Considering a job in the publishing industry? Whether you majored in English and always dreamed of becoming an editor, or you are considering a career change, working as an editor can be an incredibly fun, rewarding, and challenging (in a good way) endeavor.
But you can’t expect to just land a job as an editor with zero preparation! There are some foundational skills and experiences you should have under your belt if you want to be successful.
How to Become a Book Editor
This guide will help you determine if a career as a book editor is right for you, and how you should go about pursuing this kind of work.
What Does an Editor Do for a Novel?
While you might think of an editor’s job as simply reading and revising words on a page, that’s only a part of it. Book editors actually wear many hats and might contribute to a whole range of processes throughout production, from acquisition to marketing.
Then there’s the fact that there are several different types of editing, including developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading. Some editors do all 3, while others will do just one type of editing for any one project.
And before you get to thinking that anyone who’s good at writing can be good at editing (or vice versa) think again: the two are actually quite distinct crafts
Editors might do some or all of the following for a novel, its author, and the publisher:
- Acquire manuscripts for review
- Read, edit, and write content that is grammatically correct and flows with the rest of the text
- Verify facts and ensure proper citations
- Work closely with the author to ensure content is in line with the publisher’s style and policies
- Maintain good working relationships with authors and other members of the production staff
- Keep track of the production schedule to ensure deadlines are met
- Work on marketing with the author and other members of the team (if applicable)
What Editors Don’t Do:
Now that we’ve established what editors do, let’s take a look at what you shouldn’t do as an editor:
Don’t try to turn the author’s book into your book.
Good editors work hard to understand their writer’s goals and they take time to familiarize themselves with the writer’s style. They’re able to critique, revise, and modify someone else’s work without interjecting themselves.
They are able to enhance a work and make it the best it can be while still preserving the author’s unique voice and perspective.
Don’t be afraid to give honest feedback.
Because good editors are dedicated to helping a book reach its full potential, they often have to give honest, direct feedback. Like, a lot of it.
So while a strong book editor must be able and willing to be honest about issues they see in a manuscript, they must also know how to discuss those issues in a respectful, constructive manner.
It’s natural and common for editors and writers to butt heads, but both need to remember that it’s all for the sake of an even better book.
Don’t focus on your own ego.
Good editors give direct, honest feedback from a place of humility, not from a place of thinking they’re smarter or could be a better writer than the author.
They remember that this is a team effort, not a competition, so they respect writing and editing as the two distinct arts that they are.
The Qualities of a Good Editor
You might make an ideal book editor if you:
- Love reading.
- Think critically.
- Are a good listener.
- Embrace (rather than run from) conflict.
- Have a keen eye for details.
- Have excellent verbal and written communication skills.
- Are highly organized.
- Can give constructive feedback.
- Can collaborate efficiently.
- Can put aside your own ego.
How Much Does a Book Editor Make a Year?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t list salaries for different types of editors, instead listing data for just the general term “editor.”
With that in mind, check out the data offered by the Bureau for this occupation:
- Median annual salary: $59,480/year
- Top 10% annual salary: $114,460
- Bottom 10% annual salary: $30,830
What Qualifications Do You Need to Be a Book Editor?
While the profession is quite diverse, with editors from a wide range of backgrounds and levels of experience finding success, there are some common characteristics that can be helpful (if not essential) if you want to become a book editor.
- At least a bachelor’s degree in a related field (such as English, literature, creative writing, journalism, communications, etc.)
- Strong writing skills. Yes, we’ve noted in this post that writing and editing are two different crafts, and while you don’t need to have the mind of Stephen King to be an editor, you should have strong personal writing skills and be able to perform copy/line edits.
- Familiarity with publishing and editing software, and of course the Microsoft Office suite.
- A love for books and an understanding of what makes the good ones.
How to Get Started
If you’re new to the editing/publishing world—whether you’re a recent graduate or changing careers—here are some tips you might try to help you get your start.
1. Seek out internships and seminars.
As with any profession, if you’re a total newbie, you’d be wise to start with an internship (if you have the good fortune of finding a paid one, even better!)
Starting with an internship can provide you with an educational training that will give you some real world experience while helping you to bulk up your resume and make some contacts.
Attending seminars, either in person or online, is also another great way to learn more about the field and potentially make valuable industry contacts.
2. Try freelance editing.
While you are on the job hunt for something more consistent, you can always try your hand at freelance editing. (Actually, this is what a lot of professional editors now do to make a full-time living!)
This allows you to charge by the hour (or choose other terms with your clients), and gives you the freedom to work with a number of clients at once without contract restrictions.
Here are typical fees you might see a good freelance editor charge*:
- Developmental edits: $50-$60/hour, or $15-$25/page
- Copy edits: $30-$50/hour, or $3-$5/page
- Proofread: $20-$35/hour, or $1-$2.50/page
*Your fees, of course, are likely to vary based on your experience and level of expertise.
3. Write. (A Lot!)
Just because you’ve set your sights on becoming an editor doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep practicing the art of writing.
The more you write (and, perhaps just as importantly, read!), the better you’ll be able to help the authors you work with.
After all, the best writers are always practicing and working to enhance their craft, so it makes sense that an editor should do the same.
4. Develop an online presence.
To develop an online presence and reputation as an editor, you should definitely have your own blog or website.
You should illustrate your expertise and knowledge by writing and sharing posts on writing and editing, including:
- Writing tips/how-to’s
- Editing tricks
- Software reviews
- Personal stories of editing/publishing experiences
5. Watch, Listen, and Learn.
There are plenty of YouTube channels and podcasts out there that can teach a lot to aspiring writers and editors.
Some are hosted by the best in the industry, providing lots of opportunities to learn, grow, and stay up to date with industry trends.
6. Network with authors and other editors.
Join groups dedicated to writers, editors, and publishers on Facebook and LinkedIn. By following discussions and forums on this site, you might just find yourself in the right place at the right time to offer your services to a writer in need.
You can also attend conventions, book fairs, conferences, and seminars for some face-to-face networking, which in many cases is the most impactful.
Note that in some application processes, you might be expected to complete an editing test, submit references, or include a list of previous works you’ve edited.
Book Editing Jobs
The publishing industry can be a very exciting field to work in, especially if you love books and writing.
By learning the responsibilities of the job and preparing yourself adequately, you might find a successful and rewarding career in editing.
Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
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