How I Became an Editor (and Advice If You Want to Be One Too)

About once a month I get an email from someone wanting advice on how to become an editor. It’s an interesting question because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan. Each editor has traveled his or her own path. I have my story and some ideas on steps others can take who want to get into editing, so I thought I’d share them all here.

My parents taught me good grammar by example and by correction (“may I” instead of “can I” and “about to” instead of “fixin’ to). I also read and wrote as often as possible when I was growing up. I learned how to write well from reading quality books. In school, English classes were always my favorite and I enjoyed the technical side of writing. I was a rule follower, and even liked following grammar rules. When I went off to college, I decided to major in English. I enjoyed all the reading, tolerated the poetry class, and loved advanced grammar. After college, I became a teacher and got paid to correct others’ grammar! How fun! Of course, teaching is more than correcting grammar, and it was the “more” part I easily walked away from when Lee and I got married and had our boys. I was in seminary at the time working on my Master of Divinity degree, so I was still reading and doing lots of writing. In 2005, I started blogging and shared all I was learning on the Internet.

In 2010, our younger son was diagnosed with autism. I read a lot of books in the year following his diagnosis, but couldn’t find one that was both personal and informative. So I wrote one. I met an editor at a conference and she helped me so much. I already knew Erin from  Design by Insight, and she and Teri Lynne guided me through the self-publishing process. (They now have a book that can guide you through the process too: Self-Publish.) After self-publishing my book, I knew I could help others make their writing dreams come true also.

So with support from my husband and friends, I started Next Step Editing almost two years ago. There is no other job I’d rather be doing in this season of my life. I spend my days reading, researching, writing, correcting, teaching, and encouraging—all of my favorite things!

So what should you do if you want to become an editor?

It partly depends on where you are in life, but I think everyone who wants to freelance edit can start with this to-do list:

  1. Take classes. Is there a writing or editing class offered in your area? Even an online class about the process of self-publishing, like From Idea to E-Book, would be helpful. Gain knowledge from as many sources as possible. You don’t have to have a degree in English to be an editor, but it does help to have some classes in the field.
  2. Read books. If you want to edit books, you need to own The Chicago Manual of Style (or have access to the online version). But don’t stop with just books on the mechanics of writing; there are so many good books about writing out there. In fact, in October I’ll be reviewing 31 of them. Check out my reading list, search Amazon, or ask your librarian for recommendations.
  3. Network with others in the field. Get to know your favorite authors, editors, and publishers through their blogs, on Twitter, or on Facebook. Pay attention to the people they interact with and get to know them too. You’ll learn just by paying attention to what they are writing about and the resources they recommend. (For example, I listen to Michael Hyatt’s podcasts every week and write down the titles of the books he mentions. Then I check them out from my library. I’ve learned a lot from those recommendations.)
  4. Go through the process of self-publishing yourself. If you truly want to help self-publishing authors, it’s good to know what they are going through. You’ll know more about formatting requirements, copyright laws, and publishing industry standards if you’ve had to follow them yourself.
  5. Ask an established editor if he/she needs any assistance. I’ve hired Caroline to help me with really big projects, and hope to use her even more in the future. I’ve also gotten to know others in the editing field and I’ve passed along clients to them when my schedule was too full. If you have already gone through steps 1-4, you’ll have more to offer an established editor who could benefit from your help as well.

I hope these tips help! Self-publishing is such a growing field, I know the demand for good editors will continue to rise. Editing may be the perfect job for you, like it is for me.

Do you have any specific questions about being an editor I could help answer? Leave them in the comments! And be sure to connect with me on Facebook so we can continue to learn together.

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Comments

  1. Sandra, these are great tips. I agree with all theses tips for various fields of work, especially number 4! In virtual assisting, I often try out strategies or even new plugins first so I can better understand how to help my clients with them.

    And thanks so much for mentioning our working together. I’m *always* glad to work with you!

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