How to Become a Copyeditor: Credentials and How to Get Your First Gig

Copy editing is an essential job not just in the self-publishing world, but in any industry that relies on communication through the written word. From news media and technical writing to novels and nonfiction, there's plenty of demand for copy editors. And if you're trying to make a living as an indie author, learning copy editing skills can do nothing but help you.

So whether you want to supplement your writing career or become a full-time editor, this article will tell you how to become a copyeditor.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. What copyeditors do. 
  2. What qualifications you need. 
  3. Getting your first copyediting job. 

What Do Copyeditors Do?

There are many different types of editing, so it can be hard to know the specifics. Copy editing is all about eliminating errors while increasing consistency and clarity in the text. This means fixing grammatical errors, punctuation, and flow. And copyeditors are expected to do all this while maintaining the author's style and tone. 

If you often find errors in other people's work, then you could have an eye for copyediting. For example, if you’ve noticed that I've used two different spellings of copyediting in this article, then you already have a leg up on those who haven't noticed. 

While both “copyediting” and “copy editing” are technically correct, a copyeditor would be expected to choose one or the other to keep things consistent. Unless, of course, the author wants to leave it in as an example. 😉

If you want a more in-depth look at what copy editing is, check out our article on copy editing here

Do You Need to Go to School to Become a Copyeditor?

Given the rise of the gig economy and the swelling of the self-publishing industry, you don't need a degree to become a copyeditor. That said, schooling certainly does help set you apart from those candidates who don't have any certifications or a degree under their belts. When it comes to landing a well-paying copy editing job, a certification of some kind could make all the difference. 

There are several different types of degrees that can help you learn the skills it takes to be a copyeditor. These include schooling in:

  • Journalism
  • Mass Communication
  • Proofreading
  • Editing
  • Public Relations

There are also certain courses you can take to learn the skills needed to land copy editor positions. It's important that you thoroughly research any copyediting course first to make sure it's well-known and well-suited for you. And keep in mind that no course or degree will guarantee you a copyediting job. That said, here are some organizations that offer courses for learning editing skills:

  • Emerson College
  • Queen's University
  • American Copy Editors Society
  • Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading
  • Editorial Freelancers Association

These are just a few options available, and most of them can be taken completely online. 

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Ensuring Your Editing Skills are Up to Snuff

Whether you decide to take an editing course or not, you'll want to make sure you can actually deliver what your client pays for. This means ensuring your editing skills are up to the job. Having a natural or learned attention to detail is a start, but it takes much more to be an effective copy editor. Luckily, if you're a writer and a reader, you may already have some of these skills. 

Read and Write a Lot

Just like becoming an author requires a lot of reading and writing, the same goes for becoming a copyeditor. You have to have a strong grasp of the English language, which means interacting with it for a lot of your life. The longer you've been actively engaging with grammar, language, punctuation, and the intricacies of English literature, the better off you’ll be. 

It also helps to read content you'd like to work on. If you want to edit creative writing—like novels—then you'll want to read novels with a critical eye. Even better, you can choose a genre or two in which to read, helping you to develop a specialization that can help get you noticed when it comes time to find a copyediting job. 

Familiarize Yourself With Style Guides

Copyeditors are expected to work from a foundation based upon a style guide. Whether it be the Chicago Manual of Style, the Associated Press Stylebook, or an organization's internal style guide, you'll be expected to work from a set of agreed-upon guidelines. 

While you should always have a style guide at hand for reference, you'll be expected to work without referencing the guide for every single correction or question you come across. 

Copyeditors are expected to get through a certain number of words or pages per hour, and constantly referencing a style guide can really slow you down. So if you aren't familiar with the major style guides out there, starting now can certainly help!

Get Comfortable With Microsoft Word

Most copyeditors work with the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word, so you'll need to be familiar with this feature. Luckily, this is perhaps the easiest part of being an editor. 

And if you prefer to work with physical paper and a red pencil, you can absolutely do that. But you'll probably be expected to transfer your marks into a word processor like Microsoft Word. Of course, this will depend on the client's preferences.   

Craft a Resume

Being a good editor is a skill that you can master over time. But in order to get initial jobs, you'll need to provide an attractive resume for potential clients. There's a certain art to drafting a resume, but the basics are simple.

First, your resume must be completely free of errors. If a potential client sees an error on a copyeditor's resume, you can bet they won't be hiring that editor. This means everything from grammar and punctuation to spelling and capitalization. 

The resume is also a good place to show off your writing skills. You generally want to be professional, but not generic. If there's anything that can set you apart from other candidates, such as past work as an editorial assistant or a freelance editor, make sure to mention it. 

Of course, as you gain experience in the field, you can update your resume to reflect your new skills in editing written content of all types. 

How Much Do Copyeditors Make?

According to Indeed, the average copy editor salary is right around $36,000 per year. Keep in mind that this is for full-time work. A part-time copyeditor's salary is dependent upon experience, the number of jobs, and the type of jobs taken.

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How to Get Your First Copyediting Job

As you can probably guess, the most interesting and well-paying copyediting jobs require experience and expertise. So you'll most likely have to work your way up by gathering experience with freelance work. 

Luckily, this doesn't have to be hard. You can sign up for gig sites like Upwork or Fiverr to get the ball rolling. But you'll also need to be proactive, searching job postings on these and other sites. With little to no experience, you may need to be flexible when it comes to price in order to gain experience and confidence in your editing skills.

If you have trouble getting paid freelance copy editor jobs, consider offering your services at a steep discount. You can request a review for a positive experience, which you can then use to get other jobs.

Freelance editors can make their own hours and take jobs that interest them. But they can also parley their expertise into a career with a publishing company or editing agency as well.

Start Small

If creating a profile on Upwork or a similar site sounds a little daunting, you can always start smaller. Ask your writer friends if you can take a crack at editing a chapter or two of their work (or the whole book, if you feel up to it). 

You may not get paid for this work, but any real-world experience you get with written material can be invaluable. You could then legitimately say that you've done some editing on your resume and on job sites. 

Everyone has to start somewhere, so don't be afraid to invest your time in editing at the beginning of your career. Just keep in mind that editing your own work shouldn't count toward your official editing experience. Of course, editing your own work is a great way to get started, but you generally don't want to mention it as job experience on a resume or when talking with a potential client. 

Becoming a Copyeditor: Conclusion

Whether you're looking to be a news editor or a book editor, the tips in this article can help. Landing a copy editor job is usually some combination of skill, timing, and luck. Fortunately, there are plenty of indie authors and content creators out there looking for editors. And if you make a good impression on your first job with a client, you may be approached for future work.

If you familiarize yourself with other types of editing, such as proofreading or structural editing, you can offer a range of services, which can increase your chances of landing the jobs you want!

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