Want To Become A Book Editor? Here's Your Step-By-Step Guide

You have an eye for detail — and a love of good writing. Friends who write know they can count on you to help them polish their books, articles, and reports.

Maybe folks have even said, “You’re so good at this! You should be a book editor.”

So, after some soul-searching, you’re on the hunt for information on how to become a book editor.

After all, if you’re so good at it, and you happen to enjoy the work, why not get paid for it?

Book Editor Job

Here’s where it gets tricky. Turning something you do for friends and family members into something you do for money isn’t as simple as calling yourself an editor and creating a website with your contact information.

  • So, what do you need to do?
  • What kind of degree, if any, do you need for a book editor job?
  • Where will you find book editor jobs that will keep you busy and pay the bills (with plenty left over)?

How To Become a Book Editor

Your academic and professional background will have some bearing on your process of becoming a book editor.

If you have a college degree in English or Journalism, for example, you’ll have an edge with some employers and clients over those who do not.

Having that degree tells people you know how to get work done by a deadline.

And whether you work for clients or for a company, there will be deadlines.

getting book from rows of books book editor

But the lack of a college degree shouldn’t discourage you.

Experience as an editor conveys the same message regarding deadlines, while glowing testimonials give future clients a taste of what they can expect if they work with you.

Aside from your credentials, there are expectations an editor must meet to not only establish themselves as a professional but to consistently attract to new and repeat business:

  1. Give honest and thorough feedback — and always respectfully. Clients want honesty, delivered with respect. It helps if you put yourself in the client’s place.
  2. Edit to improve the client’s book — not to rewrite it with your own voice. Your job is to make your client’s writing better, not to make it your own.
  3. Edit to serve the client — not your ego. As an editor, you’re working as part of a group with the author and others involved in making the book reach its potential.
  4. Grow and maintain your mastery of the written language. Editing is one job where being a hyper-detail-oriented grammar expert is an advantage.

Types of Book Editors

Of the four types listed, the three that include the word “editor” are more comprehensive in their approach than a proofreader, who does the final sweep for small mistakes.

Developmental Editor

These big-picture editors cover all the issues related to your book’s overall message or storyline.

They can spot plot holes, factual errors, inconsistencies, weak arguments, ambiguities, and insensitive language that can either confuse or alienate readers.

They can also discuss any issues with character development (arcs, descriptions, dialogue) and suggest improvements worth implementing.

After a developmental editor has worked their magic, it’s time for a rewrite.

Line Editor

Another skilled professional with a big-picture view of your work, the line editor not only reviews each sentence and paragraph for correctness, clarity, and flow, they also make sure your work as a whole makes sense.

As a line editor, your job is more about the substance of your client’s writing than about the sentence-level details. But depending on your contract, you might also provide one or both of the following services.

Copy Editor

While more focused on sentence-level mistakes and weaknesses — as well as tone and clarity — good copy editors are well worth the rates they ask (and then some).

The tricky thing for authors is they don’t know what they’re missing when they don’t pay a skilled editor to review their work; they only find that out when they do. That’s where you come in, and that’s where you can change your client’s life for the better.

At the very least, you’ll help your clients avoid the dreaded “Needs an editor” reviews.

Proofreader

The proofreader does the final sweep for small mistakes — typos, punctuation errors, extra spaces, etc. — missed during the more comprehensive sweeps.

Depending on the type of editor you choose to become, this may be the extent of the work you do, or it may be included in your editorial services.

women working on their laptops book editor

A copy-editor or line editor may do a final proofread as the third of three editing sweeps. If you work as a professional proofreader, though, you’ll likely run through your client’s work more than once to ensure you’ve caught everything.

Because your livelihood depends on your not missing a single important detail.

How To Become a Book Editor Without A Degree

There’s more than one way to become a book editor, but your background — both academic and professional — will have much to do with the route you choose.

As mentioned earlier, even without a college degree, you have options. And the more active you are in developing your skill set and marketing yourself, the more likely you are to attract clients you’ll enjoy working with.

In fact, the more you take action each day to build your business and attract clients, the less you and your clients will worry about that lack of a college degree.

  1. Study the Chicago Manual of Style — or the stylebook most closely related to the type of writing you’ll be editing (books, journal articles, etc.)
  2. Get some editing experience. — For example, do some pro bono editing work for authors in your network, and collect testimonials from them.
  3. Take some online courses. — Check out the course offerings for editing skills on Udemy, LinkedIn, etc. Focus on those that come highly recommended.
  4. Take LinkedIn’s editing skills test. Once you pass it, you get a certificate you can post on your profile for added credibility.
  5. Create a website to market your editing services. — You can also blog on this website with content your ideal clients would find interesting enough to read.

How to Become a Freelance Editor

If you’re particularly interested in working as a freelance editor — rather than for a publishing house or other organization — the following action steps are critical to your success:

#1 — Decide on the type of editing you’ll do.

If you focus on a specific type of editing, you’ll look more like an established professional than if you market yourself as an editor who will do “whatever needs to be done.”

It sounds counter-intuitive, but being an “I’ll do anything” editor makes you less attractive to discerning clients, who are usually looking for someone who specializes in a specific kind of editing or in the type of writing they want edited.

woman reading using magnifying glass book editor

As an editor, you’re more likely to convince clients you know your stuff if they know exactly what that stuff is.

And “general editing” doesn’t tell them much.

Most hungry freelancers start out as generalists and become more niche-focused as they gain experience and learn how to market themselves.

#2 — Develop your editing skills.

There are a number of ways to build on and strengthen the skills you have as an editor. Consider the following when making your career action plan:

  • Seek out internships at publishing houses. — Working for a book publisher will give you insider knowledge and experience, as well as the opportunity to build valuable relationships.
  • Familiarize yourself with publishing and editing software. — You’ll need to be familiar with the most widely-used editing and publishing software. Look up tutorials on Udemy and YouTube.
  • Take advantage of seminars, lectures, or workshops on editing. — Learn from established editing professionals and take advantage of the chance to network.
  • Do pro bono or discounted work for author friends/connections. — Don’t forget to ask for testimonials from those who would happily recommend you to others.

#3 — Master the best of both inbound and outbound marketing.

Creative professionals who know how to market themselves have a distinct advantage over those who don’t.

Inbound marketing — also known as “permission-based marketing” — has eclipsed outbound (or “interruption-based”) marketing for good reason.

You’re not shoving information about your services into the faces and inboxes of everyone you meet.

Inbound marketing draws people in by earning their permission (in a variety of ways) before you give them information they have a reason to care about.

So, which inbound marketing methods are most worth your time and energy?

  • Create a website to market your editing services. You need a stable online platform that you control and that makes it easy for people to contact you.
  • Learn and practice good SEO strategy with your blog and website copy.
  • Create separate, client-focused social media accounts for your editing business.
  • Optimize your LinkedIn profile to attract more of your ideal clients.
  • Learn and master email marketing. Give your subscribers a reason to consider you when they need an editor.
  • Cross-promote with other trustworthy creative professionals.
  • Create and share professional business cards. They still work. And they’re cheaper than books your prospective clients can just as easily shelve and forget.
  • Make time for networking in person. Clients are more likely to work with people they’ve met and gotten along with in person.
  • Perfect your elevator pitch, so if anyone asks, “What do you do?” you’ll know exactly what to say in 30 seconds or less. Keep it simple and authentic.

Don’t write off this powerful outbound marketing method, warmed up for modern usage:

  • Master the art of cold (or, better yet, “warm”) pitching. Do some research before you pitch. If you’re going to interrupt someone’s day, make it worth their time.

Book Editor Salary

Your salary as an editor will depend on the clients you contract with and how much they value your work and are able to pay you.

On the flip side, the value you place on your own work and time — along with the income you need to earn — will largely determine the clients with whom you choose to work.

man typing on laptop book editor

This book editor salary article provides more information on standard rates for professional editors at all levels.

When you’re starting out as an editor, you’ll likely charge less to gain experience and develop your editing skills.

This is also when you’ll build your collection of testimonials.

But, at some point, in the interest of keeping your business alive and growing, you’ll need to ensure that you’re reaching your income targets each month.

And that means you’ll keep working to hone your skills and increase your visibility and outreach.


More Related Articles:

What Is A Book Editor’s Salary?

Hiring the Right Book Editor

The Hemingway Editor And App Review


Time to Take Action

So, now that you know how to become a book editor, what will you do today to get closer to your goal?

What kind of editing appeals to you most? And do you already have some idea of where you can get your first testimonials?

Whatever you decide, make sure this is something you could do full-time without wishing you’d tried your cousin’s MLM instead.

If you do some editing jobs for author connections and find that you hate it, be honest with yourself and revise your goals.

You don’t have to have your life all figured out. No one really does. It’s a day-by-day thing.

So, be kind to yourself, encourage others, and take this one step a time.

If you are skilled at editing and want to turn your skills into a career, then you need to learn how to become a book editor the right way. Our step-by-step guide gives you all of the answers and direction you need to get started.

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