How to become a copy editor and work from home is one of the things I’m asked about the most. In this article, you’ll find out what a copy editor does, who needs a copy editor, and how to become one. I want to make it perfectly clear that you do not need to hold a degree in English (or in anything else) to be a copy editor. You can take courses or go the autodidact route (learning on your own through reading books and other means).
Most courses can be completed day or night. Before we talk about that, let’s look at some of the most common questions. You need the answers to help you decide if this is the job for you.
What is a copy editor?
A copy editor (also spelled copyeditor) is a highly specialized professional who works with words to make pieces of writing more readable. To become a copy editor, you do not need to have a degree, but many editors do have one. Most copy editors hold a degree in journalism, communication, psychology, or education.
A freelance copy editor is a person who is an independent contractor, someone who is self-employed. An independent contractor serves multiple clients and is not an employee.
What does a copyeditor do?
A copy editor corrects errors in syntax, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. A copy editor also checks manuscripts for consistency and looks for continuity errors. See that post for an explanation.
A copy editor makes sure that all the elements of a story are complete and makes any necessary changes or makes comments so the author may make decisions and changes.
The editor also follows or creates a style sheet and fulfills author/client requests when possible. For example, a tea company may ask that you use the words sip or enjoy instead of drink when referring to their product.
A copy editor may review captions and photos for accuracy. They usually check names for spelling, but they might not do fact-checking, unless it is specifically included in the contract. Ultimately, the copy editor’s job is to make sure that the content is error-free and consistent throughout.
Every good copy editor is an avid reader. Ideally, they specialize in editing a certain type of content, and they partake heavily of that content as a consumer (reader).
Some scammers insist you must have a copy editor certification, and of course they will sell it to you. Some editors claim to be equally able to edit any type of writing—nonfiction business, space opera, epic fantasy, 22 kinds of romance, self-help, and memoir. They should not make that claim. Please don’t do that. At first, you might need to edit a variety of types of writing. But do so with the goal of finding out which types are best for you, and which ones you need to say no to and do not claim to be able to edit all kinds of writing.
Once you have identified what type(s) of writing is a good fit for you, then be honest, and tell people what you need to decline.
Who needs a copy editor?
Anyone who writes anything needs a copy editor. This kind of editor is a writer’s best line of defense when it comes to mistakes in the writing. Copy editors help ensure that authors’ work is as error-free as possible, and this is why they are needed by many organizations and all publications. News articles with obvious typos and factual errors can become the subject of ridicule. They are a valuable part of the publishing process and are essential to its success.
What are the copy editing standards?
There are many standards for copy editing. They include catching 95% of the errors in a manuscript; correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation; and ensuring that the work aligns with the applicable style guide.
Personality traits of a good editor
Here are some traits a copy editor must have:
- a strong command of English
- the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn
- voracious appetite for reading and learning
- broad knowledge base
- critical thinking
- interpersonal skills
- conscientiousness (feeling compelled to get it right)
- taking initiative (looking up anything you’re not 100% sure of)
- attention to detail
- follow-through (doing what it takes to get the job done)
- time management (meeting deadlines)
Is editing the right job for you?
Copyediting books requires careful attention to detail and a thorough knowledge of The Chicago Manual of Style. A few books, such as certain textbooks, follow a different style guide. Those are rare exceptions. Guide authors to CMOS.
Copy editors often work on several projects at once. They also deal with a wide variety of writers. Impeccable organizational skills are needed. Editors must be organized and able to switch between manuscripts with ease and give strong attention to detail.
Good copy editors have great spellchecking skills and can spot spelling mistakes. A copy editor knows the ins and outs of “good English.” She can spot mistakes and errors that make writing less effective.
A good copy editor must know when an author has created an anachronism or is asserting something that is incorrect. Misattributed quotations are common, so someone who wants to become a copy editor should use resources such as quoteinvestigator. The editor must feel compelled to get it right, and must look it up, find a source, cite the source in a comment to the author, and make the needed change in the text.
You must be able to work well on a team. Even if you are a solopreneur—an independent contractor—you will be working with others. You must also be willing to accept criticism. Besides these, you need to be able to work efficiently. Copy editors must ensure accuracy while meeting deadlines.
What is the cost to become a copy editor?
While you can keep expenses fairly low, there is some cost to become a copy editor. Many of the expenses are one-time expenses (books you need) or periodic costs such as website hosting. There are some monthly expenses, though, such as internet access and subscriptions.
Copy editors need to invest in themselves and their businesses:
Gain copy editing experience.
Copy editing is a highly skilled profession. You should gain experience under a mentor and work some entry level copy editor jobs before charging clients or going out on your own. Working with your mentor will help you develop your skills.
As an editor in training, you’ll have opportunities that involve light editing and simpler projects. Avoid tackling projects that you feel are beyond your capabilities. You will be able to build your portfolio of work once you have gained some experience. Always be transparent regarding your skill level.
Become a copy editor online.
There are several ways to become a copy editor. Although most copy editors are self-employed, a degree can also help in landing a good job.
After you’ve gotten your first few clients, it’s time to move on to the next level. The next step is to create a portfolio of your work. Start by creating a website and using SEO techniques to attract clients.
Once you’ve established your website, consider starting a blog to increase your exposure and reach a larger client base. Moreover, be sure to carry your business card with you at all times to make connections. If you enjoy going on podcasts, put together a one-sheet like this one.
What about the famous proofreading course?
There is a famous proofreading course that some of my students took before they came to me. I have not taken the course, so I don’t know what it covers or how. All I know is that my students have told me that I taught them more, and that what I teach aligns with CMOS, whereas that course does not. Something to keep in mind is that some courses are not designed to train you to edit books. Mine is for books as well as other types of content.
Join Editors School to become a copy editor.
Interested in training to become a copy editor? Editors School is a 90-day program for those who wish to learn the trade. It involves written materials and hour-long weekly live coaching calls like this one, where my students almost knocked me out of my chair. Students of Editors School have worked on some pretty great books, including Beyond Normal and Miracle Morning for Parents and Families. To see just a few of the hundreds of books I’ve edited, visit books edited by Jennifer Harshman.
It is an excellent choice for those interested in how to become a copy editor in order to build a freelance career in copyediting. The course covers editing skills, including sentence structures and syntax, as well as professional skills such as using Tracked Changes and leaving comments for authors. You can complete this program at your own pace or in an online classroom setting. It also provides hands-on experience in editing. To learn more, visit Editors School.
Most people become editors because they love language and words. They enjoy the challenge of finding the perfect word for a particular topic or making a complex piece of information flow. Joining Editors School can help you build a sustainable editing career.