Do you ever find yourself ranting about misused apostrophes?
Do typos and spelling errors stop you from enjoying an article or blog post?
Perhaps you sometimes find yourself reading the local rag and thinking, “I could have done a better job of editing this.”
If you have excellent writing and spelling skills and can spot an error a mile away, then you could have the makings of a great editor. And if you aim to be your own boss, then the good news is that freelance editing gives you the freedom to work from home and set your own hours and pay rates.
There’s plenty of scope for editing jobs and many great places to find them if you know where to look. So, read on to discover all the steps you need to become a freelance editor.
- What is Freelance Editing?
- Decide on your Editing Niche
- Can You Become a Freelance Editor With No Experience?
- Freelance Editor Courses
- Essential Tools and Resources
- Freelance Editor Soft Skills
- How to get a Freelance Editing Job
- Related Articles
What is Freelance Editing?
Editors examine, check and suggest changes to written work. to make it as accurate, readable, and polished as possible. Many professional editors work for publishing houses, and others for magazines, newspapers, websites and blogs.
Freelance editors work as contractors for various clients and are not usually employed by a single business or publisher.
The Four Types of Professional Editor
While all editors can read and review written manuscripts, from novels and textbooks to articles and blog posts, there are several different editing jobs in the industry. These include:
Newcomers to the publishing or freelancing world often begin as proofreaders. Their job is to check for spelling, grammar, punctuation errors and typos before work is published. Often the proofreader is the last person to review the document before it goes to press or is uploaded to the internet.
However, in some contracts, you’ll be asked to edit an article, white paper or sales page, as well as give it a final proofread.
Copy editors need to be very detail-oriented because they examine all the content for accuracy and consistency.
Copy editors check facts and look for all sorts of inconsistencies, from capitalisation to checking the timeline to ensure that the main character isn’t pregnant for 14 months! They confirm that the work complies with the relevant style guide and correct grammatical mistakes, spelling and other errors as they occur.
Line editors work with sentences. They’re not concerned with spelling or with checking facts. Instead, their job is to ensure that sentences flow smoothly, and to consider word choice and meaning. If you’ve ever read a novel and noticed how the language flows like silk, then you’re probably seeing the effect of a great line editor.
Sub Editor or Developmental Editor:
You’ll need to demonstrate considerable experience in the writing world to land a job as a developmental editor. These experts work with authors to improve draft manuscripts.
They look at the order of words and check for passages of passive or active voice. They may suggest reorganizing or even rewriting whole sections to make the text flow better for the reader.
Developmental editors check for varied sentence length, consistent voice and a clear, logical development of ideas. They also scrutinise dialogue to make sure it moves the story along.
Many authors are surprised by the enormous difference a thorough editor can make to a final, polished piece.
Who Needs Editors and Proofreaders?
With the advent of the internet and the rise of self-publishing, more people are putting the written word into print and online than ever before. While some can check their work, it’s easy to miss errors in copy that you’re very familiar with.
Business owners, authors, the media, academics and anyone with a client base or audience can’t afford to have people finding mistakes in their publications. One or two glaring errors can destroy the tone of the whole piece. More could give an impression of carelessness that could be hard to erase.
Decide on your Editing Niche
When you head down the freelance editing career path, one crucial thing to think about is the kind of service you can offer.
Consider these points:
- Will you start as a Copy editor? Proofreader? Line editor? Or can you offer a combination of services?
- What niche will you work in? Although it’s possible to offer general services, many clients prefer to work with a specialist.
As we can see in the list of potential clients above, many niches need freelance or in-house editors, and they require people with differing skill sets.
For example, technical editors need to be scrupulous in checking facts and details in technical writing, so it helps if you have a technical background.
Similarly, if you have a medical or scientific background, it’s a good idea to look for work in those fields. Perhaps you have academic experience? There is much work to be found in editing Ph.D. theses, academic papers and even submissions to prestigious publications.
On the other hand, if you enjoy reading and writing children’s literature, you could create a niche around editing and proofreading children’s novels or school textbooks.
You could niche down to self-published teenage fiction, or fantasy novels, biographies or romance novels.
Perhaps you’re interested in proofreading websites or checking commercial documents such as white papers or grant applications?
The list of possibilities is truly endless.
Can You Become a Freelance Editor With No Experience?
The good news is that if you’re well organized and have a good grasp of the English language, you can become a freelance editor even if you don’t have publishing experience.
That being said, you will need to develop the right skill set before you get started.
To learn editing and proofreading skills:
- Take one or more courses.
- Read widely in and around your chosen genre.
- Practice A LOT.
To win clients and develop a thriving freelance editing business:
- Build a portfolio by offering to edit/proofread emails, newsletters, brochures, notices, menus, blog posts etc. for friends, colleagues, your work, charities and clubs in return for testimonials.
- Take a freelancing course; we recommend our own Freelance Kickstarter.
- Network online and in your local community.
- Create a profile and apply for work on job boards and freelancer websites.
- Develop your online presence by creating a blog or website where prospective clients can get to know you and see what services you offer.
Freelance Editor Courses
If you don’t have experience in editing you’ll need to take a course to learn the ins and outs of the business. Here are a few to consider:
Founded in 2014 by Caitlyn Pyle, Proofread Anywhere has become one of the stalwart courses in the freelance proofreading field.
The website offers two options — General Proofreading and Transcript Proofreading — plus several books and workshops. Neither course is cheap, but most reviewers say they received a thorough grounding in proofreading and advice in setting up their business.
If you’re looking for a more affordable introduction to editing skills, consider this quick course which teaches the basics of content editing, copy editing and proofreading. The tutor shows the different editing stages while he improves a dry, boring blog post. The course includes plenty of practical examples.
Another quick and affordable course, Proofread Like a Pro, teaches the basics of proofreading, including the commonly-used symbols. It includes lots of downloadable texts so you can practice proofreading and also includes advice on marketing your skills and what to expect from life as a freelance proofreader.
Read a Good Book
Writers and editors should read widely, especially in their chosen genres. So if you prefer reading to learning from videos, you might like to learn your skills from a book.
While you can find many texts on editing and writing on the market, the Copyeditor’s Handbook and Workbook Set is an excellent publication.
This reasonably-priced set includes two books updated and expanded by Marilyn Schwartz, an esteemed former managing editor of the University of California Press.
Proofread for Project Gutenberg
To get more practice at…
- Reading and spotting errors online.
- Following guidelines.
- Making corrections on a web-based text
….you might want to consider volunteering as a proofreader at Project Gutenberg.
This online library has over 60,000 ebooks available free to everyone and is always looking to digitize, archive, and distribute more literary works.
Essential Tools and Resources
No matter how literate you are, it’s impossible to know everything there is to know about the English language, especially as it is constantly changing. So, all editors – particularly copy editors and proofreaders – need to have a few essential resources at their fingertips.
Some people prefer to use hard copy, while others prefer to work online. There’s no right or wrong with this – it comes down to convenience and personal preference. However, your references must always be reputable, widely used and accepted, and up to date, whichever form you choose.
Spelling and Grammar Aids
Several widely-used dictionaries are available in bookshops and online. These include the Oxford Dictionary (for British and Australian English) and The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (for working in American and Canadian English).
Both dictionaries include a thesaurus option and opportunities to learn more about unusual words in the English language.
You can also run your work through an editing and proofreading service such as Grammarly if you’re editing online. We would never say this is the only thing you should do. A professional editor or proofreader shouldn’t rely on it. Still, Grammarly can be helpful to catch errors you might have missed or highlight areas to investigate when you’re working through a manuscript or online text.
Just as you can’t know the correct spelling of every English word, it’s also impossible to keep up with the stylistic trends in journalism and publishing without some help.
- Should you write 50 per cent, 50 percent or 50%?
- Is it Health Care or Healthcare?
- Should you capitalize “Big Apple” when you’re talking about New York?
And…the source of many arguments in grammar circles — when should you use the Oxford Comma?
Most websites and publications have a guide that specifies how written things are presented on their site or business. They may have created their own or used an official style guide.
Some rules are universal, but there are many differences, depending on which guide you follow. So, as a freelance editor, particularly if you aim to be a copy editor, you must always check which style guide your client uses before you start work.
Associated Press Style (or AP Style): This is the official style for journalistic articles and is the most common style for consumer publications. The written handbook is updated and printed every two years.
The AP Style book, including the Ask the Editor and Topical Guides functions, is also available via an online subscription.
The Chicago Manual of Style: Another popular style guide used by many publishers. It is generally the one to study if you want to edit books.
The Chicago Manual is also available online with a 30-day free trial, followed by a subscription option.
APA Style: Short for American Psychological Association, you may remember this style from writing essays in school. It’s the chosen academic style. You’ll need to know APA Style if you do academic journal editing or professional essay editing for students.
MLA Style: Standing for the Modern Language Association, this guide is also used in academic settings, usually in the humanities.
Online Editing Tools
Much of your freelance editing and proofreading work will happen online. Many pieces will come either as Google Docs or Microsoft Word documents.
Sometimes you’ll be able to make the corrections yourself straight away. Other times they need to be approved first. In this case, you need to put them in as suggestions to be approved or rejected by the client.
Either way, freelance editors need to know how to use “Track Changes” in Microsoft Word and “Suggesting Mode” in Google Docs.
While both can be a little confusing at first, you’ll soon find it second nature to use them when you’re working online.
Watch this video for an overview of how to use Microsoft Track Changes.
And, this video to see how to use Google Suggesting Mode.
Basic Offline Tools
Finally, if you’re working on hardcopy manuscripts, you’ll need some time-tested proofreader and copyeditor basics:
- A fine-tipped red pen (the usual color for proofreading).
- A blue pen (usually preferred for copy editing).
- A magnifying glass.
Some organisations have in-house colour code systems so that everyone will know what type of correcting the text has had.
It’s best to double-check what colours your client prefers before you start work.
Freelance Editor Soft Skills
In addition to being skilled in one or more common style guides, a good editor needs to have some other personal attributes:
The most important soft skill is your ability to manage people sensitively.
Guides on becoming a freelance editor don’t always emphasize how important this is. As an editor, it will be your job to encourage writers to improve their writing. However, there’s a fine line to tread. You can’t be so nitpicky and difficult to please that writers don’t want to work with you, nor let bad writing slide for fear of bruising egos.
The most successful editors and writing teachers know how to balance telling you what you’re doing right with highlighting the sections to improve.
You also need excellent organisational skills. As an editor, it’s often your job to schedule deadlines and sometimes even whole content schedules. You must then keep up with who is turning in what and when.
Some editors even check in with writers before deadlines to see how things are going. And if a writer misses a deadline, you must know how to get the work on your desk ASAP.
You may also need to find and recruit writers or sift through piles of story pitches. And you might even have to let some writers go if there is a style mismatch between them and the publication.
Love of Language
Finally, a good editor should have a solid, almost instinctual eye for how a piece fits into the overall tone and mission of the publication they are working for. You’ll have to know your readership and understand what they’d want to see from the magazine or website.
Along the same lines, language should be your life and your soul. That sounds romantic, but beyond just knowing whether your style manual likes the Oxford comma or not, you’ll need an intuitive grasp of the English language.
You’ll need to know on a gut level whether a sentence sounds amazing or a piece has a true sense of overall cohesion. That’s a sense you can only develop if you read widely and devote yourself to learning the intricacies of language.
How to get a Freelance Editing Job
Once you’ve trained and gained some experience through your network or volunteering, you’ll need to find some paying jobs. There are many options.
Some of the top job boards in the industry include Journalism Jobs, Mediabistro and ED2010. These sites frequently post many freelance editorial roles. If you’re looking to work from home, you may want to narrow your search down to remote positions only.
Job Search Engine Sites
While clients post jobs directly onto specific job boards like Upwork or Problogger, other websites search all the various job boards and display the listings on their site.
One international Job Site is Indeed, which includes job listings from job boards, newspapers, associations and companies.
Join the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA)
This professional organization is based in the USA but accepts freelance editors and employers from all over the world.
The EFA acts as a job board and networking platform for writers, editors, proofreaders, researchers and more.
It offers its members, newsletters, education courses and resources including advice on rates, tips for working from home and much more.
Click here to sign up or learn more about the EFA. Or, if you’re based in the UK, you might prefer to join the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) instead.
Don’t ignore the local possibilities in your area. Many editors start by contracting with their former employers. Others explore their personal and professional networks or advertise their services on LinkedIn.
It’s also worthwhile to check out your national newspapers’ employment sections. Keep an eye on the job section of your local weekly paper, too. Tertiary institutions are another strong possibility if you’ve decided to go into the Academic niche.
To sum up, you can become a freelance editor when you:
- Read widely.
- Learn the skills you need by taking an online or distance learning course or reading a comprehensive book.
- Practice a lot.
- Pay careful attention to the details.
- Build a portfolio of work examples and testimonials by volunteering and networking.
- Establish a profile on various job boards and job sites.
- Learn how to get started as a freelance contractor by taking a course like Freelance Kickstarter.
- Network generously — people will recommend you if they’re impressed with your work and the way you conduct yourself.
- Try hard, improve a lot and always learn from your failures.
When you have the right skills, attributes and determination to succeed, there’s no doubt that you can become a successful freelance editor.
While it might take some time to get established, you CAN make editing and proofreading into a realistic and satisfying home-working career.
- Would you rather be doing the writing itself? Read our guide to freelance writing for beginners.
- Struggling to decide your next career move? Read about want to do if you don’t want to work in the office anymore.
- Listen to our podcast on how to get your first freelance gigs.
Lyn is the author of Culture Smart NZ (2022). A freelance writer and blogger from New Zealand, she specialises in content for lifestyle magazines, blogs, podcasts and virtual summits. You’ll find her blog on writing, farm life & talented New Zealanders at lynmcnamee.com