Editors read pieces written for publication and edit them with an eye for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and style. They work with writers to help shape their work into a piece that fits with the writer’s vision or with the vision of the publication the editor works for.
Managing editors of publications like newspapers, magazines, journals, and websites are responsible for guiding the day-to-day activity of the publication, choosing pieces to print, or to assign work to staff and freelance writers.
Assistant editors of print or online publications are responsible for managing these tasks within their departments.
How Much Do Editors Make?
As of 2021, the average editor in the U.S. makes around $65-70k/year. Someone who’s just starting out will earn a lower editor salary, around the range of $30-50k depending on the quality and quantity of projects they take on. And an editor with years of experience and high-level expertise, such as a current or former Big 5 editor, can make up to $100k/year or even more.
If you want to work for yourself, then you can set your own freelance editing rate, the average for which is within the rage of $0.015-0.025 per word. The rate differs depending on the type of editing, the genre and length of the manuscript, and your level of expertise.
How To Become an Editor
Go to school to learn how to be an editor. While some editors get a bachelor’s degree in the English language or creative writing, there are no formal education requirements for becoming an editor. To really learn the skills you need, take editing courses at a local college or writer’s workshop to familiarize yourself with the editing process.
Read a lot. A good editor has their finger on the pulse of the literary scene. You need to know what types of stories are trending and what readers are looking for. Read anything and everything you can to help guide the writers you work with craft a story that readers will buy, enjoy, and share with other readers.
Start your editing career at a company. Consider starting down your career path working for a traditional publishing company, a magazine, or a newspaper. Get a few years of experience and develop your editing skills under other professional editors to learn the ropes. Work your way up from an entry-level editing position, like an editorial assistant. If you enjoy the stability of working in-house, you can move up the ranks: from an assistant editor to managing editor to a senior editor and, finally, to the editor-in-chief, also known as an executive editor.
Start looking for editing work. Once you go off on your own as a freelancer, take a lot of the small editing jobs that come your way to build up your experience. Try a proofreading job, even a freelance writing gig. You may try looking on job listing websites designed for creative professionals to find additional work. The greater the diversity of work you do early on, the better editor you’ll become.
Determine what type of editor you want to be. After you’ve worked on a variety of jobs, decide what kind of editor you want to be. Do you enjoy working on the fine details of copy editing or the big, structural fixes of developmental editing? You can take a broad approach to editing and specialize in more than one type, but focusing the scope of your work can help you hone that particular editing skill.
Decide the type of writing you want to edit. While you don’t have to take just one kind of writing client, it’s good to have a type of manuscript in which you specialize. If you’re a freelance book editor or fiction editor, you’ll work with indie authors and fiction writers on book projects with a 50,000 or more-word count. If you’d rather specialize in academic writing, you’ll do more fact-checking and sourcing of information.
Build a network. Grow your community of editors. The more contacts you have, the greater the chance work referrals come your way. Connect with a self-publishing group to meet writers who will need an editor to review their work.
Create a portfolio of projects you’ve worked on. Once you’re up and running, have a portfolio of selected work to show potential clients. You should also have a complete sample edit to show them as well as client testimonials to demonstrate you’re the right editor for the job.
Market your professional editing services. To make it official, start marketing yourself as a professional editor. Start by creating a website. Use keywords for search engine optimization (SEO) to build traffic. You might consider starting a blog about editing to increase the chances of people finding your site. Start contacting literary agents and publishing houses who might be able to send clients your way or hire you on a contract basis. Remember to print up business cards and to always have them on you, ready to hand out.
Start taking on your own clients. Before you know it, clients will begin reaching out, and you’ll be making a living as a successful editor. You might even have the opportunity to work on a book that becomes a bestseller. Remember to put that one at the front of your portfolio.
And if you don’t want to work for a publisher, company, or publication, you can always work for yourself as a freelance editor! Indeed, once you’ve earned enough work through your own efforts, it can be incredibly empowering (not to mention lucrative) to continue your career as a freelancer.
And of course, one of the most valuable things you can do as a freelance editor is to join an agency that will connect you with potential clients. This gives you all the security of working for a publisher or publication, while still retaining the freedom of choosing your own clients and working hours.
No matter which editing path you follow, there will always be downsides: the low starting pay, the long hours, and the potential for burnout, to name a few. But if you’re truly meant to become an editor, the rewards — having so much independence, using your creativity, and the utterly unique nature of the work — will be more than enough to satisfy you.
And who knows? A project of yours might just end up making the best-seller lists, or winning a prize.