Last week, I went over how to set up a writing business. This week, as promised, I’ll be going over how to become an editor and set up your own editing business. This will be great for someone who isn’t sure where they should begin on this journey but want to understand how to make money as an editor.
The question I get a lot as an editor is how did I get started. Did I go to school for it? Was it through a college or certificate program? While there are a lot out there that are great like University of Washington’s, Simon Fraser University, and UC San Diego, I did not attend one. I’ve met some editor’s who have and say that it was helpful at giving them the skills that they needed to do the work.
My education to get into the work was honestly just reading and studying grammar on my own. I read through style guides and attempted to learn them to the best of my ability by selecting articles online and editing them in the style of AP or Chicago—the two more popular standards. I’d do that a few times a week and work on grammar and syntax exercises for the rest of the week in-between my other writing projects. After I felt comfortable and confident enough to tackle texts and edit them, I started reaching out for volunteer positions.
Those volunteer positions were vital at giving me something to put on my resume and in my portfolio when I finally started reaching out for gigs and more work.
I suggest people just starting out and veterans in the trade get grammar workbooks. I know it sounds childish, but it works. If you end up getting them and feeling as though what you are learning is stuff you already know, then graduate to adult grammar workbooks. Stay as sharp as you can on your skills and knowledge of grammar usage.
Follow the Chicago Manual of Style and AP websites for updates, which do happen. Like with writing, study it like a heart surgeon. Your knowledge on the subject is crucial to landing you work over other editors.
Not all editors are the same. There are different types that do different things. I read as a way to learn how to do developmental edits and content edits. I learned how stories work and what readers look for in them. I specifically read work from places that I wanted to work for so that I could learn how they view stories. That helped me a lot in landing my first couple of volunteer editing roles.
Like with starting a writing business, the main things you need to have to get yourself going is the knowledge, persistence, and willingness to search out clients until you build up enough of a reputation to have them search you out.
Get good at deadlines and meeting them. As someone who’s trying to become an editor and figuring out how deadlines work, you’ll want to understand that editing deadlines are sometimes really short, like a couple of hours on a hundred page document.
So, start timing yourself as you do projects through the grammar workbooks, reading stories or books, and editing through random articles you find online. See how long it takes you to copy edit a page of text or read and critique a page of a story. Later this will help out in interacting with clients and setting your rates.
The faster you are able to turn back error free copy, the higher you can charge for your
Common Types of paid or career Editors
- Copy Editor
- Developmental Editor
- Substantive or Content Editor
- Acquisition Editor
- Associate Editor
- Chief Editor
- Editor in Chief
This article is more geared toward the person who wants to start their own editing business as either a copy editor, proofreader, developmental editor, or substantive/content editor. You don’t need anyone’s approval to start working as one of these and accepting clients outside of working for magazines.
To find the clients that you would want to work with, pinpoint who your ideal client is by spending sometime thinking about what a perfect project looks like. How will you deal with issues? Do you want to work with others or do solo work?
Once figuring out your ideal clients and projects, find where those types of people hang out and share their work. Personally, I’ve found work through sites like Upwork, Fiverr, Reddit, Instagram, and Facebook.
You don’t need a business site or profile anywhere to start reaching out to people and advertising your services. What having a business site will do for you is give people a place to go to find you if they are outside of the places that you are advertising. It also makes you look more professional when you have a site to direct people to for your services and past work. My revenue increased when I got a site, so it is something that I recommend that you do, but you don’t need it to start making money.
If you want to work as a copy editor at a magazine or online periodical, you’ll need to narrow down which ones you want to work for by reading through their backlist and getting to know the staff behind the magazine. Follow them on social media and keep an eye out for any mentions of job openings. For developmental and substantive/content editors who want to work for publishing houses, you need to know someone that works in the department that you want to or start out at the bottom as an editorial assistant or reader.
There are some publishers that hold interviews for developmental editors, but they are hard to get into, and in my experience, I’ve found that they usually go with someone who is big in the community and has a large backlist of clients and books that they have worked on.
Proofreaders can find themselves work in a lot of different industries like government, business, entertainment, and insurance. For this, check job boards like Indeed or Google and see who is looking for work. It is much easier to get a starting position as a proofreader than it is to get one as a developmental editor sometimes.
Chief editors, acquisition editors, and editor-in-chiefs are all career roles that usually take a lot more than just knowledge and skill but lots of experience. If you don’t have any of that, then you’ll need to either start your own publishing company or magazine or know someone who would appoint you to that role in their organization.
Figuring Out what to Charge
Another common question that I get is setting rates for your work and understanding what is to little or too much to charge. A lot of people will tell you not to work for pennies or nothing, but sometimes doing that work leads you to the bigger contracts. Use your best judgment when it comes to working with a client.
Industry medians for pay as of today are*:
Copy editor: $2,892/project
Developmental Editor: $46-$56/hour
Content/Substantive Editor: $6,538/project
*These numbers come from the EFA and Writer’s Digest.
What you charge doesn’t have to be to industry standards especially if you have more experience, knowledge, and are faster with your projects. This is why knowing how fast it takes you to turn around a clean draft is important because a client isn’t going to pay you thousands of dollars to edit a 120,000-word book in a week if you can’t actually turn that book around in that time.
If you are just starting out and are slow, aim to have a lower hourly and project rate until you build up your chops. While on the other hand, if you are faster and more experienced, you can pretty much set your price with clients as long as you have a portfolio or past clients to back up your experience.
My advice for figuring out your rates is to set the amount of money you need or plan to earn from editing each month. It’s a lot easier than figuring out how much you want to take home in a year and doing the math to figure out how much you have to…..
Sticking to one month at a time in the beginning is an easy way to get started. Once you have an idea of how much you want to be working on editing projects than branch out to how much you want to be making in a quarter or year.
Say for example you want to earn $1,500 next month from editing. Then you’ll have to break that down into either hours or projects depending on what you want to work on.
Fresh out of the gate, you might see yourself working long hours just to get that $1,500 if you’re not careful with who you decide to work with. Let’s say you charge the beginning rate for copy editing $16/hour or $2,000/project. You’d have to work on one big project during that month or log 94 hours.
Knowing how long you take to finish a project will let you know what types of projects you need to be looking at to make your desired earnings in the amount of time that you need it. If an hour of work only gets you 2 pages completed, then you’ll know how much time you’ll need to devote to a project that would net you the $1,500.
At 2 pages an hour working at $15/hour, you’ll have to work on about 47,000 words or 188 pages worth of writing to bring home $1,500.
I’m not a one stop shop of advice for starting your editing business. Find other resources, some I’ve listed below, and figure out what works for you. If something in here doesn’t make sense to you, let me know in the comments. I want this to be easy so that anyone at any age can start an editing business and make money.
If you’re wondering what you can do today, right now to get started on setting up your business, I suggest you figure out how long it takes you to complete a project. Find an article or piece of writing from a client or type of client that you would want to work with and edit it to the style of editing that you want to get into while timing yourself.
After that, figure out your rates and who you want to work with. Then write yourself a cover letter and resume highlighting your editorial skills. If you have nothing to add to a resume for editing, then don’t worry about writing that one. But do write the cover letter explaining what type of editor you are and how you like to work. This’ll be a starting template for when you begin reaching out to clients and advertising your gigs.
Editorial Freelancers Association
The Write Life: Becoming an Editor Guide
Chicago Manual of Style
Elements of Style
Perfect English Grammar Workbook
Copy Editor’s Handbook
English Grammar Workbook for Adults