I believe that behind every fantastic author is a great editor. There’s a reason you often see thanks or dedications to editors in the front matter.
Editing a book is hard work. It may not take as long as it took to write it, but book editors work very hard to help novels reach their potential.
To become a book editor, you need a bachelor’s degree, a firm grasp of the written word, and the willingness to seek relevant job opportunities.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty details about what it takes to become a successful book editor.
Interested in learning more about being a book editor and how to edit? Check out this page with a comprehensive guide and a TON more resources!
- Duties & responsibilities of a book editor
- How much a book editor makes
- What makes a great editor
- The 4 types of editors
- The qualifications needed to become a book editor
- How to get started as a traditional editor
- The qualifications needed to become a book editor
- How to develop your online presence
- How to network as an editor and build the connections you'll need to succeed
Table of contents
- What is a Book Editor?
- Duties & Responsibilities of a Book Editor
- Typical Book Editor Salary
- Education and Qualifications for Book Editor
- What Makes a Great Book Editor?
- The 4 Types of Book Editors
- How to Get Started as a Traditional Book Editor
- How to Get Started as a Freelance Book Editor
- Develop Your Online Presence as an Editor
- How to Network as an Editor
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What is a Book Editor?
A book editor is someone who edits the words, punctuation, overall story, and/or formatting in a manuscript. They need to be good at fact-checking and paying attention to details.
Freelance editors take on work they can find online, via networking, or through relationships with book publishing houses. Traditional editors hold a formal role in a traditional publishing house and even have a say in which books get published.
Depending on the type of book editor, he or she might work alongside the author from the very beginning, making big picture suggestions to improve the book.
Or they may be the final set of eyes to look at a book before it is published.
It’s no wonder that many bestsellers list their editors on the dedication page or the Thank You page.
A good editor takes a good concept and helps the author turn it into a good book.
A book editor costs different amounts for every project. Below, you can see how much each type of editor may cost for a novel-length manuscript.
- Developmental editors cost $1,000 and $8,000, depending on manuscript length and the individual editor’s experience level.
- Line editors cost between $600 and $2,000.
- Copy editors cost between $300 and $1,200.
- Proofreaders cost between $200 and $1,000.
How do I start a career in book editing? To start a book editing career, you need to determine which type of editor you want to be (developmental editor, line editor, copy editor, or proofreader). Then, you need to hone your writing skills and editing abilities. Finally, look for internships, freelance work, and other ways to boost your portfolio.
Duties & Responsibilities of a Book Editor
The typical book editor’s responsibilities generally require that they:
- Acquire manuscripts to edit
- Keep up with deadlines
- Tweak content so that it is error-free and easy to read for the intended audience
- Verify facts used in the book
- Work alongside the author to develop the story, prose, dialogue, writing style, voice, etc.
- Check final formatting looks clean and professional (if you’re a proofreader)
- Sustain good working relationships with authors, editorial assistants, marketing personnel, graphic designers, etc.
- Maintain an editor website and online presence (especially if you’re a freelancer)
- Sign up for seminars to keep up to date with the latest trends and linguistic standards
Typical Book Editor Salary
How much does a book editor make? A book editor can make a living wage of $30,000-$60,000, even when starting out.
The 2019 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median salary of newspaper, periodical, and book editors as $57,030/year. (2019 statistics were the newest available in March 2021.)
It also includes these statistics for the more general career field Editor (which includes editors and associate editors for online purposes, not just books):
- Top 10% annual salary: $122,280
- Bottom 10% annual salary: $32,620
It’s worth noting that many editing jobs are based in New York City, the publishing hub of the Western Hemisphere. Since the cost of living is pretty high there, I’d bet if you got an editor job anywhere else in the US, it would pay less than the median salary, especially if you’re just starting out.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
Education and Qualifications for Book Editor
What qualifications do you need to be a book editor? To become a book editor, you typically need a bachelor’s degree in a related field of study (English, Journalism, etc.) and a firm grasp of the English language. Prior experience in publishing, relevant internships, and a robust portfolio also boost your qualifications.
You can become an editor even if you have no experience, by:
- Getting a relevant bachelor’s degree
- Honing your writing skills
- Landing an internship or entry-level position
- Establishing industry relationships
- Building your resume
What Makes a Great Book Editor?
What makes a great book editor are years of experience in the writing and publishing worlds, willingness to set aside their ego, and good communication skills (honesty, directness, etc.).
Just because you did well in your high school English class doesn't mean you'd make a good editor. There are a lot of good writers out there who would make horrible editors. (The same can be said for editors who want to write.)
Writing and editing are distinct disciplines. Both can be learned through practice and determination.
Here are a few common traits of good editors to help you decide if this is work you want to pursue.
A good editor is committed to making an author’s book better, not twisting the voice into the editor’s own words. This requires a unique mixture of self-control and empathy.
It takes a great deal of self-control to read another person’s work and critique it without interjecting yourself into it. Good editors have the singular ability to correct or modify writing while protecting the author's voice. It's much more complex than it seems, trust me.
There are plenty of horror stories about bad editors: people who completely strip an author’s work of its distinct style and insert their own as a replacement.
These are not actual editors but instead frustrated writers who take their lack of success out on somebody else.
A good editor works hard to understand each author's individual goals and offers comprehensive suggestions in the context of these goals.
Editors aren't in it for an ego boost. A good editor is humble while giving feedback but also when reading responses from the author.
It's difficult 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 completely 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.
The creation of engaging prose is a team effort, not a competition.
Good editors aren't afraid to give honest feedback, but they do so respectfully. This takes good communication skills, such as candor, honesty, tact, respect, compromise, and maturity.
An editor should help a book reach its full potential. For this reason, editors need to be able to give honest, direct feedback.
That said, some authors (especially new authors) aren't thrilled about honest, direct feedback. Editors need to be prepared for that.
A good editor knows how to compromise, when to back down to avoid conflict, how to respect the author without hurting his/her feelings, and when to tactfully push for a necessary change.
Writers and editors might butt heads during the editing process because a book is a product of passionate love and so much hard work. But a little friction can be healthy in creative work.
A good editor should be able to communicate to avoid as much friction as possible and when to ultimately back down.
If you’re going to be an editor, make sure every suggestion is contextualized within the big picture: making this the best book it can be.
Editors should be masters of the written language. A good editor doesn’t have to be a great book writer, but they do have to be a great writer in other ways.
Editors are obsessed with grammar and syntax. You need to be a sucker for spelling and punctuation and have hawk eyes for passive voice and repetitive word usage. Your emails and social media posts should look immaculate.
These crucial members of a writer’s team are the last line of defense between the author and the reader. Attention to detail is a must.
If mistakes slip past the editor, they're exposed to the world, undermining an entire book’s credibility and success.
Fingers crossed there aren’t any typos in this article!
The 4 Types of Book Editors
If you're thinking about becoming an editor, it is critical to know which type of editor you’re trying to be. 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.
The 4 most common types of editors are:
- Developmental editors
- Line editors
- Copy editors
I’ve listed them in the chronological order that an author would hire them.
Let’s talk about what each different type of editor actually does.
1. Developmental Editors
Developmental editors look for plot holes, dropped characters, logical inconsistencies, and ways to improve an author’s overall manuscript.
They identify structural deficiencies, weak arguments, and unsupported claims in nonfiction books as well.
Developmental editors are the most expensive type of editor. Depending on the book’s length, these editors can make many thousands of dollars on a single manuscript.
According to some sources, true developmental editing begins before an author starts to write a manuscript. The editor works alongside the author during the entire writing process, pointing out potential improvements every step of the way.
In truth, most fiction authors just hire a developmental editor after the manuscript is complete.
Often, developmental editors perform some of the work of line editors. Combined, this is called “substantive editing.”
2. 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.
This is the least common type of editor because line editing is so similar to copy editing, just more big picture. If an author is looking for big picture editing, he/she will probably just hire a development editor.
Note: In the UK, line editors are synonymous with proofreaders. In the US, they are an incremental step between developmental editors and copy editors.
3. Copy Editors
Copy editors focus on a manuscript’s style and tone. They correct errors in spelling, grammar, syntax, dialogue formatting, and punctuation use. They ensure the book is clear and consistent and that it smoothly transitions from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter.
A copy editor is probably who most people envision when they think of book editors.
Proofreaders are the last step of the editing process. They make sure a book has proper grammar, no misspellings, and correct sentence structure.
Many of these editors also proofread finalized formatting. They let an author or publisher know if a book is ready to go to printing and publishing.
Proofreaders often cost the least of any editor. However, the time they spend on each manuscript is less than any other editor, so it’s definitely fair.
Ideally, authors would use proofreading software such as Grammarly or ProWritingAid to catch more typical grammatical and spelling errors before hiring a human proofreader. An author’s job is to do their best to hand their editors as complete and high-quality a book as possible.
That said, software should not replace a human being for book proofreading.
How to Get Started as a Traditional Book Editor
Freelance editing might sound like the easier option. However, getting an internship at a traditional publishing house is not difficult for college students and burgeoning editors. The relationships you build during that internship can easily lead to a traditional book editor position — it’s all about who you know.
Alternatively, look up book editor jobs in your area. Even if you’re not going to apply right away, it’s helpful to learn what various publishing companies expect in terms of portfolios, years of experience, references, etc.
And remember, there are more editing positions available than just book editing. Would you be happier editing short-form content or website copy? Agencies and small businesses are constantly on the lookout for web copy editors for these positions.
Below, we’ll talk about basic guidelines for getting started as a staff editor at a publishing house. We'll discuss freelance editing further down.
Here are 6 steps you can take on your journey to becoming a book editor:
- Get a bachelor’s degree
- Refine your writing skills
- Learn the newest publishing and editing software
- Seek out internships
- Sign up for seminars
- Build up your resume
Step 1: Get a Bachelor’s Degree
Most editors have a bachelor’s degree in a related field of study. Most English or Communications degrees will do just fine, including journalism, publishing, and creative writing. A master’s degree should give you a further edge over the steep competition.
A Business or Marketing degree may also qualify you to become an editor, but you'll need to practice and display good writing.
This education provides potential editors with the fundamental skills needed to be professional editors. It proves to future employers or freelance clients that you know what you’re talking about and able to follow through with long and challenging commitments.
A degree is basically necessary, but it’s not a golden ticket to getting a job. Becoming an editor is a competitive industry, even if you’re freelancing and don’t need to apply for a job at a prestigious publisher.
Step 2: Refine Your Writing Skills
Every editor needs to constantly refine their writing skills, especially when starting out.
You need to be able to write to be a good editor. That doesn't mean you should have a fantasy author's imagination, but you should be able to write creatively and correctly. This will affect your ability to correct copy when needed.
One way to refine your writing skills is to start a blog. Many editors also write books themselves, a surefire way to practice good writing.
Step 3: Learn the Newest Publishing and Editing Software
Any editor should know how to use the newest publishing and editing software. This way, you can choose the best option for you and your clients.
Learning the most popular software can be daunting, but these are the tools of your trade. It’s a valuable investment into your career path.
Many online courses can help guide you through the basics. Udemy has a great selection of courses on publishing and editing tools to get you started.
Step 4: Seek Out Internships
Serious about becoming a book editor? Seek out internships at publishing houses.
You'll get an up-close and personal look into the life of an editor. It's one of the best ways to learn the tricks of the trade and form valuable relationships.
The experience and relationships you earn from internships may lead to a full-time staff editing position.
Step 5: Sign Up For Seminars
An editor should sign up for seminars or lectures on book editing from time to time.
These are ordinarily one-day workshops that help refresh an editor’s knowledge and skill on top of teaching them the newest publishing industry standards.
Step 6: Build Up Your Resume
Get out into the real world and find experience. Hopefully, you landed an internship, which looks great on a resume. Now keep building up that all-important resume.
Hone your skills with small jobs. If you didn’t find a full-time position right out of college, then you may benefit from starting with a little bit of freelance work.
Upwork and Fiverr are great places to find editing work. However, expect the rates to be horrendously low. Many people on these sites will take the editor with the cheapest rate, even though the final product will make it obvious how much they spent on editing.
But offering your services at a lower rate for a (very short) time can help build up your resume.
Important Note: Offering a lower rate than your worth can be an effective temporary strategy to hone your skills and build your resume. However, I am not advocating for underselling yourself. Don’t compromise your value just to find work. An editor’s skills are worth a lot. Your skills are worth a lot.
How to Get Started as a Freelance Book Editor
If you want to get started as a freelance editor for full-length books, you should:
- Establish an online presence
- Sharpen your knack for networking
- Strengthen your linguistic skills to prove you’re a good editor
- Set reasonable rates for your work
- Use binding contracts with your clients
These skills are on top of the majority of steps required to become a traditional book editor.
Many professional book editors start from traditional publishing houses and migrate towards freelance work.
Pro tip: Freelance editors often work with writers who are self-publishing. Unfortunately, self-publishers seldom understand the true value of a professional editor. Don’t reduce your rates below what you’re worth just to work with ungrateful writers. Let them hire the unqualified editor offering a $100 flat rate, and they’ll get what they paid for.
You could instead start out as a freelance editor without any traditional publisher experience. But you better be able to edit before you take on work.
The best way to start your freelance editing career? Get to work.
Step 1: Establish an Online Presence
Put yourself out there on social media, LinkedIn, Fiverr, and Upwork. You may also search job sites like Indeed.com for freelance work.
Drum up interest and pour all your effort into these editing jobs, even if they’re smaller-scale. That's okay. You need to build your portfolio and credentials by finding as many legit jobs as possible.
Step 2: Network and Build Relationships
Whereas traditional editors often begin networking as college students and interns, a freelance editor without an existing network must build relationships independently. And it’s a crucial step to establishing a freelance editing business.
You can join an editing association — such as ACES (The Society for Editing) or EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association) — and certify your expertise. Relationships with these types of groups show your potential clients that you are serious about your work.
I discuss more ideas a little later below (that aren’t just for freelancers), such as using social media to network professionally.
Step 3: Strengthen Your Editing Skills
“Freelance” does not mean “poor quality.” As a freelance editor, you’ll need to be on top of your grammar, spelling, and linguistics.
Invest in courses through Udemy, Masterclass, or even on YouTube.
A bachelor’s degree in English or a related field helps build your credibility, but it is not necessary for freelance work. If you don’t have a degree related to editing, you better make darn sure your grasp of the written word is faultless.
Step 4: Set Reasonable Rates and Clear Service Offerings
Finding clients is a big part of getting started in freelance editing, but it's not the only concern. You also want to decide what services you'll provide and your rate for each of those services.
Check out our list of book editors to better understand what services established editors are offering and what their pricing is.
Important Note: I said it for getting started as a traditional editor, and I’ll say it here. Offering a lower rate can be an effective temporary strategy to hone your skills and build your resume. But I do not advocate for underselling yourself. A freelance editor’s skills are worth a lot. Your skills are worth a lot.
Step 5: Use Binding Contracts
As with any freelance work, I encourage you to put everything in black and white — legally binding contracts. You and your clients need to understand one another, which is the best way to establish trust and accountability.
Have your contracts drafted and reviewed by legal professionals like the team over at LegalZoom.
Develop Your Online Presence as an Editor
In today's Digital Era, the Internet is the most essential tool you have as a burgeoning editor. Whether you're freelancing or trying to land a traditional editor position, you need to develop your online presence as an editor to get ahead.
Establish your own editor website, which will be the primary advertisement of your editing services.
On this website, clearly list what services you offer, your rates, and a call to action to “Get A Quote.” Include a professional headshot and your credentials, such as any degrees you hold or certifications you earned.
Websites are relatively cheap and easy to set up. Make sure it looks clean and professional, or potential clients will scoff and look elsewhere.
Using your editor website, demonstrate your expertise. Provide sample work from your portfolio. You could even write blog posts about topics related to book editing, such as:
- Writing how-to's
- Editing tips
- Publishing tricks
- Software reviews
- Company comparisons
- Personal stories from the editing world
Your editor website won’t be a major hit overnight. But now, when you meet people at a conference or networking event, you can send them to your professional-looking website for more info.
Another way to develop your online presence is through social media. Consistent content and the right hashtags can help you get discovered by the authors you want to work with.
This includes Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn (especially for editors seeking formal editing jobs), Facebook, and even Reddit — depending on your preferred clientele.
How to Network as an Editor
Networking is a huge part of succeeding as a book editor, especially when you're starting out.
There are several methods to networking effectively, both online and face-to-face. Let these tips help you rise above the noise and start getting the attention you deserve.
When it comes to online networking as an editor, social media is your best friend.
Join groups or follow accounts dedicated to writers, authors, and book editing. You may be able to offer your services when the opportunity arises. (Mind you, some groups are very against personal advertisement. Be sure to check each group’s rules and guidelines.)
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 on Reddit.
You need an editor website. This is critical to online networking, as well as face-to-face networking. A clean, clear, professional editor website tells people you mean business. A good website gives potential clients a taste of your work and entices them with a call to action.
You could even publish blog posts on your website to drum up interest and name recognition with paid or organic search traffic.
Although we live in a digital world, don't overlook the importance of networking in person. Face-to-face networking still works, and it works great. When a potential client or employer networks with you in real life, there is a connection you can’t make over the Internet.
Attend conventions, book fairs, and conferences. This opens up a whole new world of job opportunities. You will meet writers, publishers, and other editors. And many conferences are free or very inexpensive.
In-person events are also an excellent opportunity to show off some sweet new business cards. For more info on creating a killer business card, check out this article.
You need to have an editor website.
I know. I sound like a broken record. But being able to give potential employers and clients whom you meet a business card that directs them to a professional-looking website is invaluable.
What kind of book editor do you want to be?
There are 4 types of editors, not to mention freelancing versus traditional editing jobs. No matter what kind of book editor you want to be, this article should help you reach your goals.
Becoming a book editor is no simple task. But it gets easier as you start to build your resume and impress clients who refer you to their friends and colleagues. It’s about getting good, then networking, then completing every job on time and with excellence.
If you're up to the task, a freelance book editing career can make for an enriching life. Usually, this type of work comes with a much greater degree of flexibility than other jobs. The pay can be surprisingly good as you grow your clientele.
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 typically $79.99, but Udemy is known for regularly running sales.
If you're looking for a next step, I encourage you to check out Udemy.
Check out this helpful book editing course, especially if you’re just getting started: Book Editing Blueprint.
Final Thought: 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.