So, You Want to Be a Book Editor?

Is it your dream to read and critique books all day? Would you love to help authors bring their books to life? If this sound like the dream role for you, then perhaps you should consider becoming a book editor. But how do you become a book editor? What skills and knowledge do you need? And how do you join the path?

As an experienced book editor, I’ll give you the inside info on how to become a book editor…

Do you need a degree?

The first question most people ask is “Do you need a degree to become a book editor?” It all depends on what type of editor you want to be and the field you want to work in. If you want to work in-house for a book publisher, it’s highly likely that they’ll require a degree.

If you want to become a freelancer, your clients may be less bothered about whether you have a degree and more interested in your skills and experience. However, studying a relevant degree does give you the knowledge and skills you need to analyse and work on a text, so it can be very useful.

Which degree?

Most general publishers require a degree in English. Niche publishers might prefer a relevant degree, for example, a Tech publisher may require an IT degree. Some publishers may accept a less relevant degree if you can prove your skills and experience from elsewhere (such as previous freelance experience). It also depends on the type of editing you’re doing. If you want to become a copy editor, English language skills are more important. For a content development editor, subject matter knowledge is more important.

What types of editing are there?

In publishing houses, there are acquisition editors, commissioning editors, publishing editors, managing editors, editorial assistants, content editors, copy editors, and so on. If you’re not sure what type of editor you want to be, research the roles first.

In the freelance world, there are a few main types of editing: content (also known as “developmental”), which looks at the big picture (structure, message, content, etc.), and copy (also known as “line”), which looks at the small picture: (language, wording, grammar, punctuation, etc.) Many freelance editors do both.

What skills and knowledge do you need to work in-house?

If you want to work in-house, the requirements vary for each publisher and type of editor. Generally, you’ll need outstanding communication skills and the ability to work with people. Depending on the type of job, you’ll need specific knowledge of language, books, the industry, and the market. But every role is different, so it’s best to read some job adverts to get a clearer idea of what is required.

What do you need to be a freelancer?

As a freelancer, you’re likely to deal directly with authors, and this means that freelance roles often have more overlap. If you’re the author’s only editor, you need to know what works in books, what readers want, and how best to deliver it. You need the ability to manage your time and workload, find clients, solve problems, and deliver a great service. You need a strong sense of initiative, as being a freelancer has its own challenges. Of course, you also need a computer, an internet connection, and Microsoft Word.

How do you get editing experience?

To gain experience, it’s easiest to start with your existing network, because these people already know you and trust in your skills. If your friends are writing essays or blogs, offer to edit them for free. In the future, they might recommend you to other people. For example, the first paid book editing job I got was through word-of-mouth.

To improve, you need to practise, practise, and practise some more. Start by editing smaller documents until you get used to editing, then move on to longer documents.

How do you find in-house editing jobs?

When you have the skills, knowledge, and experience you need, you can find in-house editing jobs at book publishers on all of the major jobs boards (such as Indeed), and also through LinkedIn. Most people start by applying for junior-level roles at publishers, such as editorial assistant jobs or graduate editor roles. If you don’t have the experience required for these roles, try applying to be an intern at a publisher.

How do you find freelance editing jobs?

You can find freelance editing work through freelancing platforms such as PeoplePerHour. Most freelancers gain work through a range of sources, including their own website, word of mouth, ongoing clients, and freelancing sites. You can also gain freelance work by signing up to somewhere like the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP).

What’s the most important factor?

Importantly, whether you work in-house or as a freelancer, you need a true passion for books. To succeed as a book editor, you need to really love what you do. Most book editors are complete bookworms and read for pleasure as well as work. They’re often widely-read to help authors deliver the best possible book, and they take great pleasure from helping authors bring their books to life.

Get in touch if you have any questions and let me know how your journey goes!

About the Author Ameesha

Freelance book editor. Founder of The Book Shelf LTD. Travelled the world for a year while freelancing. Freelance tips at A Freelance Life.

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