How do you become an editor?

Broken_Statue_Daniel's_Dream_Gilgal_Garden_2Rachel Anderson asks: How did you get into editing? Did you start writing first and then take on editing as a natural second, or was it out of necessity since there are more opportunities for editors than writers?

Oof, talk about cutting to the quick. It’s certainly tricky to make a living as a full-time writer. So most writers also use their wordsmithing in some other way – teaching or working in the publishing trade.

But does that mean all writers could be editors? Not necessarily. There’s a lot of difference between tidying your own work and shaping someone else’s to professional standards.

And you need different skills for the various strains of editing.

Copy editing and proof reading These are the nitpicky, forensic phases. Fact-checking and querying. Reading for consistency, clarity, correctness, house style, possible libel. The copy editor and proof reader are a human error trap – they have to catch anything that might be inaccurate, or would spoil the reader’s experience or undermine the author’s command. They have to spot anything that could possibly go wrong such as characters’ names changing half-way through, repeated passages from copy/paste mistakes, and snafus that no other human has yet encountered.

Rachel: I’ve been reading articles and stuff about developmental editing…

Aha – the creative stuff! For developmental editing, you need a mind for detail and a solid grounding in the mechanics of fiction (or non-fiction or memoir if that’s where you want to specialise – they need developmental editors too). Developmental editing is part diagnosis, part teaching. You need sharp radar for what isn’t working, and you need to explain this to the writer in a way that helps them solve it. Equally, it might be your job to solve it.

The best developmental editors understand how writers work and think – and this is where it helps to be a writer yourself, although it’s not an essential. You need to appreciate what havoc your suggestions might cause – for instance, if you recommend a writer rejigs a plot thread or combines two characters.

You also have to be a mind-reader – the best editors can figure out what the writer was aiming to do and advise them on how to achieve it. Or how to steer them to a wise course with their material. Developmental editors also need to be steeped in the genres they’re working with – the advice you’d give a paranormal writer would be very different from the way you’d direct a literary one.

Rachel: Do I need to get certification or training before trying to get people to trust me? Should I try to land a traditional job with a press or publishing house instead of (or before) striking out on the freelance path?

You can get training in copy editing and proof reading – in the UK a good place to start is the Society for Editors and Proof Readers . It’s trickier to learn developmental editing as it’s a matter of experience and I don’t know of any vocational courses. Even if there were, it’s the kind of thing you have to develop a sense for.

Here’s what I’d advise – read all you can about how fiction works. Join a good critique group where some of the members are working authors. Most freelance developmental editors, though, earned their spurs in a publishing house – so yes, I think this is the best path and it’s the surest way to prove to writers that you’re bona fide. And you’ll usually find yourself doing the copy editing and proof reading as well. Even if that doesn’t light your fire, it’s a useful string to your bow.

If you want to know more about the world of editing, you might like this recent roundtable from Indie Fringe 2016.

Thanks for the pic IntotheWoods29.

Are there any editors out there? What would you add? Aspiring editors, what would you like to ask? And has anyone had bad experiences with an inexperienced editor? 

, , , , , ,

  1. #1 by ccyager on May 1, 2016 - 7:33 pm

    Reblogged this on Yager Editing Services and commented:
    Roz Morris does a good job of explaining what each kind of editor does. While it’s not necessary or required in the U.S. to have a certification, it is available for those who would like it.

  2. #3 by change it up editing on May 1, 2016 - 10:03 pm

    I’m a full-time, U.S.-based freelance editor and a member of several professional organizations, including the Editorial Freelancers Association. EFA offers courses for both members and nonmembers on a variety of subjects. Here’s the link to more information:; a course titled Basics of Editing and Proofreading (Webinar) begins May 26 and might be a good place to start for a writer who is thinking about getting into editing.

    • #4 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on May 2, 2016 - 12:05 am

      Aha, thanks for that, Candace! I know of the EFA, but didn’t know they offered courses. Good tip.

  3. #5 by Averill Buchanan on May 2, 2016 - 10:15 am

    In the UK, the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) also offers great courses for editors of all stripes and persuasions: Both the PTC and the SfEP run online (distance learning) courses, so you don’t have to travel, and the professional qualifications you gain are highly regarded.

    There are (online) courses for developmental editing, too, run by the EFA (Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced:, and by Author-Editor Clinic (

    • #6 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on May 2, 2016 - 6:38 pm

      Thanks for adding those sources, Averill. For those of us who learned on the job, the courses route is an undiscovered country. This is very useful.

  4. #7 by Erin Bartels on May 2, 2016 - 12:51 pm

    I’ve earned my stripes working in traditional publishing as a copywriter and copyeditor for 14+ years. But much of my freelance work is developmental editing. That’s what I love to do because I love teaching and helping writers grow; I’ve been doing it since college when I was a writing tutor. My clients tend to come to me through writing conferences where I teach workshops.

    • #8 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on May 2, 2016 - 6:40 pm

      Hi Erin! nice to know a little bit more about your history. You don’t LOOK as though you’ve been doing this for 14 years…. And you raise an important point here about developmental editing. Of all the editing roles, developmental editing requires the nurturing instinct. For me, it’s the joy of seeing where I could help a writer to create a book that lives up to their hopes. Or even surpasses it.

  1. Writing Links in the 3s and 5…5/10/16 – Where Worlds Collide
  2. Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 05-12-2016 | The Author Chronicles
  3. Quick Links: How do you become an editor? | Publetariat
  4. How do you become an editor? | Joy V. Smith
  5. Writing Links Round Up 9/12-9/17 – B. Shaun Smith

Your turn!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: