How to Become a Freelance Editor with No Experience

First of all, what is an editor?

Really simply, an editor makes sure that any copy

Really simply, an editor makes sure that any copy that goes to print, whether online or offline, is factually accurate, formatted to any house guidelines, free of plagiarism, and accurate in terms of grammar, spelling and punctuation.

“An editor makes sure the writer’s work says what the writer intends and says it in the writer’s voice and with his sensibilities.” – From The Editor’s Blog.

Some editors may also be responsible for choosing articles for magazines, books for publication, and even helping with design layout.

An editor’s job can vary widely depending on what type of editing they do.

4. Get Experience

This is the tricky part if you’re just starting out as an editor. It’s one of those head-scratching questions: where do I get experience? The answer is tough. You may have to charge less or even do a little (very little!) for free.

There’s no reason that you should give your services away for pittance forever. Most definitely not. But there are ways to get a few jobs under your belt (and use them as testimonials or feedback!) without having to sell out. You need to make money, after all!

It’s going to be hard work so any experience
It’s going to be hard work so any experience is good experience! Image via Pixabay

Volunteer for Friends

Ask your writer friends if they have any stories or poems they’re looking to submit to journals or competitions and offer to help them edit the work.

This works out well for you and your friend, because you get used to the editing process (and how different clients may respond) and your friend’s writing improves.

You could also ask people you know if they need any technical writing edited. You’d be surprised how many small business owners and office workers need someone to look over their website, business proposal or grant application (especially when they aren’t writers themselves!).

Get Involved in the Industry

If you have a little more time on your hands and don’t mind working for next to nothing, try getting an internship or small role on an editorial team.

Getting involved in the industry in this way allows you to be part of a wider community of writers and editors. You can easily bounce off others who are probably in similar freelancing positions, ask for advice, and include your work on your website.

If your client sees that you’re not only a freelancer, but you also edit for others in the industry, it gives you an edge of experience over others. As we’ve mentioned, you obviously can’t intern forever but it is an option if you’re just starting out.

Freelancing is a tough business so give yourself a
Freelancing is a tough business so give yourself an edge! Image via Kaboompics

Video

What Does a Freelance Editor Do?

In general, an experienced freelance editor will do the following:

  • 1. Reading: The first step for any editing project is to read the draft of a manuscript several times through.
  • 2. Content editing: An editor will give the writer feedback regarding content, flow of information, and story structure.
  • 3. Fixing editorial problems: Using their writing skills, an editor will fix spelling, punctuation, and grammar, generally following the rules of an official style guide, like the Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook.
  • 4. Helping shape the style: An editor can help a writer develop their voice and their writing style. Occasionally, an editor can also become a ghostwriter when major rewriting and restructuring needs to be done.
  • 5. Adjusting language: An editor reviews word choice to make sure text is clear and simple so a wide audience can comprehend the story.

8. Join freelance work platforms

By now, you should know how to become a freelance editor with no experience, so it’s time to start applying for jobs.

There are lots of freelance work platforms out there where you can input ‘editing jobs’, in the search term.

Here are 21 freelance work platforms where you can search for freelance editing jobs.

Protect your business

Once you have your first client, get ready to invoice them, accept payment, and protect yourself while you complete the job. That means you should:

  • Create a clear contract for your services
  • Establish a legal business entity to protect yourself from liability (i.e. an LLC)
  • Take out insurance for your editing business

Do you really need insurance as an editor?

Say you’re helping a client edit their thesis. Should you fail to complete your work in advance of their filing date, they could claim you’re responsible for their failure to graduate and their dimmed career prospects. Would you be protected?

Without insurance, the answer is no. That’s why freelance editors should consider the following policies:

  • General liability insurance to protect against client and third-party claims of personal injury, advertising injury, bodily injury, and property damage related to your editing services
  • Professional liability insurance to protect against claims of errors and negligence related to your work that result in a client’s financial loss.

With clear contracts, a legal business, and insurance, you create the structure for a healthy, stable editing business.

If you’re just getting started as an editor, you may only need insurance while you work on your first project—not for a year, let alone an entire month. That’s why we’ve created on-demand freelance insurance.

What is on-demand insurance? With Thimble, get insurance by the hour, day, or month. All it takes is 60 seconds to get a quote and proof of insurance.

5. Set up a website

Once you have some work samples, now it’s time to look professional.

Have a website that describes who you are and displays your work samples is a great way to convincing potential clients that you are experienced, credible and worth their money.

You can say: ‘You can review my editing samples on my professional website aishapreece.com’

If setting up a website scares you, here is a step by step tutorial on how you can set a website up for $3.95 a month.

How much should you charge for your services?

Most new freelancers make the mistake of underselling or overselling themselves. While the former can hurt you financially, the latter can cause you to miss some good opportunities. It is fine to agree with the pay offered by the client during the first few projects. However, once you have gained enough experience and confidence, it is better to set a price for your services.

Setting a definite price will make your services look more credible. Make sure that you charge differently based on various factors and aspects of the video. You can also choose to charge by the hour for your services or base your pay on the project. Here are the factors that can help you decide the price that you should set for a project.

  • Services 

Are you offering only editing under services? Most editors also offer to direct, film, etc. If you can provide these services, you can charge separately for them.

  • Video length

Whether you choose to charge by the hour or based on the project, the run length of the video will be a major factor in deciding you are charged. The longer the video, the more the pay will be.

  • Scope of editing 

Source

Source

The client may ask you various requests that come under editing, but most people do not add while deciding the pay rate. Requests such as adding voiceover, animations, etc., come under extra work and should be charged accordingly.

What does an editor do?

Contrary to what your non-writer friends who constantly ask you to look over their writing believe, an editor is far more than a typo catcher. (Oh. My. Goodness. Stop with this myth.)

Editors are advocates — for good writing, for an audience, for the goal of a piece and for the author. Our job is to ensure a piece of writing shines, that the audience will understand it, that it achieves its purpose and that the author always comes out on top.

A tiny piece of that is catching typos.

Your more writerly friends probably understand that editing also means helping a writer mold content into its best form, including its organization, formatting, word choice, sentence structure, fact-checking, and our beloved grammar, punctuation and style.

We’re also often coaches or managers. An editor job description could easily include helping writers brainstorm ideas and reshape pitches, guiding them through common mistakes and helping them lean into their creative strengths, assigning and managing content, supervising staffers or freelancers and contributing to business goals.

How much any of these tasks are included in a job depends on the organization, client or project’s needs. Discuss these with your client or boss upfront to understand what’s expected of your role.

Is editing right for you?

You are a writer now, and most editors begin with an interest in writing — few people at a young age fall in love with the written word and believe their destiny is to polish someone else’s.

Some people are great writers because they’re great storytellers or they have a compelling message to share. These people probably aren’t great editors.

Some people are great writers because they know how to manipulate words so any story sounds great and any message is compelling. If you’re that kind of writer, you might consider becoming an editor; you can transfer that strength to others’ work.

If you’re not sure whether editing is the right move for you, ask these questions:

  • Do you enjoy developing and shaping content?
  • Can you work with multiple voices?
  • Are you a natural problem solver?
  • Are you comfortable delivering constructive feedback?

Do you have to give up writing to become an editor?

I still both write and edit. Plenty of writers transition to editing and realize the latter is a better fit, so eventually stop writing. And some editing jobs don’t include any writing. But you don’t have to be one or the other. 

With newsroom budgets tightening and online businesses running lean, a lot of editor job descriptions include as much writing as editing. And as a freelancer, you can take on any kind of work you want! My full-time editor job doesn’t involve writing, but most of my freelance work does.

However, editing is not writing. When you edit someone else’s work, don your editor cap, and set aside the writer cap. An editor’s job is to make the writing the best — that includes keeping a writer’s voice intact and fulfilling a publication’s purpose.

If you can’t resist the urge to make your mark on a piece, consider that you are not an editor, and work to grow in your writing career without moving into editing.

Or consider ghostwriting. Ghostwriting — composing work that will be published under someone else’s name — isn’t editing, but the services could go hand in hand. Determine what kind of work you’re willing to take on, and set clear boundaries with clients before accepting jobs.

4. Think local

The web is a huge, scary place. Although you might get cases from all over the world, you’ll have much more success if you focus your advertising locally. Yellow pages (people still use those, sometimes), business cards on bulletin boards, fliers at local universities and places you know authors convene like bookstores or coffeeshops are great sources of business.

4. Join an editorial marketplace

Another way to get your name out there and find new clients is to join a marketplace — especially one specializing in publishing, like Reedsy. Once you list your service with us, we can showcase your profile to over 500,000 authors in need of editorial services, and this community is only growing! We aim to make it as easy as possible for authors and professionals (editors, book designers, as well as marketers) to meet and collaborate via our marketplace. 

You can even join us in connecting with writers via our Reedsy live chats on Youtube! Sign up to Reedsy and contact us for more information on how.  

Kickstart your freelance editing career Sign up to Reedsy and discover new projects from 500,000+ authors. Learn more about how Reedsy can help.

Joining curated marketplaces also gives your credentials a boost, since these have a vetting process to assure clients that all professionals on-site are experts at what they do. A marketplace can be a marketing tool for freelance editors in more than one way: it provides direct contact with the clientele as well as a stamp of approval! 

For newer editors with less experience, general sites like Upwork are accessible alternatives to curated sites. They give access to a variety of book publishing jobs, though they are prone to bidding wars. 

Known by many names — other editor titles you might encounter

People with the “editor” title also often take on duties beyond working with copy, such as staff, project and content management.

This is common in newsrooms and companies that have adopted the newsroom structure, such as content marketing agencies or blogs. Some editor titles you might encounter:

Copy editor

This role is focused on copy. They’re usually the last to look at content before it’s published, performing line edits, fact-checking and proofreading, as well as writing headlines and meta data. Supervisory roles, such as slot or copy chief (both almost exclusively in traditional newsrooms) perform copy editing duties and manage other copy editors.

Assignment editor

In a newsroom, this editor is responsible for a specific section of the paper. In a less traditional environment, they might simply oversee an editorial team. Writers might report directly to an assignment editor, and the editor assigns pieces and works with writers on developmental and substantive editing before sending content to the copy desk.

Managing editor

This editor oversees newsroom operation and is usually not directly involved in content production. They manage people, ensure content quality and are involved in content strategy. 

Editor in chief or executive editor

This is a business role, even though it has “editor” in the name. They manage an organization’s operations, including budgets and staffing, as well as guiding content strategy and setting the standard for content quality.

What skills, qualifications or experience do you need?

Freelance editors, writers and proofreaders all need to enjoy working with words and language, and have a good understanding of common grammatical rules and conventions.

You’ll also need the skills of any successful self-employed person to build contacts, deliver projects on time, and manage invoicing etc.

The other knowledge you need will depend on any specialisms you want to pursue. If you’re a Developmental Editor for fiction novels, it requires an understanding of storytelling conventions and tropes, like ‘The Hero’s Journey’ for example. Whereas a Copy Editor for a fishing website would need to know as much as possible about angling. And while it’s possible to research and learn the subjects required, it’s always easier if it’s something you have at least a little interest in.

It’s possible to become a freelance editor without any specific academic qualifications or professional certification. But it will be more difficult to persuade clients to trust you, especially if you’re starting out with no previous experience or projects. The majority of Editors will have a degree level qualification in English, Journalism, or related humanities subjects.

There are a range of training courses if you want to become a freelance editor, and these are offered at various levels, including post-graduate training and beyond. The most important part of choosing the right course is checking if it’s offered or accredited by a recognised organisation which will be appreciated by potential clients. Examples include the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), the British Society of Magazine Editors (BSME), or companies including the Press Association.

Beyond your qualifications, the most essential thing to secure client work is being able to demonstrate relevant experience. This could come from working in staff editorial roles (which often require degree level qualifications, even for entry-level positions), by freelancing as a writer while you learn the editing process, or by finding individuals or businesses willing to give you a start. And if you’re struggling to find an outlet willing to publish your work, or let you demonstrate your editing skills, then the easiest way to start building your reputation is by self-publishing on your own website, or on various online platforms.

Many of the best-known and most respected writers and editors began by creating their own fanzines, blogs or websites. And if it takes off, you might have started your self-employed business without even needing to take on clients!

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