8 Easy Steps to Becoming an Editor

The fundamental role of an editor is to make certain that any print and online work you submit for review meets a certain quality standard. However, this can mean doing anything from reading manuscripts to making layout and design changes. If you plan to become an editor, make sure you know what kind of editing you’d like to do before you begin. You’ll want to be clear on what you offer, so you are not led to take on more than you’ve bargained for with any one project. Here are 8 simple steps you can take to establish yourself as an editor in your area.

Step 1: Decide what kind of editor to be

Before you do anything else, take a moment to sit down and research types of editorial work. It’s one thing to say you want to be an editor in general–it’s quite another to be dumbfounded when a potential client asks you to do things that you never considered, or simply don’t want to do. You may decide to be a general editor, accepting a wide variety of assignments, or you can specialize in specific areas, like children, fashion, magazines, religious books, etc. You’ll also need to decide whether you’d like to provide various levels of editing (proofreading vs. copy editing, or developmental editing), or whether there’s just one that suits you now. Knowing this will help you determine what research to do and what training or education you’ll need. It’ll also help you narrow down your target market to the people you’re most likely going to help.

Step 2: Brush up on your skills

Before you propose to edit other people’s work on a large scale, make sure that your skills are up to date. There’s a common misconception that one must have a degree in English or a similar vein to be an editor, however, it’s not necessary. You can study on your own to develop a strong grasp of language and take tests to verify the skill level you have attained.

Resources such as Khan Academy, Alison, Coursera, and others will be invaluable in your preparation to put up your editing shingle in the window. If you do have the opportunity, however, pursue as much formal education related to writing as you can afford. Although you may have the technical abilities, it can be a slightly more uphill road to gain a client base without a degree as it would be without one. You will need to build a portfolio, which leads me to our next step.

Step 3: Build a portfolio

Once you’ve developed your skills, you will want to go about creating a portfolio. This can be difficult, especially at first. It’s not unusual to accept low-paying or even pro bono work for some time to quickly amass a collection of client reviews and work samples. Sites such as Freelancer and Elance can help with obtaining this kind of work, but you can also ask around to friends, colleagues, and family who may need some things edited–such as website content, school papers, or even a book. Having past work to show will help you a lot when you’re pursuing new work in the future.

A good way to gain experience and work samples is by volunteering. There are numerous opportunities to join the marketing staff of organizations seeking volunteers to help with writing, editing, and preparing content for print and the web. Though unpaid, it’ll be worth every moment when you can add it to your resume.

Step 4: Get official

If you’re serious about becoming an editor, then don’t skip the red tape. Choose a business name and get it registered with your government agency. Ensure you understand all the laws surrounding being an entrepreneur in your area. For example, at what threshold are you required to charge sales tax? Do you require any special permits or licenses to offer editing services? Take a couple of days and write out a simple business plan. Even if you never take it to anyone to obtain funding, having the plan written down will serve as a guide for you to stay on track as you manage your business.

You’ll also want to think about your brand. Have a logo designed and set up pages on the networks where you’re most likely to find new work. If you do a lot of networking, ensure that you have a steady supply of business cards to hand out at events and meetups. Use an appointment-setting software to manage meetings and consultations that you schedule with clients, and ensure that you have a good accounting system to keep track of expenses, income, and other aspects of your business.

Step 5: Set up your admin process

Before you accept your first client, it’s a good idea to have your admin process figured out. When someone inquires about editing, what will you do? Set aside some time to create all the documents you will need to handle prospective and new jobs. At the minimum, you should have an invoicing system, a project calendar, payment methods (preferably one that accepts credit cards), and information sheets to send to your inquiries at a moment’s notice. You should have NDA (non-disclosure agreements) and similar legal items available too, in case your client requests them. Having all those documents ready beforehand will make it easy for you to reply to emails and process new projects in a professional, timely manner.

Make sure that you do your research well before creating your price list. There’s a fine line between charging too little and too much in this industry. You’ll find that your final pricing will be based on several factors, including the average rates in your area, the value you can offer for the price of editing, and coming to numbers that are both competitive, yet can sustain your lifestyle given the right number of clients. Don’t ever sell yourself out cheap. It devalues the entire profession and you’ll also become discouraged if you constantly take on work that you’re underpaid for.

Step 6: Go forth and find work!

After all your setup, it’s time to go out and find clients. This is the most gruelling part of being a freelance editor. You must always be on the hunt for new projects, and this means joining groups and attending events where you’re most likely to meet your target clients. Online, you must be prepared to spend hours submitting proposals to people you meet on social networks, and jobs you find through sites like Upwork and Elance, where you must bid for the chance to be selected for a project. You’ll spend at least twice the time marketing yourself as you will spend editing anything. Becoming active on platforms like Twitter and Instagram can help you reach the kind of people who may need your services. Take a look at your marketing materials. Are they inviting? Do they urge a potential client to pick up the phone and call you? Also, don’t forget to show your personality. People want to work with editors they can trust and relate to. Showing your human side can make it easier for them to picture working with you to edit their work. By being down-to-earth, yet, professional, you can attract clients to your door.

Step 7: Learn to negotiate with clients

Editing rates can be difficult to set, and sometimes you’ll find yourself having to meet a client halfway. Though it’s not a good idea to always deviate from your standard pricing, there are times when the benefits of taking on a certain project outweigh the cost of lowering a fee to fit a budget. If you’re editing resumes, or other small documents, like emails, you may find it appropriate to opt for volume over price in some instances. If a potential client tells you they have 200 emails for you to edit, but a budget that’s slightly below your set fee, you may adjust it to fit within their budget. You can sweeten the deal for yourself by asking for something else of value, such as a video testimonial, permission to use excerpts in advertising, etc. so that you do not feel short-changed (which can affect your work quality). 

Negotiation can also come in handy when clients try to sneak in more work than you’ve originally bargained for. Rather than flat out refuse, find grounds to meet them halfway, indicating that although you can’t meet all their demands without additional compensation, you can throw in a freebie. This goes a long way in maintaining good relations, especially with long-term clients.

Step 8: Keep clients coming back

You’ll have the best chance of becoming a successful editor if you learn to keep your clients hooked on your brand. Make sure that your client’s experience with you is one that they’ll never forget–in a good way. This goes beyond sending them their edits on time. Doing the minimum expected isn’t enough to keep a client loyal to you in the long run. Be the editor who goes the extra mile to make a client feel cared for. Don’t hesitate to offer to fix little issues you noticed, or to go out of your way to find an article or a solution to something your client mentioned in a phone call or passing comment. People want to feel like you listen to them and care about their well-being, so by being the kind of editor who doesn’t simply churn out edits and ask for a cheque, you’ll do yourself a favour in retaining clients who return again and again with more work. Make sure that you offer something to your clients that is more valuable than most of your competitors, too. They need to know that they’re getting the best value for their money.

Published by Kim-Lee Patterson

Kim-Lee Patterson is an editor and author from Ontario, Canada. Since 2011, she’s edited for a variety of clients, ranging from job seekers and students to business owners and book authors. Her versatile editing style and her ability to mimic other styles are some of the things that her clients love about her and her work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: