Do you have a way with words and/or think of yourself as a skilled writer? If so, perhaps you should consider a career as a copy editor. Below is an introductory guide that can help you better understand the field of copy editing. Note: ‘copy editor’ is industry jargon for ‘professional editor.’ It’s important to be familiar with this terminology since many companies and individuals advertise editing jobs as ‘copy editing jobs.’ Some people will also call the document they want edited a ‘copy.’
Copy editing is about improving the copy in terms of accuracy, consistency, and formatting so that it’s ready for publication. The copy can be anything –a flyer, a magazine article, a web page, a movie script, or an entire book.
Most copy editors are employed on a freelance basis. A freelance copy editor is someone who works as an independent contractor as opposed to a full-time employee of a company. As an independent contractor, a freelance copy editor deals directly with clients and gets paid per assignment, often per word.
What Does a Copy Editor Do?
In order to be published in a professional manner, a piece of writing needs to be carefully checked for spelling, punctuation, grammar, typos, redundancy, inconsistency, repetition, and other errors that detract from the reading experience. This process is pretty straightforward but takes time, effort and a base level of writing ability, although dedicating time and effort is more important than ability. For many articles, an editor will work with a formatting textbook called a “style guide.” APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association) and Chicago are the most common style guides.
Each of these three can be purchased on Amazon or checked out from your local library. These style guides dictate the proper format for citations for every article, not only academic articles which is a common misconception. If you’re copy editing an article for a blog about woman’s fashion, for example, it’s very likely that the article will include a picture. You have to make sure that the picture isn’t copyrighted and that it’s correctly cited. The format of the citation is dependent on which style guide you’re using. If a client doesn’t specify a particular style guide, ask if the client prefers a particular citation style. This question will make you seem very professional.
Simply put, a copy editor’s job is to make sure that the document is error-free. You have to check everything pertaining to content, format and citations. Some of the things you’ll be routinely reviewing are page and chapter titles, illustrations, captions, footnotes, endnotes, in text citations, spacing and font type. In most cases, you’ll also want to check the copy for plagiarism. There are many services online that will check the document for plagiarism instantaneously, one of which is Copyscape.com. It costs about five cents per article, but the client normally covers the Copyscape fee.
You’ll also want to check the document for libelous content, copyright infringement, factual errors and anything that could get the client in legal trouble. Fact checking is an often overlooked aspect of the job. It’s important to fact check well because fact checking isn’t too difficult—it just takes time and research. If you verify all the facts in a document and provide the client with URL’s or books that you used to verify each fact, the client will be very impressed.
There are no set qualifications to becoming a copy editor. While a degree in journalism or creative writing is quite common, you can find plenty of jobs editing online if you are skilled enough, regardless of your educational background. Clients want results; they don’t care about your qualifications as long as you deliver.
In order to copy edit well, you need to have a good understanding of English grammar, common language patterns, usage rules, idiomatic expressions and a keen eye for detail, but all of those things can be learned and practiced. If you take the time needed to cover every detail, your work will stand out.
A number of online universities and other institutions offer courses and certificate programs in copy editing. It's also taught as a course in journalism school at many universities. If you’re inexperienced, it could be a good idea to enroll in a certificate program or some type of training course so that you’re better able to market yourself. The hardest part of being a copy editor is finding clients. Once you have clients, as long as you do a good job, you’ll be fine. But getting people to hire you, especially when you don’t have much experience or a degree in writing, can be a challenge. Having a certificate in copy editing could help set you apart from other applicants. A worthwhile certificate will probably cost in the neighborhood of $1,000.
But what you can also do is volunteer for editing jobs to gain experience. You could go to your local senior center, for example, and offer to edit their press releases and website articles for free. If you do a good job, it’s quite likely that they’ll start paying you. But even if they don’t start paying you, you’re gaining valuable experience that will help you market yourself.
You can also write an eBook, edit it then self publish it. If people buy it, you’ll make some money. Regardless of who buys it, you’d be able to pitch your editing services to a client by saying, ‘I edited an ebook about X. This ebook was 250 pages. It was published on several platforms and is available for sale on Amazon.com.’ That credential sounds impressive. If somebody asks you who wrote the eBook, be honest and say that you wrote it. Never lie about your qualifications. Remember, what goes around comes around. If you’re dishonest with a client, down the road you’ll pay for that dishonesty.
There are many editing jobs out there, the vast majority of which are online, although there are copy editing office jobs available as well. Many companies employ an in house copy editor to review press releases, website articles or even edit speeches. This in house copy editor is usually a part time gig, but some are full time. A full time copy editor receives benefits and a yearly salary like any other employee of a company.
You can search job listing websites such as monster.com for copy editing positions, although it’s probably best to start locally. Reach out to stores in the neighborhood and offer to edit all their press releases and website articles for a discounted rate. If you reach out to enough companies, somebody will hire you. If you don’t get hired, offer to edit for free. If you do a good job editing a company’s documents for free, that company will likely begin to pay you. If not, you’ll be gaining valuable experience that you can leverage into a paying job.
You can also search for jobs on a project to project basis through websites such as Thumbtack.com and Upwork.com. On Thumbtack.com, for example, you’ll get daily notifications about somebody looking for somebody to edit their resume or cover letter or eBook. On Upwork.com, people need business documents edited, novels edited, etc. Many students also need academic papers edited. Reach out to your local high school and offer your services as a writing specialist at a discounted rate. You could also apply for jobs at tutoring agencies, many of whom employ writing specialists.
Reach out to your personal contacts. Tell everyone – family, friends, and acquaintances that you are offering editing services at a discounted rate. Join online communities and forums for copy editors and look for freelancing opportunities. Start your own blog and website on which you can showcase good pieces of editing that you’ve done.
There are also online editing services that have a team of editors on call. Helloessay.com and Editana.com are two of these services. To be hired by these services, you have to pass a screening test in which you edit a document using track changes while following certain instructions.
At first, you’ll have to work for small wages, but it’s important to get experience. Once you have a solid body of work—ideally a “before and after” portfolio you can email clients—you’ll find better paying clients who will allow you to name your price. Also, if you impress people with your work, they are likely to come back to you again for their editing needs, and they’ll refer you to other people. Everybody needs good writers because everybody generating content is so vital, especially online. So if you persist, you could end up with a solid set of clients and a steady source of income.
Salary and Lifestyle
If you’re working full time at the editor’s entry level salary, you’ll be making around $30,000 per year. But these jobs normally require a writing degree or lots of copy editing experience.
You’ll likely start off as a freelancer while earning a modest hourly wage. $12 to $14 per hour is a standard industry wage for beginners. People will expect you to edit roughly 2,000 words per hour, which is a lot. Sometimes 2,000 words will take you longer than an hour.
But once you cement your reputation as a solid editor, you can earn a lot of money, upwards of $100 per document depending on the project, subject matter, and editing requirements. The best editors clear $100,000 per year because they find the right clients, often clients that run SEO projects. SEO stands for search engine optimization. People will pay you a lot of money if you can help their website make money.
And if you’re employed by several companies on a part time basis, you’ll very likely be clearing $30,000 per year. As stated above, if you’re a full time copy editor for one company, you’ll receive the base salary that company offers (normally around $40,000 per year) in addition to benefits such as health insurance, dental, etc. The way to make the most money is to find a full time job as a copy editor with one company and continue to edit/generate content for online SEO projects on the side.
Pros and Cons
+As a career, copy editing and freelance editing in general can be quite lucrative and rewarding, especially if you are skilled and know how to market yourself.
+If you’re an established freelancer, you get to choose your hourly rate, and the number of hours you work. You also get to work from home or a coffee shop or anywhere you want. This flexibility means less stress, no commute, and plenty of quality time with your family.
+You do not need a big investment to start your career as a copy editor. All you need is a laptop, a stable internet connection, and a quiet place to work.
+The need for good copy editors will never go away until somebody invents editing robots that are mass produced very cheaply.
-The work can be isolating.
-The job can get tedious, especially fact checking and going over formatting. Microsoft Word can be you enemy when you’re trying to indent a paragraph.
-At first, you won’t be making much money. You need to be patient and willing to suffer a little.
+ or - As an independent contractor, you’ll need to keep thorough records for tax purposes since no money will be withheld from you paycheck. This may be a pro or a con depending on your preferences.
Copy editing is a great job for anybody who like to read or write. It can be quite lucrative once you've established yourself. And anybody can break into the industry; you technically don’t even need a high school degree. As I wrote earlier, most clients don’t really care about your educational background. They care about experience and results.