Do You Want to Be an Editor?

I’m currently working on two copy edits for a small publisher. I’m almost finished with both, just doing that ‘let it sit’ and one last review.

I love editing. I really do. Especially when the story is really good or when it’s really bad.

Usually, I do developmental editing, substantive, where I look for plot problems, character consistency, weak dialogue, etc. This publisher is the first one I’ve ever done copy editing for. The difference between developmental and copy editing is that with copy editing, another editor has already worked with the author and did the big edits and rewrite suggestions. By the time it makes it to copy editing stage, I should only have to look for any glaring errors, typos, misplaced or missing commas…. the ‘little’ stuff. It’s a little more extensive than a proof but not nearly as intensive as a full edit.

I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy copy editing after years of doing full editing. I wasn’t sure I’d like getting copy after another editor had had a hand in the manuscript either. I wouldn’t want to find something major and feel I was correcting the other editor.

Fortunately, this publisher has some good editors on staff, at least the ones getting these two manuscripts were good, and the only things I’ve really found are simple things. A few misplaced modifiers, a couple of dangling participles, and mostly a lot of misplaced or missing commas. It makes the editing go fast and the reading go faster. I’m enjoying it.

I’ve been asked a lot by people about how to get into editing for a career. For me, I actually sort of fell into editing by mistake. I was hired to write something for a small publishing company – just a little ad copy for a book of theirs. While I was reading the excerpt for the book to be used in the ad copy, I found many mistakes in the copy. I very professionally and carefully pointing those out to the publisher and asked them if they would like me correct those editing issues before doing the copy.

The managing editor then reviewed the manuscript, which was supposed to already be edited, and she found it was poorly done, asked me if I’d like to review it for a set fee, and so I did.

Then I figured after that, if a publisher liked my work, maybe I could do some editing on the side. That’s when I started bidding on editing projects on Elance. Believe it or not, that first year I bid projects on Elance, I’d say 80% of my income came from editing ebooks for clients. Then, someone who knew me from a message board, she made a recommendation to a friend of hers, who just happened to be a managing editor at a small publishing house, and that managing editor asked me, desperate for an editor, if I would take on a project.

Shortly after that, I was so busy with editing requests from small to mid-sized publishers, I couldn’t find the time to do them all!

Sometimes, it is who you know. Never, ever underestimate the power of word-of-mouth advertising and networking, because it was recommendations from managing editors that got me all the beginning editing gigs I received.

That all said, you don’t HAVE to know someone to get started editing. If you have an eye for detail, if you always find errors in documents and books you read, then you might make a good copy editor, and small publishers usually look for copy editors.

Copy editing is the place to start. Full or substantive or developmental editing (all the same names for the same things) requires a bit of a different skill set. It takes a little talent and experience and practice to keep story lines consistent and cohesive, look for character consistency, plot out a scene in your head and make sure it works.

But copy editing can be done by just about anyone with a skill for looking for detail, reading for content, and catching those little mistakes most people just skim over and miss.

You can get some experience with editing by bidding on editing jobs on the freelance bid sites, like and and These jobs are usually pretty low-paying jobs, but they will get you feedback and references that you can then use to write letters of introductions to small publishers, asking them if they need copy edit services. Offer to provide a sample edit so they can see how you perform, and give them your contact information.

You can find a list of publishers on Preditors & Editors to get your started. These are legit publishers of all sizes. Remember, big publishers will likely have in-house editors, so your best bet is to find the small publishers and go with them.

What can you expect to earn? Well, every publisher I work with is different. Some play a flat-rate. Most pay a % of sales, or editor’s royalties. The lowest I’ve ever made editing a book for a royalty-paying publisher was $60. Yeah, it was the first book I ever edited for a publisher, and it should have been more, but the previous ownership of the publishing company never paid out what I was owed, nor did they send royalty statements.

on average, over the life of the book, you can hope to earn anywhere from about $300-2500 bucks as an editor. If the book makes it big, you can hope to make a lot more. Be sure to read the contracts you will sign carefully. Most of my contracts state that if the book is bought out for movie rights or bought out by a bigger publisher, I get a % of the buyout. One really successful editing book could bring in some four and five figure payments.

Mostly though, it sets up a residual income, paying every quarter, for previous work done. That is the one thing about editing for a job. You will do a lot of work upfront and probably won’t get your first small payment until at least six months later. That part of it sucks, but it is industry standard.’

What doesn’t suck is, if you can find the time to fit a copy edit or full edit in at the rate of at least once per month, by the end of about a year, you’ll be getting a nice little payment every quarter, and every new book just keeps adding to that. After a couple of years of doing this, that income could be quite substantial, for doing no additional work.

I love editing. I really do, especially when they are good stories. If you’re interested in being an editor, the first thing you should do is learn how to use Track Changes in MS Word. Read and practice and get it down perfectly. After that, do some cheap-o work on some bid sites, or get some individual writers to hire you who are willing to give you references, and then send letters of introduction to the publishers you find asking if they are hiring editors. Worst they can say is no.

Lastly, several of the ‘self-publishing’ companies have ‘talent pools’ from which their clients can choose for editing services. Places like Trafford.

After you have a few ‘published’ credits under your belt, that is, books you edited that have gone on to be published, then you can start selling your services on your own website to authors who are looking for editing prior to submitting to a publisher or writers who are choosing to self publish.

Just a quick FYI, since I get asked this a lot: No, I don’t hire editors to work under me. I did do that in the past, and I have decided that is not the direction I want to go. No, I don’t give references or recommendations upon request. If I’m familiar with your work AND have worked with you, I will offer you a recommendation by referring you to someone I know, but please don’t ask me. I know too many aspiring writers and editors, so I don’t make recommendations or references for anyone unless I’ve worked on a professional project with that person and am completely familiar with their work. Don’t mean to be ugly, but I never want to be accused of playing favorites or being the reason someone does not get a job.

Anyway, if you want to edit, I highly recommend it, provided you can mee
deadlines and have an eye for detail. It can be fun, exciting and feels great to be a part of a finished product when that book goes on the shelves. I love working with the authors and the publishers and I’m proud of my career as an editor.

If you have any questions about editing, please ask them in the comments if you can, so others can benefit from the answers too, otherwise, holler at me and I’ll see if I can point you in the right direction for the answers to your questions.

Love and stuff,