As an editor, I occasionally talk to new freelancers wondering how to become a freelance editor. Some of them already work with editors and have seen how much a good editor can make your work shine. Others just think the work editors do is easy and they know enough of the English language to work as an editor.
Well. I’m here to help make things clearer. As an editor with over five years of experience working in various freelance editing roles, I’ll share seven things that will help you become an editor. But first, let’s consider what editors do and what your career trajectory can look like as an editor.
What Do Freelance Editors Do?
Freelance editors are independent contractors who work with brands, businesses, publishing houses, and online and printed media publications to refine written content.
For this article, we’ll be talking about editors of online written content, not books or printed magazines. So while the same principles can apply, our focus is on online content editors.
Where Do Freelance Editors Work?
As a freelance editor, you can work with a wide range of companies and businesses creating written content. This includes:
- Lifestyle blogs
- Niche websites (like pet websites, travel blogs, finance blogs, etc.)
- Educational institutions
- Healthcare websites
- B2B companies
- Marketing agencies
Some freelance editors have retainer contracts or work for companies on an hourly basis. A few freelance editors even work part-time with some organizations. It all depends on your preferences.
How Much Do Freelance Editors Make?
Although editing work is mentally tasking, it is lighter than writing, so many editors can complete 3-5 (or more) pieces a day depending on how much editing each piece requires.
Based on the surveyed rates by the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), editors charge anywhere between $30 and $70 per hour. Of course, some veteran editors may choose to charge more.
If you charge $30/hour (or come up with a per-project rate in that neighborhood), you could be earning between $100-$200 for each day of editing work. That leads to roughly $2000-$2500 per month if you have consistent work and work 3-5 days a week.
Even if you charge some clients less than your regular price and charge some a bit higher, you’ll still end up with revenue around that figure at the end of the month.
However, many freelance editors (like me) may get bored of the pace of editing and decide to supplement with some writing work. That can also help you can a bit more income every month.
Now, onto the important details — how do you become a freelance editor?
How to Become a Freelance Editor
The fundamental job of an editor is to help you make your writing as clear, impactful, enjoyable, and actionable as possible (without rewriting the entire piece for you). This means that editors need to know good writing.
Many times, editors also need to have a certain level of subject matter expertise. For example, an editor with zero knowledge of welding will likely struggle to edit content about welding. The same applies to content marketing or healthcare.
Finally, an effective editor needs to have a robust vocabulary (and no, a thesaurus or grammar checker won’t do). Often, many writers (even those for whom English is their first language) grapple with finding the right word or phrase to articulate an idea. During line editing, editors will help the writer find a better word, correct an error in their idiom, or point out a misused word or expression. If your vocabulary is weak, you may not even catch such errors.
So, how do you get to check these three must-haves off your list? Follow these tips.
Read Books About Writing and Editing
When I first started editing, I felt lost. Despite having a strong vocabulary and good grasp of the English language, I didn’t know the mechanics of editing. How do I leave comments? Which errors should I correct directly and which should I flag for the writer? When should they use a colon vs a semicolon? Should we add periods to bullet lists?
For some of these issues, the client’s editorial style guide helped. For others, books were invaluable.
As a writer, you should be reading. Read fiction and non-fiction and poetry and children’s books. If you want to be an editor, you’ll also need to read books about writing and editing. For craft books, it’s rare that anyone needs to read them from cover to cover, so as a busy freelancer, feel free to read only the sections that most apply to you.
The most impactful craft books for me were:
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser (a simple handbook on writing for different mediums)
- The Subversive Copyeditor by Carol Fisher Saller (essential for learning to communicate respectfully with writers)
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk (basic grammar handbook for anyone who wants to edit)
Remember: These books are going to teach you principles, not walk you through how to edit every piece in the world. They’ll teach you how to deconstruct writing and read as an editor, not a reader.
Learn from a Good Editor
Books are great, but nothing taught me how to edit like being in the trenches.
I started as a junior editor for a media agency working $15/hour. For the first month, every piece I edited (with changes tracked) was reviewed by an expert editor who left comments on things I’d missed and praised me for good calls.
It was terrifying for me because I was sure I would lose that gig (since hello, I wasn’t even a “real” editor)! But I ended up working with that client for three years and training a couple of other editors too.
If you know a great editor, ask them if they have any projects you could be a part of. The pay may suck, but the skills you’re learning will be yours to keep forever. Just editing a piece a day and getting feedback can make you a better editor than most writers out there!
Editing is a unique skill. It’s not writing and it’s not reading; it’s being the middle man for the reader and the writer.
Once your training period is done, you’ll need to keep practicing. Ask friends to let you edit their articles — or better yet, work as an editor for a website or blog you like. Read articles with a critical eye and find ways to make every sentence better.
Practice also means learning how to communicate edits to writers, when to suggest changes, when to Google grammar rules, and when your ego is getting in the way.
Pick a Niche
As you work with (hopefully) several niches and writing styles, you’ll start to figure out what excites you and what puts you to sleep. I found that I loved editing informational articles more than boring product round-ups. I also realized that articles about certain topics in which I had no interest were a chore to edit.
Noting your preferences is vital for every kind of freelancing. As an editor, you need to enjoy the content you’re editing to some extent — or at least be learning from it. Otherwise, you’ll hate the gig and the loss of interest will affect the quality of your work.
Get Editing Samples
Honestly, I think the idea of editing samples was invented by people who have no idea how editing works. When you’re hired as an editor, the work you edit is often confidential. Very few people can ethically release content they’ve edited. Also, editing styles depend on the kind of work, how good the writer is, your client’s content style guide and many other factors.
But because some potential employers are cheap or don’t know any better, they’ll ask for samples.
If you really need work, I’d recommend asking permission from a current client to keep one of their published pieces as a sample. Make a copy of the doc with your changes tracked and save it. You can then show potential clients your editing samples.
Hopefully, you’ll find sensible clients who will pay you for an editing test (as it should be done). I’ve never been hired off of sending sample edits, but several clients have hired me after seeing a test edit. I believe that you will only know a person’s true skill with a paid test task.
Figure Out Pricing
As you gain more experience, continue to re-evaluate your pricing. I started at $15 per hour and ended my journey with my first client at $25 per hour. Now, I charge between $60 and $100 per hour depending on the complexity of the edits.
Pricing your services as a freelancer requires that you know how much your time and expertise are worth. You should also know how much you need to make ends meet every month. To some, your pricing may be crazy low and to others, it might be ridiculously high. You know best.
Networking (by forming sincere relationships) is the secret sauce to freelance success. You can network by joining freelancing groups, telling people what you do, and referring other freelancers for work opportunities (if you’re in a position to). A good start would be to follow in-house managing editors and other freelance editors. You can then wait for the right opportunities to engage with them.
If you’ve already worked in a writing role with a past client, you can reach out to tell them that you offer editing services. You can also join freelance editing marketplaces like Chatty to get more work coming your way. Just put yourself out there relentlessly.
Becoming a Good Editor Takes Time
Being an editor is more than just running text through a grammar checker (those are fine for catching typos and minor errors). It involves knowing how good writing sounds and helping writers fine-tune their work until it’s in its best shape.
It will take time to feel confident in your new role, but the confidence will never come if you don’t start. Editing is also highly subjective as you’ll learn, and there is no perfect editor.
I have a couple of personal content projects and I’d be happy to train one or two editors every year. If you’re interested, send me an email! And if you’re looking for an editor to help you smooth out the bumps in your writing, reach out to me.