This post is all about how to become a book editor, what book editors do, book editor salary and rates info, how to find book editor jobs, and more!
Every book needs an editor, and every editor knows the blood, sweat, tears, and magic that goes into a book.
To become an editor for books, you need manuscript editing training; a meticulous eye for grammar, usage, punctuation, and syntax; knowledge of The Chicago Manual of Style; and a love for the craft of writing.
Depending on the level of editing needed, you have to understand the different elements of story and genre-specific storytelling techniques.
If you’ve spent time daydreaming about how to become a book editor, here’s what you need to know to get started.
My Guide to Becoming a Book Editor
- The definition of a freelance editor
- What freelance book editors do
- An editor’s salary and editorial rates
- The 4 levels of editing
- Why we need good editors
- Manuscript editing vs. online editing
- How to become a book proofreader
- Traditional publishing vs. freelance
- How to find book editing jobs
- Marketing your editorial business
- Editing tools to get started
What Is a Freelance Editor?
First off, freelance editors are professionals who work with content to make it shine. Depending on the type of editing (e.g., developmental or structural editing, line editing, copyediting, or proofreading), the particulars of an editor’s day-to-day tasks and responsibilities can range significantly.
Regardless of the type of editing needed, every freelance editor needs to have:
- A sharp eye for detail
- An excellent ability to communicate what the text needs to the writer or project manager
- A strong understanding of grammar, usage, punctuation, and syntax.
Some editors need to know what works in a story on a big-picture level. Some editors need to know how to refine an author’s voice, how to tighten a thesis in a dissertation, how to engage the audience given a specific tone or style, or how to catch mechanical typos in the final stage of the publishing process.
Aside from literary editing or book editing, you can pursue a career in academic editing, medical editing, news and magazine editing, media editing, and more.
What Do Book Editors Do?
As mentioned above, the different levels of editing will determine what an editor does on a daily basis and what those responsibilities entail. For example, if you’re a copyeditor, you may be more concerned with:
- Making sure stylistic preferences are consistent
- Catching grammar and syntax issues
- Ensuring the material is correct, clear, consistent, and concise
- Confirming correct and consistent spelling of proper nouns and names
- Checking that the front matter and table of contents matches chapter and section headings
- Reviewing the manuscript in tandem with the style sheet
As a content editor or line-by-line editor, your main responsibilities would be more along the lines of:
- Flagging awkward, redundant, or ambiguous language
- Addressing pacing issues and overall flow of the story
- Line-by-line changes to correct transitions
- Enhancing storytelling techniques like tension, dialogue, character development, or action
- Considering word choice to elevate and tighten a manuscript
Tasks Outside of Editing
Freelance book editors don’t just spend their time editing books. They also tend to:
- Sample edits
- Work estimates, proposals, and agreements/contracts
- Business development and continued education
- Networking and finding clients
- Ongoing author communication
- Editorial letters and style sheets
- Other supplemental material when relevant (e.g., character lists, book maps, etc.)
Especially in a traditional publishing setting, book editors often wear many different hats and aren’t just isolated to the editorial stages of publishing.
Some editors help authors write and revise their work, some contribute to the marketing and publicity of a book or write the blurb copy, and some help with formatting and typesetting.
In general, freelance book editors tend to focus only on specific areas of the editorial process at a time, like developmental editing, content editing, copyediting, and proofreading.
An Editor’s Salary and Editorial Rates
How much do freelance editors make?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for editors (in the general editing profession) was $63,400 in May 2020.
According to the Editorial Freelancers Association, the industry rates for freelance editors vary significantly based on experience and the type of editing. For instance:
- Developmental fiction editing: $46–$50/hr
- Nonfiction copyediting: $41–$45/hr
- Developmental nonfiction editing: $51–$60/hr
- Business/sales copyediting: $46–$50/hr
- Medical copyediting: $46–$50/hr
- Developmental editing: $61–$70/hr
The 4 Levels of Editing
There are so many hands that touch a manuscript during the publishing process. The definitions of the four levels of editing vary from publisher to publisher or client to client, but for most freelance book editors, the different levels are:
- Developmental or structural editing
- Content or line editing
Other Editing-Related Services
Some freelance book editors also provide manuscript or story evaluations, which is a big-picture assessment of an early draft—almost like a diagnostic report—of what’s working and what’s not in a manuscript, highlighting specific areas for revision.
You may also find some book editors who offer book coaching services or query services for writers seeking to submit query letters and book proposals to literary agents or publishers.
Why We Need Good Editors
Unfortunately, like copywriting, editing is a profession that is sometimes undervalued. It’s an invisible job to most people because it’s a stage of the book publishing process that the reader doesn’t see. But we need quality editors, and a well-edited book matters for so many reasons.
Rather than relying on spell-check and hoping for the best, writers need equipped, passionate editors to:
- Flag grammatical, spelling, and usage errors that conceal the quality of work
- Ensure consistency and abide by vital style rules
- Communicate necessary changes to create positive connections with readers
- Enrich the overall manuscript with respect to the flow, readability, structure, and tone of the narrative
An excellent editor is able to specifically diagnose what’s wrong with a sentence or passage and recast it to make it stronger, tighter, and more compelling.
They don’t just know something is “off”—they know what needs to be improved because of specific training in grammar, usage, punctuation, and syntax. If they don’t know, they know where to find the answer, and they are diligent to research every detail, no matter how small.
RELATED: Good Habits of Editors | NaNoWriMo
How to Become a Book Proofreader
Not all book editors are proofreaders, and content editing or copyediting is a completely different skill than proofreading. Before you become a proofreader for books, you need to make sure you have the eye for it.
To become a proofreader, you must learn how to:
- Work with type and watch for changes in typeface or type size
- Understand the typesetter’s language
- Query with precision and clarity
- Separate mechanical (format) proofreading tasks from reading tasks
- Follow style sheets and other important lists as you proofread
- Spot common errors, like incorrectly spelled names, incorrect dates, omissions of words, etc.
- Identify problematic orphans, widows, stacks, or bad breaks
- Check titles, subtitles, charts, page numbers, and more against the table of contents
- Check for garbled or repeated text
Proofreading is the process of reading a text and scrutinizing all of its components to find errors and mark them for correction. Each major stage of a manuscript intended for publication—especially the final version the author submits to the publisher and, later, the copyedited version of the same—is generally reviewed in this way. Proofreading here, however, applies to the review of the manuscript after it has been converted to a format for publication but before it is published.CMOS 2.100
Proofreaders may proofread the book in:
- A Word document
- The typeset copy (first galleys)
- Revised galleys
- Printer’s proof
If these different stages of the publishing process are new to you or the typesetter’s language is foreign to you, taking a proofreading course through an Editing certification program or editor association will help you gain the necessary skills and vocabulary to move forward as a proofreader.
Manuscript Editing vs. Online Editing
Editing a manuscript is very different than editing any other type of content. Whether you’re editing a print manuscript or you’re editing a book electronically, manuscript editing requires the following:
- You abide by a style sheet: Book editors have to keep track of specific, personalized style preferences to remain consistent throughout the manuscript. They have to record every type of style preference, from punctuation and formatting to unique spellings and treatment of words. Most book editors rely on style sheets to check correct spellings of characters’ names and other proper nouns or terms.
- You consult The Chicago Manual of Style constantly: Book editors generally rely on the CMOS, the main reference guide to style, usage, and grammar for writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, copywriters, designers, and publishers.
- You are the reader’s advocate: It’s not enough to be grammatically correct or clear; book editors have to consider the reader first and foremost and how to advance the story or keep readers turning pages. In other words, as Carol Fisher Saller puts it in The Subversive Copy Editor, “working for the reader, through the writer.” As a book editor, you aren’t just editing a single page of content. You have to consider the entire structure, overall flow, and readability of a book—beginning, middle, and end. This means manuscript editors have to communicate with authors about whether or not the words on the page are translating to the reader in the most appealing way.
- You query the author and review multiple drafts: Most editors will work on a manuscript through multiple passes or edits and maintain strong author communication to see a better product emerge. Manuscript editors are well versed in the art of querying: you don’t want to be patronizing or over explain something. This is a unique skill you build as you learn to hone your book editor voice.
Traditional Publishing vs. Freelance
The Hiring Process
In my experience, a career in traditional publishing is much more competitive and harder to obtain than a freelance career. Traditional publishing houses tend to be in larger cities, for one, and a lot of full-time freelance book editors have chosen to go freelance because they were geographically limited.
Book editors at traditional publishing houses often start out in other roles (editorial assistants, project managers, marketing jobs, etc.). Most of the time, editing or reviewing a manuscript is only one small part of their responsibilities. They also tend to work with more experienced authors.
As a result, book editors at traditional publishers tend to have greater visibility into the rest of the publishing process. They have room to grow and can gain insight into different aspects of the industry. For freelance book editors, continued education, networking, and keeping up with the ever-changing publishing landscape is a self-led effort.
On the other hand, as a freelance book editor, you get to decide what type of projects you take on and what authors you want to work with. It can be an incredibly rewarding experience to work with new writers and offer educational resources.
The Author-Editor Relationship
Freelance book editors tend to work with a variety of editorial agencies and independent authors. They offer a selection of editorial services based on their strengths, skills, and passions.
Freelance editor: As a freelance content editor, your job is to present authors with edits and give them the best case for why your edits are improvements. But at the end of the day, indie authors are going to publish what they want to publish. Freelance book editing can feel a little more transactional, but this isn’t always the case.
Traditional editor: As a book editor at a traditional publishing house, you have a little more control over what the finished product will look like, and the relationship between editor and author is much more collaborative.
How to Find Book Editing Jobs
Editor Job Listings
There are a variety of remote book editing jobs out there—in job boards like Indeed.com, MediaBistro.com, and Publishers Weekly—but also, you can find job postings through editorial associations and groups like the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), American Copy Editors Society (ACES), and more. Sometimes you can create a profile through editor associations so writers can find you.
Online networking with other editors through social media (editor Facebook groups, Twitter, etc.) can prove to be very beneficial. Sometimes seasoned editors have too much on their plates and can pass on work, and referral clients can open the door to other editorial opportunities.
As a freelance book editor, you often find book editing jobs wherever writers spend their time, so getting to know author-friendly communities on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, and more can be fruitful.
In-person events, like writing and publishing conferences, writing critique groups, author festivals and workshops, etc., can be wonderful networking opportunities. Look for conferences or events specific to the type of editing you’d like to do.
Marketing Your Editorial Business
Getting the word out there about your editorial business can feel overwhelming. Where do you start, and how do you attract prospective clients?
Follow Your Passions
The biggest advice I have for editors is to follow their passions. If you are passionate about editing science fiction, follow science fiction groups and communities online or in person. Make connections with sci-fi authors and make it known that you (a) appreciate the craft (b) have knowledge in the genre, and (c) have experience editing books.
Be Part of the Discussion
Social media platforms, networks, online forums, and associations or groups make networking online easy, especially for the introverted editor!
Participate in discussions online, create content in the areas that interest you, become members of associations and groups (several of them require a small annual fee, but the cost is well worth it).
You can find a variety of publishing industry conferences and conventions, big or small, to attend in person if that’s more of your jam. Bring your business cards and be prepared to ask publishers or other potential clients about editing opportunities.
Editing Tools to Get Started
To get started as a book editor, you will need:
- Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature to make your edits, comments, and overall changes
- Adobe Acrobat for proofreading PDFs and e-signing work agreements
- Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Calendar for organization and revenue tracking
- A productivity or time tracking software or method that works for you, like Toggl Track
- Craft resources, including editing books and editing class notes
- Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, or other client-preferred dictionary
- Style books specific to your project, including The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition
Note: You can get the physical CMOS and dictionaries as well as an online subscription, which can be really helpful if you’re trying to improve your pacing while you edit.
Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a Freelance Book Editor
How do I become a freelance editor with no experience?
Start consuming as much content as you can about the craft of writing and editing. Read books on editing, listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, and so on. Join a writing critique group and practice providing constructive feedback to other writers.
Map out your continued education plan. Do you need a grammar refresher course? Do you need to learn about electronic editing specifically? Before you can charge for your editing services, you need to add to your editing tool belt.
What qualifications do I need to be an editor?
To become an editor, it’s best to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, preferably English Literature or Journalism. However, a bachelor’s degree isn’t always a must, and an English bachelor’s degree isn’t always a must. Specializing in your area of interest is key.
A bachelor’s degree may help you get your foot in the door for traditional publishing internships or other publishing jobs, but your past experience, editing-specific continued education courses, and writing skills are far more valuable for starting a career as a freelance book editor.
Continue to build your portfolio and connect with other publishing professionals to better position yourself for an editor role.
How do freelance editors get clients?
Build an online presence so clients can find out more about your editing background, philosophy, testimonials, services, and rates.
- Apply to job boards
- Members-only listings through editor associations and groups
- Author-focused communities on social media
- Industry job postings like Publishers Weekly
Getting involved online or in person with writing and publishing communities will help you establish industry relationships and get your name out there.
Can you be a book editor without a degree?
Yes. A bachelor’s degree will only help you, but if you want to become a book editor, you can curate a training road map for yourself that doesn’t include a degree.
You can take individual editing and proofreading courses through associations and editing groups or you can pursue an Editing certification program like the University of Chicago Graham School. These certification programs are often more appealing to publishers than a bachelor’s degree because they are so specific to manuscript editing, not just the English language.
Are book editors in demand?
Yes. Because of the self-publishing boom, freelance book editors are in demand more than ever before.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ publication, Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment of print media editors is projected to grow 5 percent in the next nine years, which is slower than the average.
Even so, 11,200 openings for editors are projected each year. This data doesn’t mean employment growth isn’t happening specifically for freelance book editors. The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics is not clear about the future growth for editors, mainly because it lumps together newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers.
Is it hard to become a book editor?
Becoming a book editor is not easy, but if you’re determined to grow your knowledge and skills and you’re open to working on a variety of projects, it’s absolutely possible.
Just as with any career change, you will have growing pains, and it takes time to build experience and authority.
How to become an editor for a publishing company?
The best way to become an editor for a publishing company is to search for internship roles, editorial assistant positions, or other entry-level jobs that could eventually turn into editor jobs. You will most likely need a bachelor’s degree in a related field and a strong portfolio.
This post was all about how to become an editor for books and grow your editorial business. Make sure to check out my e-course, Freelance Editing 101: Launch or Grow Your Editorial Business.