How Can I Be an Editor Too? Part 1

Love Of Books by George Hodan

I get this question a lot. “Hey, I heard you edit books from home. I’m really good at seeing typos in restaurant menus. How can I do your sort of job?”

Yikes. That’s like asking somebody who knows how to change a flat tire to change a carburetor. There’s a lot more to making a living as an editor than being able to spot typos in menus, though that skill is commendable.

The fact is, not just anybody can do this job, just like not everybody can listen to your heart and tell you whether you need heart surgery. So let me break down what being an editor means and what type of education and experience are expected to make a living at this.

1. To be taken seriously and be effective in the trenches, let’s get to the foundation—you need to be really good at English. Ugh, English? Yes, English. Go back to elementary school, junior high, and high school. Did you excel in English from an early age? What about college? Did you get good grades on English tests and research papers? If the answer is no, do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

2. You need to love writing and words. Because if you don’t love either or both, you’re going get sick of editing in a hurry. You may start seeing so much writing that cracking a book for relaxation in the evening may lose its appeal. For example, I’m just about done with my first pass of a 199,147-word novel, which I edited in two weeks. Yep, that’s a lot of words and pages (36 pages a day to meet my self-imposed quota). If I didn’t love words and writing, this job would get old in a hurry.

3. You have to understand how words work together. That’s why I asked about your background in English. It has to start there. If you don’t understand what infinitives, participial phrases, and nonrestrictive clauses are, then you probably won’t make a good editor. Why? Because editing requires more than spotting a misspelling or two (which your word processor can usually do); you need to understand why certain words work together and certain ones don’t. You have to understand the science of writing.

4. You need a college degree in communication of some kind. I’m talking about English, journalism, creative writing, or something similar. A humanities degree may be okay as long as you’ve had a lot of English and writing courses. The more you study about English and writing, the better you’ll be as an editor. Guaranteed.

5. You always need to be learning because language is constantly changing. How do you do this? Read a lot…books, magazines, journals. Study a lot…books on editing like the Chicago Manual of Style or Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

So you’ve passed the test. You’ve met all these requirements. Now what? Can you start editing from home right away? I’ll discuss that question in Part 2.

6 thoughts on “How Can I Be an Editor Too? Part 1

  1. Nancy

    And you have to be able to answer, “It takes you HOW long to edit a book?” or a variation “You charge HOW much to edit a book?”

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