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How to Become a Book Editor in 2021: Everything You Need to Get Started

Do you have what it takes to become an awesome book editor?

I believe that behind every amazing author is a great editor. Editing can be hard work. But for those of you interested in the field, here are certain things you can do to break into the business.

Are you ready to find out whether you've got a budding editorial career? Let's dive in!

What Makes a Great Book Editor?

I'm going to be honest here. Just because you did well in your high school English class doesn't mean you'll make a good editor. To take things a step further, there are even many good writers out there who would make terrible editors. And the same can be said about many editors who want to become writers. Writing and editing are distinct disciplines. Both can be learned through practice, but just because you're good at one doesn't mean you'll be a natural at the other.

book editing
There are many writers out there who would make terrible editors. And the same can be said about editors becoming writers. Editing takes a special type of individual.Click To Tweet

Here are a few common traits of good editors to help you decide if this is work you want to pursue.

Editors are committed to making your book better, not turning your book into their book.

It takes a lot of self-control to read somebody else's work and critique it without interjecting yourself into the picture. Good editors have the unique ability to correct or modify writing while protecting the author's voice. It may sound trivial, but it's much harder than it seems.

There are some horror stories out there about bad editors. People who completely strip your work of its style and insert their own as a replacement. These are not what I would classify as true editors. These are usually just frustrated writers taking out their aggression on somebody else. A good editor will work hard to understand each author's goals and to offer suggestions in the context of those goals.

Editors aren't afraid to give honest feedback, but they do so respectfully.

A good editor is dedicated to helping a book reach its full potential. For this reason, editors need to be able to give honest, direct feedback. That said, some authors aren't always thrilled about honest, direct feedback, and editors need to be prepared for that.

A great editor understands that a writer's work is his/her passion. And that, because of this, writers and editors might butt heads during the process. That's okay. A little friction can be healthy in creative work.

Just make sure feedback is always communicated respectfully and in the context of the big picture goal: Producing an excellent book. This will help you do your job, while strengthening author relationships that can lead to referrals down the road.

Editors aren't in it for their ego.

It's hard to give feedback with humility. But the best editors find a way to do it. In my opinion, the secret is recognizing that editing and writing are two different jobs. The writer's job is to get their ideas onto paper as best they can. The editor's job is to help the author communicate those ideas more clearly. It's a team effort, not a competition.

Editors are masters of the written language.

It's one thing to understand grammar, but something else to be completely obsessed with it. And as an editor, you need to be. Editors are the last line of defense between the writer and the reader. If mistakes slip past the editor, they'll be exposed to the world, which can undermine the credibility and success of an entire book.

Much like “Mad-Eye” Moody, editors need to display constant vigilance making sure that doesn't happen. (Fingers crossed there aren't any typos in this article.)

The different types of editors (Which kind should you be?)

becoming a book editor

There are actually quite a few different types of editors. And if you're thinking about becoming one, it's important to consider exactly how you want to position yourself. Here are some of the most common types of editors:

Line Editors

Contrary to the name, line editors do not look at your book line-by-line. Instead, they take a more overall approach to editing your book. They're looking to make sure your book makes sense in general.

Developmental Editors

These editors are truly a blessing. They work very closely with the author to ensure your manuscript is complete. Among other things, they're the ones who help look for plot holes and discrepancies in novels. And they identify structural deficiencies, weak arguments, and unsupported claims in your nonfiction works. Often, developmental editors perform some of the work of line editors. Combined, this is called “substantive editing”.


A copy-editor is probably what most people envision when they think of book editors. They focus primarily on your book's style and tone — ensuring your work is smooth, clear, and consistent.


Proofreaders are often the last step of your editing process. These are the folks who ensure you have proper grammar, no misspellings, and correct sentence structure. Some proofreaders even take on the role of a formatter. They'll let you know whether or not your book is ready to go as far as printing and publishing.

When choosing to become a book editor, you may want to focus on just one field of editing. Or you may choose to offer services at multiple stages of the editing process. Now that you know more about your options, let's look at how to actually break into the business.

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How can you earn the qualifications needed to become a book editor?

You may have a natural gift for editing. But that doesn't mean your craft shouldn't be refined. There are quite a few steps you can take in your journey to becoming a book editor. And they aren't going to be the same for everyone. But here are some basic guidelines for breaking into a more formal editing role (like at a publishing house). We'll discuss freelance editing further down.

As mentioned above, many editors actually get their start in journalism or publishing. But English or Communications degrees can work out just as well. This background provides you with the fundamental skills you'll need to be an editor, from knowing the parts of a book to having some writing experience. Business and Marketing degrees can also make great foundations, but you'll need to practice your writing. Which brings up the next point…

You need to hone your own personal writing skills.

Book editing isn't one of the “Those who can't do, teach” things. You'll need to be able to actually write in order to be a good editor. Now, that doesn't mean you need to have a fantasy author's imagination, but you should be able to properly write or correct copy when needed. One way to practice your writing is to start a blog.

You should familiarize yourself with publishing and editing software.

Publishing and editing software will be among the tools of your trade if you choose to become a book editor. It would behoove you to learn how to navigate your way around them. There are many courses online that'll help guide you through the basics. Udemy often has a great selection of publishing and editing tools courses to get you started.

Seek out internships and seminars.

If you're serious about becoming a book editor, applying for an internship at a publishing house might be one of the best things you can do. There, you'll get an up close and personal look into the life of an editor. It'll be one of the best ways to learn the tricks of trade and form valuable relationships.

You can also sign up for seminars or lectures on book editing. These are normally one day workshops that help to refresh your knowledge.

Getting Your Start as a Freelance Editor

Many professional book editors start from traditional publishing houses and migrate towards freelance work. But what if you wanted to start right away as a freelancer? Is it impossible?

No. It's not impossible, but you definitely are going to have some work ahead of you to get caught up to the others.

Starting from the ground up when becoming a freelance editor is tough. But it is doable with enough gumption.Click To Tweet

So what's the best way to catch up? Get to work. Seriously though, you need to put yourself out there and start editing. This may mean taking up several small-profile editing jobs. But that's just fine. You need to start building your portfolio and credentials somehow. Remember every single editor out there had to start somewhere. And that somewhere usually wasn't at the top.

You can also join different editing associations–such as ACES (The Society for Editing)–and certify your expertise. Relationships with these types of groups show your potential clients that you are serious about your work.

And while finding clients is a big part of getting started in freelance editing, it's not the only concern. You'll also want to think about what services you'll provide and how you'll price those services. Check out our list of book editors to get a better idea of how established editors are going about this.

And as with any freelance work you do, we encourage you to put everything in black and white. Have your contracts drafted and reviewed by legal professionals like the team over at LegalZoom.

How to Develop Your Book Editing Presence Online

In today's Digital Era, the Internet has made getting noticed so much easier. And that principle definitely rings true when it comes to how to become a book editor — whether you're freelancing or trying to land a formal position.

One of the first things you'll want to do is establish your own website. This will be your primary source of advertisement for your services. Websites are relatively cheap and easy to setup.

In addition to talking about your services, another great thing to do on your website is actually demonstrate your expertise. Consider writing a few blog posts about topics related to book editing, such as:

  • Writing How-to's
  • Publishing Tips
  • Editing Tricks
  • Software Reviews
  • Company Comparisons
  • Personal Stories from the Editing World

Your website isn't going to be a major hit overnight. But it gives you an easy way to talk about your offerings and a professional place to send the people you run into at a conference or networking event.

Another way to build up your online presence is through social media. Consistent content and the right hashtags can help you get discovered by the authors you're wanting to work with. Check out our Social Media for Writers article for tips to get started.

How to Make the Connections You'll Need as an Editor

Networking is a huge part of succeeding as a book editor, especially when you're first starting out. There are several ways to start networking effectively both digitally and in person, so you can rise above the noise and start getting some attention.

networking for book editors

Online Networking

When it comes to online networking, social media is your friend. Join groups dedicated to writers, authors, and book editing. Here, you may be able to offer your services when the opportunity arises. (Mind you, some groups are against outwards advertisement. Be sure to check the rules first!) Platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook are great places to start creating your editing network.

Also, you can get active on publishing or editing forums such as those found at Reddit.

Face-to-Face Networking

Although we live in a digital world, don't overlook the importance of networking in person. It's never too early to start attending conventions, book fairs, or conferences. This opens up a whole new world of opportunities.

In-person events are also a great opportunity to show off some sweet new business cards. For more info on creating a killer business card, check out our article.

Where to go for More Information

If you're interested in diving deeper into becoming an editor, there's a well-reviewed, one-hour course on Udemy called “How to Become a Freelance Editor: Make Money Copy Editing.” It's normally $79.99, and Udemy is known for running sales pretty regularly. If you're looking for a next step, I'd encourage you to check it out.

Quick Note: We are Udemy affiliates because we believe the platform has some great content at lower prices than most alternatives.

Do you have what it takes to become a book editor?

As you can clearly see, becoming a book editor is no easy task. But it does get easier as you starting building your resume and delighting clients who can later refer you to their friends.

And if you're up to the task, a freelance book-editing career can make for a very rewarding life. Normally, this type of work comes with a much greater degree of flexibility than other jobs. And the pay can be pretty good as you grow your clientele. All you need to do is dig down and ask yourself,

“Do you have what it takes?”

Last Thing: Much love and respect to all the hardworking editors out there. The right books at the right time can change the world, and editors are in the business of making books better. That's important work, and I'm grateful for the people with the skill and dedication to do it.


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9 thoughts on “How to Become a Book Editor in 2021: Everything You Need to Get Started

  1. Crystal

    Thank your for the information! 🙂

    1. Dave Chesson

      Glad to have helped.

  2. Elizabeth Kelly

    Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, I am frequently referred to as the grammar nazi by friends and family (always in the most loving way possible, of course, and generally at the same time that they are asking me to review something they’ve written). I actually have a visceral response to incorrect grammar and typos. Just thinking of the cultural debacle that is the misuse of “me, myself, and I” is enough to make me shudder. I enjoy a spirited discussion of the use of the oxford comma, and when I realized that my copy of Strunk & White had disappeared during a recent move, I was compelled to immediately replace it, just because I enjoy re-reading it occasionally.

    It is this strong committment to proper grammar (I prefer to avoid the use of the word “obsession” whenever possible) combined with my heavy reading habit that led me to your article. While I enjoy reading ebooks on my kindle, I needed to employ a sort of desensitization process in order to allow me to do so, as typos and grammatical errors seem to be widespread across the format. However, after encountering error after error in a recent ebook by a popular, prolific, and well-reviewed author, I could not stop thinking “oh my god, do none of these authors have a grammar obsessed sister to do a final proofread?” and “how could a professional, paid proofreader miss all of these? I could do a much better job.” Through the miracle of Google, a minute later, I was reading your article and considering a career as an editor.

    I wanted to comment to thank you for your detailed and informative description of the types of editors and the possible paths to pursue a career in this field. It gave me a lot to think about. However, I must also admit that my comment was at least partially motivated by your mention of grammar obsession (okay, yes, it applies to me) and a concern regarding possible typos in the same section and my discovery of a typo later in the article. Usually, I have no way to bring a typo to the author’s attention when I find it, but this time, the comment button was right there, and I couldn’t resist. It’s in the first paragraph of the “Do You Have What It Takes…” section. It reads “it does get easier as you starting building your resume” instead of “as you start building.” My apologies, but I just couldn’t help myself.

  3. Deanna L

    I truly appreciate all the amazing info you discussed in this post. I got a few ideas on how to take my dream of becoming a book editor to the next level with practical action. Looking forward to checking out the info/links you provided.

    1. Dave Chesson

      Awesome and you’ve got this!

  4. Reeta Chauhan

    Loved your content. To be a good editor is a tough task however your article just made it look so easy. It is the perfect guide for me.
    Please keep writing more blogs like these.

    1. Dave Chesson

      Thank you and I will.

  5. Pulkit Dwivedi


    Your self-publishing experience will help me a lot in self- publishing my book. After reading your journey have given me more clarity on how can I get my script edited more easily and efficiently.
    Now have idea of all the challenges and obstacles that i will encounter while editing and will take all the necessary precautions needed.
    I also got a clear understanding of what type of editing I need for my book and also the type of editor that suits my need the best.
    I now realize the true meaning of editing as it is the most important aspect of self-publishing.


    1. Dave Chesson

      Awesome and glad to have helped!

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