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Writing

How to Become a Book Editor: 3 Steps for Working as an Editor

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Feb 3, 2020 • 4 min read

Book editing is a necessary service for writers that helps produce the most polished versions of their manuscripts in order to publish their best book. Working in book editing comes in a variety of flavors—you can offer editing services for nonfiction books like memoirs or autobiographies, or you can be a fiction editor for the fantasy genre. Regardless of which path you choose, becoming a successful editor requires a number of skills as well as determination.

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What Is a Book Editor?

A book editor is someone who reads a manuscript to determine what the book needs, both suggesting and applying edits to the written word. A good editor likely has a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in English, communications, or journalism. An editor usually has knowledge of various style guides, years of experience in the literary or publishing industry (as a copy editor, at publishing houses, or freelance editing), and a good grasp on sentence structure and word choice.

3 Types of Book Editors

Book editing services vary in degree and price, with editing work ranging anywhere from standard proofreading services to copyediting, to full-on professional editing. Here are three types of editors:

  1. Developmental editor: A developmental editor will look at the big picture and give a thorough evaluation of an author’s work to help determine what it needs in order to be ready for publishing—but developmental editing doesn’t usually involve a lot of heavy proofreading (or those services might be extra).
  2. Proofreader: If you only want to find typos and fix grammatical errors right before the book publishing process, then you might work well as a proofreader.
  3. Line editor: If you’re looking to split the difference between the above two roles, line editing may be the proper editing career for you. A line editor helps identify run-on sentences or clichés, makes sure the tone is consistent, and fine-tunes the word choice and syntax of a manuscript.

Each career path comes with its own specific editing process (and at the professional level, education requirements), so depending on the level of involvement you’re looking for in an editing job will determine what responsibilities you have, and who you’ll be the right editor for.

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3 Necessary Skills for Book Editors

Becoming an editor requires particular know-how and aptitude. Here are some skills necessary for the job:

  1. Attention to detail. Sometimes an editor’s job involves fact-checking and continuity. Strong attention to detail can help an editor quickly pick up on inconsistencies or incorrect information. Whether you’re tracking a narrative or trying to spot every error in a manuscript, editing is hard work, especially when you’ve spent long hours staring at the same text. However, editors must keep their eyes sharp and pay close attention to the literature in order to get it into its most presentable state.
  2. Strong communication. Great editors know what makes a good book, and they know how to honestly and effectively communicate that information to the writer. Editors who give respectful feedback are more likely to maintain good working relationships with their clients, increasing the chances their services will be required again (especially if the book they edit becomes a bestseller).
  3. Good writing skills. An editor knows what makes good writing because they’re able to write themselves—they have a firm grasp on language, how to structure text, and the proper way to format sentences and grammar.

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How to Become a Book Editor in 3 Steps

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If you’re looking to become a professional book editor, there are a few guidelines you can follow:

  1. Determine the type of editor you want to become. If you’re not sure which editing niche is right for you, work as a freelance editor in a variety of departments to gain experience and see where your skills lie. Establishing the kind of editor you want to be not only centers your focus but also gives potential clients a better idea of the services you can provide.
  2. Apply for gigs. Look for full-time or part-time entry-level job openings at publishing companies, gigs as an editorial assistant or assistant editor, or an internship that could get you in proximity to professional editors. As long as you can get your foot in the door, you can expose yourself to the editing environment, as well as surround yourself with seasoned editors you can both learn from and network with.
  3. Become a freelancer. Use the internet to advertise yourself as a freelance book editor and try to get clients to come to you. First-time authors writing their first book may be more likely to enlist the services of a less experienced (and inexpensive) book editor, so freelancing on your own to gain work experience and your own client base is a good way to get yourself out there editing. While freelance work may not pay as well as an established position at a notable company, it can help keep you editing and expand your resume.

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