How To Become A Book Editor For Others

Writers often get most of the glory, but behind every good writer is a fantastic editor! If you’ve thought about how to become a book editor and want to learn what it takes to get started, you’ll find answers here!

How to become a book editor

Editors play a key role in developing the text and getting the polished version ready for publication. If you really love to read and write, this could be an extremely rewarding career for you.

In-house or freelance, here’s how to become a book editor:

How to become a book editor

The first step to becoming a book editor is deciding what kind of book editor you want to be.

Choose in-house or freelance

Typically, most book editors have a full-time, salaried job working at a publishing house.

For example, big-name publishers you might know include Penguin Random House, in addition to HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster.

While working at a publishing house provides a steady stream of work (and a steady salary), these positions are also highly competitive.

Alternatively, more and more book editors are deciding to work for themselves as freelancers. Like any freelancing business, it can take time to build up your business.

For this reason, you may opt to start book editing part-time as a side hustle before becoming a full-time book editor.

Working as a freelance book editor may be the right fit for you if you prioritize flexibility and the chance to work more closely with independent authors.

Find out what type of editing you prefer

There are many different kinds of book editors. If you’re just starting out with your book-editing career and are jumping at the chance for any kind of editing work, you may not be so picky.

However, choosing specific types of editing to focus on will not only allow you to hone your skills but also better market yourself to prospective clients.

Some of the different types of editing you can choose to specialize in are:

  • Developmental editing
  • Line editing
  • Copy editing
  • Proofreading

Choose a niche

Alongside a specific type of editing, most book editors (both in-house and freelance) specialize in a niche (i.e., a specific subject matter).

If you start off working in-house, your publishing house will likely assign you to a certain kind of work.

On the other hand, if you’re a freelance book editor, it is completely up to you what niche you choose.

For example, here are some ideas for book editing niches:

  • Fiction
  • Non-fiction
  • Poetry
  • Cookbooks
  • Children’s books
  • Academic books

How to be a book editor at a publishing house

Again, working at a publishing house is the more traditional route when it comes to how to become a book editor. And while publishing may be a notoriously difficult industry to break into, it’s not impossible!

Here is a basic roadmap to follow to land a job as a book editor at a publishing house:

1. Complete a degree

Most publishing houses will require you to have at least a Bachelor of Arts degree. That said, you have some flexibility when it comes to what kind of major you choose.

For example, to work as a book editor, you can major in English, writing, communications, journalism, or another related field in humanities.

If you plan to work in a technical field (i.e., editing legal, medical, or academic books), then it’s also a good idea to have experience and/or educational background in that field.

For instance, you can consider pursuing a minor and/or other professional training to boost your credentials.

2. Get relevant publishing experience

In addition to the educational experience, publishing houses will seek book editors who have industry experience. Looking for internships in editing is an excellent way to prepare your resume while you’re studying.

Again, most editing internships at major publishing houses will be in NYC. If this option isn’t possible, you can also look for editing internships at smaller publications near you.

Today, there are also more opportunities to find remote editing work online.

3. Develop your resume and portfolio

Finally, when you’re ready to look for a job as a book editor with a publishing house, you must have—at the bare minimum—a resume. Ideally, this resume will demonstrate your relevant education and some internship experience.

Alongside your resume, you can improve your chances of finding a job in book editing by showing publishing houses your portfolio. In your portfolio, include examples of works you’ve edited. If you don’t have a lot of internship experience, you can always include work from university courses or pro bono work you’ve done.

How to offer book editing services as a freelancer

Another path for how to become a book editor is to become a freelancer. Although, it’s important to note that most freelance book editors work with self-published writers rather than writers at big-name publishing houses.

Remember that working as a freelance book editor means you not only need the skills to edit, but you also need the skills to market yourself. It’s essential to figure out how to find clients as a freelancer.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Create a professional online presence

First, it’s important to create a professional presence for yourself on the internet so prospective clients can find you. At a minimum, create a website where you can list your service offerings, your credentials, rates, client testimonials, etc.

In addition to a website, it’s also a good idea to get active on a few social media platforms. Don’t worry—you don’t have to try to become an influencer! But committing to posting on at least one or two social media platforms will help you grow your presence, attract prospective clients, and even connect with others in the editing industry.

2. Take online training and get certifications

Regardless of if you have a degree from a university, it’s always a good idea to invest in relevant training and certifications. Having these credentials on your resume helps establish your credibility, strengthens your industry network, and keeps you up to date with new editing skills and terminology.

You can look for training and other certified offerings from organizations like New York University and The University of Chicago.

3. Network in relevant organizations

Besides online training and certifications, another great way to grow your presence in the editing industry is via professional organizations.

For instance, top groups for book editors to join include the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors and The Professional Editors Network.

Participating in these organizations will help you network and meet other editing professionals who you can go to for advice and support as you grow your career.

4. Specialize in a niche

Finally, just like an editor who works at a publishing house, a freelance book editor needs to narrow down their desired niche. But unlike an editor at a publishing house who has a boss, as a freelance editor, you have a lot more liberty to choose exactly what you want to work on!

In addition, you might specialize in developmental editing across all genres. Conversely, you can specialize in romance novels—covering all aspects of the editing process.

Most importantly, make it clear to writers what specific editing services you offer so you can match with your ideal client.

Expert tip

Knowing how to become a book editor is all about intention. You need to decide what sort of editor you want to be and what your specialty is.

From there, networking and gaining relevant experience is incredibly important. You can easily gain experience by freelancing with small projects like articles or webpages as you get a degree and that way, you’ll be ahead of the game.

What does a book editor do?

A book editor is someone who reviews manuscripts and works with authors to help select and prepare books for publication.

But it gets deeper than that. Book editors work in many different phases of book development and publishing—from the very beginning stages to the last steps before printing.

For example, some book editors work with authors who are already under contract to help them with the elements of a plot and plot development, style, voice, mechanics, etc. Other editors, meanwhile, are the last set of eyes on the text to check for spelling, grammar, and formatting mistakes.

Still, other editors are charged with reviewing new manuscripts from unpublished authors to find new writers with publishing potential.

Are there different types of book editors?

Yes, publishing houses often have different types of editors for different stages of development.

Developmental editors

Developmental editors are responsible for reviewing the overall structure of a book. This means they pay attention to the big picture and help the author work on things like character development, pacing, and dialogue.

Particularly for a first-time author who is just starting out and doesn’t have much experience, a good developmental editor can be a lifesaver!

Line editors

Line editors are tasked with assessing the clarity and flow of the text.

When reviewing the book, they take the perspective of the reader to point out any contradictions, remove redundancies, and improve overall readability. Their chief priority is to make sure the text is organized and easy to read.

While line editors take a more detailed approach than developmental editors, they are not to be confused with copy editors.

Copy editors

Copy editors focus on assessing the author’s style and tone to ensure it is consistent throughout the entire book.

Additionally, copy editors must pay attention to grammar, spelling, syntax, formatting, etc. Basically, they review each sentence to help the writer make it the very best it can be.


Finally, proofreaders take a last look at a manuscript before it is considered final.

While copy editors do review the text for grammar and spelling mistakes, nobody is perfect, and little errors can still make their way through. That’s where proofreaders come in to put a final, fresh set of eyes on a very well-labored manuscript to catch any straggling mistakes.

What qualifications does a book editor need?

You need certain academic credentials and relevant experience to offer book editing services. Unfortunately, to become a book editor, you need more than just a love of reading! You’ll also need:

  • BA in a related field (e.g., English, journalism, communication, etc.)
  • Internships in editing or a related field
  • Portfolio of your work

How much do book editors charge?

According to ZipRecruiter, the typical national salary for a book editor in the U.S. is $63k per year or $30 per hour.

However, it’s worth noting that most jobs in publishing for book editors are in NYC, which inflates the national average due to the city’s extremely high cost of living. The unfortunate reality is that book editing is not a very high-paid job.

For freelance book editors, many charge their editing services by the word.

As an example, the Editorial Freelancers Association recommends the following rates for editing fiction:

  • Developmental: $0.03 to $0.039 per word
  • Line editing: $0.04 to $0.049 per word
  • Copy editing: $0.02 to $0.029 per word
  • Proofreading: $0.02 to $0.029 per word

Where to find work as a book editor?

While in-house and freelance book editors may work on similar projects, the job hunt is quite different.

Finding work as an in-house book editor

If you want to be an in-house book editor, then your best bet to find work is by heading to the job boards. (That is unless you have a network of contacts you can leverage.) 

For instance, you can find job posts for book editors on Indeed, also on ZipRecruiter, or LinkedIn.

It’s also a smart idea to prep for interviews so you can nail conversations with hiring managers and get your dream job. Read these 11 tips on how to ace an interview!

Finding work as a freelance book editor

Part of how to become a book editor who freelances is that looking for work will be an ongoing task. After all, when you are a freelance book editor, you are also a business owner and, thus, a marketer—so get to marketing yourself!

1. Develop your portfolio 

First, develop your portfolio. If you don’t have any real experience yet, remember that you can also build your own portfolio as you get started in your career. 

For example, do you have any bookworm friends? Are they aspiring authors? If so, ask them if you can edit some of their writing and put it in your portfolio to show prospective clients.

2. Market on social media

Social media is one solution to find inbound leads as a freelancer. Inbound leads are clients who contact you seeking your services. 

With social media, you can advertise your services, be an industry thought leader, and even show off some of your work to attract writers. 

You may use these platforms to connect with other editors in the industry to grow your network and learn new editing and marketing tips.

3. Turn to job boards

Like book editors looking for in-house work, you can also turn to job boards for freelance editing gigs. 

On occasion, publishing houses will work with freelance editors, and they’ll usually post work on job boards. Some of the most popular job boards to turn to include Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and LinkedIn. 

Here, you can also find posts for freelance editors from smaller publishing houses, literary magazines, etc.

4. Consider SEO editing

Finally, if things are a little slow going at the beginning of your job hunt, consider turning to web content editing or even start SEO editing

While these may not be your desired niches, they can still be valuable opportunities. You can gain editing experience working with online content and then pivot to books down the line when you’re more established in the field.

Find your dream job as a book editor!

If you enjoy reading and writing, then finding out how to be a book editor may be a great career path for you!

However, bear in mind as you’re finding out how to become a book editor that it’s more work than just being a bookworm. You also need relevant educational and internship experience to get started. Additionally, to work for a big publishing house, you will likely need to live in or near NYC—and compete intensely for the position.

But don’t give up hope—there are also great opportunities to become a freelance book editor. Think about your options and decide what editing path is best for you. And also, consider these tips for managing clients when you do land that editing job!

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