and blogging systems, can work with multimedia and create graphics, use metadata, edit for an online audience, write social media copy, and so on.
Taking the time to learn these will make you an incredible asset to any team.
Common Mistakes to Avoid in Freelance Editing
Being an editor can be a fun job. However, there are specific cardinal rules that most professional editors live by. Below are a few of them.
Working without contracts or a clear scope of work
As a freelance editor just starting out, you will want to have a clear legal contract that protects you, your services, and the client.
Do not start working on a project without a contract in place that clearly outlines the scope of work and all the details such as payments, deliverables and deadlines, and late charges or penalties, to name a few.
Unclear or poor communication
We get it. Life happens, and you might be busy in the throes of editing your client's manuscript, but that is no reason for poor communication with your client and author.
They are counting on you and your professional expertise to help them make this manuscript into a marketable book that is also thought-provoking and compelling to read.
Communicate at all times. Clearly outline your availability and let them know your status on projects. Follow up via email and any agreed-upon channels.
The worst thing you can do as an editor is to not communicate with your clients for weeks on end. If necessary, overcommunicate.
Avoid falling into the number trap (hint, word count)
The deadliest trap of them all: word count and time constraints. It's understandable; you have a deadline to meet, a target word count to hit, and every minute counts.
When estimating the amount of work you have to edit and how long it will take you to get through each page, overestimation is better than underestimation.
Editing jobs often require you to go by word count or page count. If the writer has done a stellar job and is a strong writer, you are in luck and you may finish editing the body of work in no time at all. However, in some cases, you might have to do a complete re-write.
So, our suggestion is, stop leaning into the word count or page count. Take time to review the material first.
Evaluate how much time you would need and if there are any changes you want the author to make preemptively before you dive into editing. And overestimate the suggested editing time. This acts as a buffer between you and the author and safeguards you as the editor.
We understand this is easier said than done. Writers and editors can go through creative blocks. Sometimes, when you are writing non-stop or editing non-stop, your mind may need a break. Take the break and come back refreshed to edit and slay the manuscript. Your mind needs to edit in a clear headspace.
Some ways to avoid procrastination are to attach a reward at the end of each milestone.
Frequently, you might want to share with a friend or fellow colleague or team member for accountability.
Either way, do what you need to do and move through the resistance.
Avoid reading and re-reading the manuscript
Any body of well-written work shouldn't need more than three rounds of editing. Often times, most editing jobs require two solid round of editing to be sufficient.
However, in some cases, you might find that certain areas need more finessing and refining. That is okay.
Refine and finesse it as you read it. And come back again. You might find that it doesn't need additional work. There is such a thing as overkill.
Remember, the goal of a professional editor is to refine the message, enhancing the creativity in a manuscript while removing the heaviness and the density that is caused by run-on sentences and other grammatical and structural errors.
Avoid bias—Think like a reader
Most authors write in poetic language, or they overdo the addition of stylistic elements in their manuscripts. They are more interested in impressing their editors when in fact, they should be considering how their greater audience might receive it.
As an editor, your role requires you to be unbiased, objective, and keep the big picture in mind at all times, such as the potential readers' perspective, sociocultural discourse and dialogue, and marketability.
Removing the Author's Voice
The one thing every author and writer is afraid of: Their voice is completely eliminated by the editor. And truthfully, in traditional publishing houses, this happens almost regularly.
As an editor, you may have the inherent authority to implement any changes you see fit, but always check in with the author before doing so.
Most editors can sometimes get too biased and close to a body of work and insert themselves into it. This often results in the authors' voices being eliminated completely.
Be mindful not to impose your viewpoint as you edit a document. Keep in mind that you made a commitment to keep the writers' voices intact while refining their message. Remember, you are the editor, not the author.
Is an Editing Career Right for You?
If you are an aspiring editor, we will say this:
The road may feel long and arduous at times, and some days, the words on a screen might make your eyes see stars.
No matter what, remember that while you chose to edit, it also chose you. You have the power to shape and curate masterpieces. One word, one sentence, and one book can change someone's life or even save it.
Just because you are not the author of the work doesn't mean your impact is any less. There is a reason why editors charge what they charge. If everyone could do this, they would be doing it. But that isn't the case. Our editors are a select bunch of word-pun-, grammar-, syntax-, and spelling-loving geniuses who are quite magical and passionate about what we do.
So, if you've chosen to become a book editor, know that you are welcomed with open arms. Book editing can be a lucrative career, but make sure that your foundation is always built on the mastery of your craft!
We hope this article provided you with all the insight you were looking for with your next steps. You never know, this could be the start of your freelance editing career. You could help others with the publishing process, and help them gain insight, by becoming a really good editor. Be among the many editors out there who are launching their freelance career, and becoming elite line editors.
If you are looking for more resources, be sure to check out The Urban Writers Academy for our in-house courses on editing.
If you are looking to become a book editor or a content writer, be sure to apply here. We are always on the hunt for talented, dedicated, and driven book editors and creative writers.