How to Become an Editor: Step-by-Step

If you have a knack for spelling and grammar, you may wish to learn how to become an editor. It is remarkably easy to get started in this career with the right skills and outlook.

People who are sticklers for spelling and grammar and who are skilled at spotting errors often consider working as editors. However, knowing how to ferret out typos is not the same as becoming an editor. An editor clarifies, condenses and improves the quality of a writer’s work, suggests improvements and sometimes rewrites troublesome pieces. They also check articles and book chapters for common writing mistakes and other issues that could confuse readers. 

It takes some education and experience to begin scoring editing jobs. We’ll tell you how to get started and what kinds of assignments you can expect to find.

Step 1. Decide What Sort of Editing Interests You

How to become an editor?

There are several niches underneath the general heading of “editor.” Do you love book-length work? Or is the fast-paced world of daily news more your speed? A few of the options for prospective editors include:

Book Editing

A book editor works closely with an author to get a manuscript ready for publication. They’ll begin with developmental editing, which helps shape the project as a whole. Later on, duties will include copyediting and proofreading. In most cases, the latter two are done by freelancers. However, some independent writers will commission an editor to perform all of those roles. In most cases, you’ll have to go to New York to work in publishing.

Job titles in book editing can include intern, editorial assistant, associate editor, senior editor, editorial director.

The median salary for a book editor is $58,770.

Web Editing

The amount of editing a piece of work online sees is highly individual. Some solo bloggers do no revising at all before hitting submit. By contrast, major digital publishers may have a team dedicated to ensuring that a work is free from errors and consistent with the house style before it goes online.

Editors for the web will need to have a good understanding of search engine optimization (SEO), best practices for digital interfaces, and effective promotion on social media.

Titles in this area include content manager, head editor, and senior editor.

The median salary for a web editor is $55,142.

Magazine Editing

A magazine editor is responsible for choosing issue themes, assigning stories, ensuring consistency of style throughout the publication, and making sure that everything comes together when it’s time to put the issue to bed.

There are several jobs in a magazine’s editing department. Basic editing work can start with a proofreader and copyeditor. There will also be section editors responsible for specific areas of a magazine, such as a beauty editor or tech editor.

The median salary for a magazine editor is $50,051.

News Editing

News editing has a great deal of crossover with magazine editing. However, in general, news editing happens at a much faster pace. While magazine editors are typically responsible for monthly or even bimonthly publications, many news editors have to produce a completed edition every day.

Many entry-level news editors start with tasks like fact-checking before moving to a section editor or managing editor roles.

The average news editor makes $58,415 a year.

Technical Editing

These types of editors are typically more focused on the accuracy of technical information and clear communication. they may work on technical manuals, scientific and research publications, and investigative reports. 

In general, people who are looking for technical editors are looking for subject matter experts. For instance, a trade publication in the pharmaceutical industry will want someone with a scientific background.

On average, a technical editor makes $52,056 a year.

Copy Editor

Copy editors work in a number of environments. Some work in newsrooms, where their duties include ensuring that a reporter has details like names, dates, and locations correct. Others work either as freelancers or staff in publishing houses. It’s similar to content editing.

A copy editor ideally has some knowledge of a wide array of subjects, although they don’t need to be subject matter experts. This allows them to double-check for errors quickly and easily, spotting problems that less observant folks might miss. 

The median salary for a copy editor is $47,975 per year.

Proof Reader

Proof reading is often seen as a gateway to more advanced positions. Many are freelancers. Some bill a per-word rate, while others work on an hourly basis.

The median hourly rate for a proofreader is $22.29.

Bear in mind that the figures above are national average. The editor-in-chief at a twelve-page weekly in a tiny town will not earn as much as even an associate editor at the New York Times.

Check out our list of proofreading tips

Step 2. Get an Editing Education

Once you’ve identified the type of editing you want to do, you can decide what sort of education you’ll need. In book editing, it is rare to get in the door without at least a bachelor’s degree. Most people who wish to get into publishing major in English. Other applicable majors can include journalism or communications.

Similarly, a newspaper editor will need either a journalism degree or years of experience as a news writer before moving on to editing. Some news editors work in this field their entire careers, starting at small papers and moving to larger ones. Others make their way up at larger outlets from news writer to editor. 

Strong writing skills are as important as editing skills in most editorial jobs. Many outlets have the editor do simple corrections rather than sending work back to a writer for revisions.

If you are interested in being a freelance editor, there are no strict educational requirements. A proofreading or editing class can help you understand common terminology and editing requirements. It’s also helpful to use a self-editing checklist.

There are classes at all price points. You can read the transcripts from Skillshare’s Writing Editing Masterclass at no charge. At the other end of the spectrum, Proofreading Academy offers a comprehensive $295 class. Those who complete it with a grade of 80% or higher are offered work through their partner company, Proofed.

Read our guide to the best online writing courses.

Step 3. Gain Editing Experience

If you are looking for work as an editor with a Big 5 publisher, you will want to look at internships to start. Begin making connections in this realm as early as possible, as you’ll need it to get a foot in the door.

A good place to get some editing experience on your resume is through Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders. These organizations convert public domain works into ebooks, using an army of volunteers to proofread scanned images and compare it with OCR text.

Medium.com is another place where volunteers act as editors. You can start your publication there if you have the time and dedication to do so. Alternately, you can look for calls for volunteer editors. Each Medium publication has different requirements and different levels of editing offered. Choose a place that aligns with your goals.

Tip: Use the best copyediting software to save time

Step 4. Set Your Editing Rates

Look at other editors’ listings to get an idea of what sorts of rates you can ask for. A beginning editor will likely earn less than one with several years of experience. By comparing your past experience to what others advertise, you can get an idea what is fair in your niche and in the places you look for work. Setting your rate depends on the type of work involved. For example, a proofreader usually charges per word whereas a development editor charges by the project.

You can charge by:

  • Word-count e.g. 10 cents per word
  • Hours spent writing e.g. $20 per hour
  • Per project e.g. $50 per article
  • By retainer e.g. $500 per month

Read our guide to setting freelance writing rates.

Step 5. Apply for Paid First Editing Gigs

The editing gigs available to you will multiply as you hone your experience and editing skills. You can also demand more money as you become more experienced and get more impressive jobs under your belt. The listings below are generally arranged from entry-level to more demanding roles. Start with the basics and continue to increase your 

Fiverr

Fiverr
A freelancing site where anyone can list a service they want to provide

Fiverr is a freelancing site where anyone can list a service they want to provide. Many editors get their start here offering to edit small chunks of text for as little as $5.

Wordvice

Wordvice is a site that helps ESL students polish their English language work. Editors are expected to have a relevant bachelor’s degree, a working knowledge of common styles, and a minimum of two years experience.

Upwork

Upwork is a site where people post ads for specific jobs. There are thousands of jobs in a variety of editing niches. Look for editor jobs that fit your goals to build your experience. 

Scribbr

Editors at Scribbr work with students to help them polish their writing. They have a highly active Slack chat where you can network with other professionals.

Reedsy

Reedsy is selective about who they will allow on the site. Save this one for when you have a few jobs under your belt. The site is a meeting place for both self and traditionally published authors, and top editors command significant fees.

Scribendi

Scribendi
Scribendi is looking for native English speakers with a relevant degree and at least three years experience

Editors at Scribendi work with everything from academic writing to business publications. They are looking for native English speakers with a relevant degree and at least three years experience. 

MediaBistro

MediaBistro has job listings from a number of national digital and paper publications. You can sign up to have relevant listings sent directly to your inbox.

Problogger

Problogger features a mix of writing and editing jobs. Filter to find full-time, part-time, freelance, or contract positions.

Flexjobs

The key advantage of Flexjobs is a highly-vetted job board, meaning you only see legit listings with professional pay. They also offer professional resume reviews and career coaching to help you increase your odds of getting the gig you want.

Cambridge Proofreading and Editing

This company acts as an agent and connects you with job proposals in areas that include academic and business communication editing. You must pass a 10-minute editing test to be considered.

The Muse

This company’s job board features everything from roles with scrappy startups to Fortune 500 companies. You can type in your preferred job title, then enter the geographic area where you would like to work. They also have a flexible/remote setting for those who wish to work remotely.

Read our guide to writing jobs.

Step 6. Built an Editing Portfolio

Every time you complete an editing job, ask a client for a testimonial and add it to your website, social media page, and CV (if relevant). Keep track of factors like text length, niche, and the extent of the editing you performed.

When using sites like Fiverr and Upwork, always let clients know that honest reviews are appreciated. The more testimonials you get, the more people will trust your work. If you’re working with clients outside of online jobs boards and sites, ask them for referrals. As you continue to gain experience, you can command higher rates and win more complex and challenging jobs by pointing to your portfolio as proof of your editing skills.

Read our guide to building an online writing portfolio.

The Final Word About How to Become an Editor

If you have an eye for detail and the drive to work independently, a job in editing could be a great fit for you. Start small, build your skill, and eventually, you may have the ability to work full-time polishing text and bringing it to life.

You can start your editing career wherever you like on the terms that work best for you. Begin part-time while you build your client base. Or, seek a degree and work to get your foot in the door with a major publisher.

FAQs About How to Become an Editor

What is the difference between an editor and a proofreader?

Typically, a proofreader is only responsible for proper spelling and grammar. An editor will also have responsibilities that include ensuring proper flow, accurate information and that the piece fits the client’s or publication’s needs.

What is the process for becoming an editor?

There is no single career path for an editor. Some go to a traditional four-year college, then get internships and staff positions with major publishing houses. Some never see a day of post-secondary education and are independent their entire careers.

What are some of the skills needed to become an editor?

Editors need to have impeccable spelling and grammar. It is also helpful to have a broad range of general knowledge and keen research skills. 

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