How to Become a Book Editor


I spent three years as a freelance editor before I became a full-time content creator, and I can attest that it’s not for everyone. Learning how to become a book editor can be exhausting because of the numerous options and tasks.

You should have a good command over the English language and excellent communication skills with the author. But, first, you must know what type of editor you want to become. Should you be a developmental editor or a line editor? Maybe a proofreader?

This detailed guide explains how to get a job editing books. Find out the different types of book editor careers, how much they make, and the steps to take to become one.

What Does an Editor Do for a Book?

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A book editor’s job is to improve and make a book polished and perfect. They read manuscripts and decide what it needs in terms of content, structure, writing aspects, and marketing materials.

In short, a book editor prepares written material for publication. They are knowledgeable about the whole publishing process, from rewriting to printing. Some types of editors work directly with artists for book covers and illustrations.

Book editors usually do their work in front of a computer, whether in a publishing house or at home with a freelance career. I did enjoy the flexibility of being a freelance editor and working from home, but I know others might prefer the structured environment of an office.

Successful editors in the freelance industry offer their online editing services to self-published authors. Meanwhile, those in publishing houses work in teams. The associate editor is one example of an editing position in traditional publishing houses.

You can find other book editors in small publishing houses and book packagers. Book packagers are companies subcontracting the production of books for larger companies.

Some are found in government agencies and private organizations.

A book editor has been trained to master spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation skills. They also know style guides and can work approximately 40 hours a week.

The 4 Types of Book Editor Careers

Professional editors take on different career paths. Their editing job ranges from developmental editing to standard proofreading services. Take a look at the four kinds of book editors.

Developmental Editors

Developmental editors help book authors with the bigger picture of their work. Instead of focusing on spelling, grammar, and punctuation, they concentrate on the book’s organization and tone of voice.

I began my editing career in this niche and quickly learned I was more of a line editor because I had a good eye for catching typos and errors. I’m a reader at heart, so I spent a lot of time going back and re-reading sections because I would get lost in the story. If that sound like you, developmental editing might not be for you.

Developmental editing also requires skills in structuring content and organizing the chapters. These manuscript editors may also guide the writer in spotting plot holes and confusing dialogue. Poor character development and sentence phrasing are also part of their job.

The developmental editor is usually the first editor who holds the manuscript to ensure the reader understands the whole story. You’ll find them working in a publishing company or owning a freelance editing business.

Line Editors

I loved being a line editor. I got to work with authors and writers of all levels and genres. As a developmental editor, I was confined to certain genres, ones that I enjoyed reading and understood the tropes of. But with line editing, it didn’t matter the niche or content because I was only searching for technical errors.

Line or content editing guarantees that the book’s sentences are effective. These seasoned editors perform editing line by line instead of by paragraph. They fix the sentence structure, language use, and writing style to make it error-free.

A line editor’s entire career focuses on two things: syntax and word choice. Some acquire extra professional training in the writing’s emotion and tone.

Unlike developmental editors, line editors do not need to develop a tight relationship with authors. They can communicate with them back and forth for sentence improvements and rewrites. However, there’s no need to discuss more significant issues in the story.

A line editor can be a freelance or salaried position in the publishing industry.

Copy Editors

One of the four book editor jobs is the copy editor. These careers are responsible for identifying grammatical mistakes, punctuation issues, and other problems in writing. The editing process is similar to line editing but more mechanical.

In copy editing, the professional book editor should have an eye for detail to spot inconsistencies in work. For instance, copy editors should quickly differentiate between “its” and “it’s.” They also know when to use “theater” and “theatre.”

This editor position is common in traditional publishing houses and the freelance industry. In magazine editing, they are also known as sub-editors.

Proofreaders

Proofreading is the last line of defense before the actual book publishing process. I use two proofreaders for my works of fiction and can’t imagine publishing anything without them.

Proofreaders spot common types of errors that the copy editors missed: spelling, grammar, and ambiguous language.

That means these professionals should have the sharpest vision and attention to detail. Proofreading basics also include formatting mistakes, such as double spacing, repeated words, page numbers, and font styles.

Some proofreaders use editing tools to ease their job. Some editing software includes Grammarly, ProWritingAid, and Ginger.

What Degrees Do I Need to Be a Book Editor?

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Most book editors have a bachelor’s degree, usually in Communications, Journalism, or English. If you do academic editing, you must have a degree in a specific field, such as Education for education books and Medicine in medical editing.

Meanwhile, if you want to be part of the marketing team of editors, you must have a degree in Marketing or Advertising.

Some job postings, especially freelance editing jobs, do not require a bachelor’s degree. But they prefer a freelance editor with an editing certification program or course.

How Much Do Book Editors Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual salary for a book editor is $71,410, depending on the work experience. Entry-level positions in offices and freelance jobs for indie authors can be lower. Meanwhile, the salary for senior editors in firms is usually higher.

There may be better job opportunities for book editors in advertising, public relations, and related services. Their annual salary is $103,370. But you can also find book editors in motion pictures with a median pay of $83,990.

Book Editor Requirements

Getting started when learning how to get a job editing books can be challenging. Whether you want to do structural editing or academic editing, here are some book editor requirements you need.

Degree or Certification

A degree in Communication or English is the first qualification for becoming an editor for books. Despite the different types of editor, a degree in any of these programs will keep you up in the competition.

But if you want to build a freelance career, investing in online courses will be helpful. There are several editing and proofreading courses in Proofread Anywhere, Knowadays, Udemy, and Skillshare.

I took an Advanced Writing & Editor course at my local college. But I also utilized online tools like the courses mentioned above.

Writing Skills

I know it should go without saying, but being an excellent editor requires you to master the craft of writing. You should be knowledgeable in the English language in terms of grammar, research, and style guide.

One way to highlight your writing skills is by knowing the different writing conventions. Bad editors who can’t write will not help authors get their point across.

Internship or Entry-Level Position

Internships or entry-level positions in a publishing firm will help you gain work experience and build a portfolio. And any average editor knows the importance of building a portfolio to showcase one’s work samples.

Getting an internship will also help you enhance your soft skills. These include communication, time management, and administrative skills.

Industry Relationships

There are many ways you can develop relationships within the editing industry. One is by establishing your online presence. Set up a LinkedIn, Upwork, or Freelancer account to build your community. You can also develop a website to display your services.

Attending in-person events like publishing conferences is also one way to network. You might also join any professional association like the ACES Society for Editing. It costs $75 per year and provides book editors with a great network and tips on improving their jobs.

Resume

A resume is another essential requirement you should build, regardless of your dream career. Many online job listings require you to send a digital resume before scheduling an interview. Make sure to tailor your resume to an editing job by only including relevant work experience.

How Do I Start a Career in Book Editing?

While freelance editing has been popular because of the emergence of self-published authors, traditional editing jobs are here to stay. And besides, there are more positions available in these firms. Here are six steps to start a career in conventional book editing.

Step 1: Get a Bachelor’s Degree

A college program is essential in traditional publishing companies for long-term job stability. In fact, there are 57% more opportunities for college graduates than for non-graduates.

Most editors have a degree in Communication, Creative Writing, Journalism, or English. Others finished college programs like English Literature or Linguistics.

A degree in Marketing Management, Business, or Advertising may also qualify you to become an editor. However, these editors usually do not work with book manuscripts.

They are responsible for marketing materials for the books, such as posters, adverts, and social media posts.

Aside from the specialized skills, a college education also offers potential editors foundational skills for corporate employment. These include communication and networking skills.

Building a professional network in the editing industry is another benefit of getting a college degree. You can quickly get an internship or volunteering opportunity through your university or college resources.

Step 2: Refine Your Writing Skills

Each traditional editor needs to overcome bad writing if they want to land an excellent career. And these writing skills go beyond knowing the basics of proofreading. Whether they’re doing developmental, copy, or stylistic editing, they need to know the following:

  • Logical structure.
  • The tone of voice.
  • The sequence of events.
  • Character development.
  • Writing style guide.
  • Consistent language.
  • Clarity and conciseness.
  • Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization.
  • Formatting.

Editors are not only publishing professionals who perform actual editing or have basic office skills. They should also have the following qualities to get publishing internships.

Self-Control

A good editor enhances the author’s writing instead of their own. This skill requires additional training since it’s difficult for professionals to critique without incorporating their preferences.

Editors will get more excellent opportunities if they know how to prioritize the needs and wants of their clients.

Humility

The key to becoming a successful book editor is to be humble. Actual editors should give feedback respectfully and professionally. They should also read any feedback they receive from writers. Doing so will help develop a relationship between editor and writer.

Communication Skills

Because you’re the employee, you should help create author-focused communities in your firm. This requires good communication skills when giving honest feedback. Value your associations with clients through tact, honesty, and maturity.

Step 3: Learn Publishing and Editing Software

The third step to becoming a good book editor for a traditional publishing house is to learn the new tools. Any editor should know the best options for different writing forms and genres.

For example, if you’re editing a long-form academic piece, Hemingway and Grammarly are excellent tools. Hemingway keeps the piece of writing straightforward. It removes excessive adverbs, complex phrases, and sentences that are hard to read.

Grammarly is an excellent editing software for all types of writing. Aside from basic spelling and grammar issues, it can also spot tone and style mistakes. Customize the suggestions based on the genre, domain, and intent to receive more accurate feedback.

Scrivener is not an editing tool. But it’s an alternative word processor that lets you organize book chapters. It also has templates based on your project type: screenplay, novel, short story, etc.

Step 4: Seek Out Internships

Let’s get one thing straight. Corporate employers look for experienced editors who already know their way around the editing industry. One way to gain work experience as a student or fresh college graduate is by seeking internships in the same industry.

Your school might offer events, resources, and programs for internships. Grab these opportunities so you can develop relationships and experience as early as possible.

Another benefit of applying for an internship is your access to numerous tasks and departments. You’ll learn how to help senior editors, sit in on meetings, and complete real writing projects in the office.

Step 5: Sign Up for Seminars

It’s not enough to acquire a degree in English or Journalism. It will help if you continue honing your skills by signing up for seminars or lectures from time to time. There are one-day workshops you can attend face-to-face to meet fellow editors and build your network.

Enroll in online courses if you have a busy schedule. You’ll find asynchronous training programs on Skillshare, LinkedIn, and Udemy. But it’s better to look for live courses where the instructor explains the topics directly.

Step 6: Build Up Your Resume

Once you’re ready to find actual editing experience, it’s time to build your resume and find a real job. But if you want to include more work on your paper, you can do freelance work or find entry-level jobs. When I first began working as an editor, I actually offered my services for free to a few people just to exercise my skills and collect some testimonials.

To build a resume:

  1. Describe your past roles briefly and precisely.
  2. Start with your latest job title, the office, and the year you started and ended.
  3. Add a maximum of five bullet points of your accomplishment in that position.

Another tip for building a resume is to use the PAR method. This acronym refers to problem, action, and result. Identify a problem in the publishing house you worked in and what you did to solve it. Then, explain the specific effect it produced, including the numbers.

How Do I Get Started as a Freelance Book Editor?

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The process of becoming a freelance book editor is different from the procedures of being a traditional editor. Yes, there are greater opportunities in the traditional route, but I prefer freelancing as it gives so much control over your career. Here are five steps to follow to kickstart your freelance editing career.

Step 1: Establish an Online Presence

Freelancers thrive in the digital space rather than in face-to-face settings. So, the best way to put yourself out there is by establishing an online presence. Several platforms allow you to set up your profile and look for prospective clients, such as Upwork, LinkedIn, and Freelancer.

Include your previous work experience and educational background to inform them about your aptitude for editing. Some websites also allow you to display your certifications in editing to increase your credibility.

Online forums like Reddit allow you to participate in editing discussions actively. Feel free to befriend fellow editors and network with potential clients.

But the best way to establish an online presence is to develop your own website. It tells clients and fellow editors that you mean business. A good website has a visually pleasing color palette, intuitive design, and consistent writing tone.

It also includes your work samples, rates, and a description of yourself. You could also write blog posts to show potential clients about your interests while driving traffic.

Step 2: Network and Build Relationships

If traditional firms prioritize academic credentials, freelance clients look for editors with a vast network. This is the second step to building a freelance editing career for books. Try joining The Society for Editing or Editorial Freelancers Association to make your skills certified.

Try contacting past clients and see if they have recommendations for other clients. This method can be embarrassing, but it’s essential for building author-friendly communities.

Another way to network with other editors and potential clients is to attend local events or online seminars. You can also use social media to join LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups, and other online communities.

Volunteering for your friends, local businesses, and colleagues will help you build your editing network. It will also help you gain professional experience, especially if you’re only starting with your editing job.

Step 3: Strengthen Your Editing Skills

A freelance editing job does not mean you perform a low-quality job. It also does not mean you have inadequate professional skills. That’s why freelancers continue honing their skills through online programs and certifications.

Freelance editors are just as excellent as traditional editors because they know advanced spelling and grammar rules. There are opportunities for them to strengthen their editing skills because of the available gigs.

For example, you can change the setting on Upwork’s editing job listing to “entry-level” so you can look for more accessible jobs. These projects are quick, not demanding, and will help you enhance your skills until you find a stable career.

Step 4: Set Reasonable Rates and Clear Offerings

Once you have gathered the best editing skills, you can set worthy rates for your services. But before that, you should decide what writing genre you will specialize in. If you want to be a book editor, do you want to edit fantasy, romance, or science fiction manuscripts?

The average proofreading rate per word is around $0.013-$0.016. That’s equal to about $13-$16 per 1000 words. But developmental, content, and line editors usually earn more.

Editing for business or self-help books usually costs more. The rate per word is approximately $0.0158 per word or $15.80 per 1000 words. Young adult books cost around $0.0131 per word or $13.10 per 1000 words.

Your rates should also depend on the deadline that the clients set. The average cost of a proofreading service with a turnaround time of 245 hours is $51-$90. Meanwhile, a 5-day deadline costs $30-$40.

Pro Tip: Learn from my mistakes and be sure to set these rates upfront with your client so there’s no confusion after the work is done. Also, I would consider a structure of 50% upfront, and 50% upon completion.

Step 5: Use Binding Contracts

Signing contracts between freelancers and clients will help avoid conflicts. A well-written contract articulates both your expectations and requirements from each other. The agreement also includes your project timeline, time frame, and payment information.

Make sure to use specific language when writing the legally binding contract. For example, you can say, “Rate is set at $30 per 1000 words, not to exceed 10,000 words per day.” Specificity in quantity will protect you and your client from issues and surprises like revision.

Another tip for writing a freelance contract between the author and book editor is to define the project scope. Will you be editing the manuscript’s spelling and grammar only? Or should you provide feedback on the actual story? Answering these questions will eliminate confusion.

Becoming a Book Editor is a Commitment

Learning how to become a book editor is not an easy task. But once you set specific goals for your career, the application process will get easier. Soon, you’ll find yourself building your resume, attracting clients, and perhaps becoming a senior editor.

I hope this guide on how to get a job editing books inspires you to take action. Remember to stay committed to your work and be dedicated to lifelong learning.



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