How to Become an Editor: 8 Things to Get You Started in 2021

Wondering how to become an editor?

Need guidance on mapping out your new career path?

Then this post is for you.

Editorial roles are among a wide selection of advanced professional career opportunities available for seasoned writers. What’s more, the publishing industry supports specialized editing jobs that are as diverse as the niches in the writing community.

Although editing work seems like a natural career path for writers, an editor’s success and job satisfaction leans heavily on some unique character tendencies that they share.

Let’s see if you fit the mold with this quick quiz.

Do you:

  • read the book before watching the movie?
  • love the craft of writing?
  • cringe when social media feeds misuse “there, their and they’re”?

Check a couple of boxes?

Read on…

This post will give you the lowdown on:

  • common editorial roles,
  • the outlook for future editing jobs, and
  • things to do now that’ll prepare you for a career in editing that suits your unique qualities and interests.

First, let’s start with the basics.

What Is an Editor & What Does an Editor Do?

Print and electronic publishing companies typically employ editors who collaborate with writers to transform their written manuscripts into final consumable products: published reading material.

“We edit your words, your writing, your sentences, and paragraphs… but never your voice.” – Rogena Mitchell-Jones, Literary Editor

Editors in larger publications commonly work in teams with other editors, assistant editors and interns. But smaller organizations tend to assign several roles and responsibilities into one full-time editor position to comply with budget constraints and workforce limitations.

Despite many commonalities, unique editorial responsibilities are drawn from the needs of its publication type.

But before we explore the different types of editor roles, let’s see if you’re a good fit for this writing-related career!

What Makes a Good Editor: Do You Have What It Takes?

If you’re good at spotting misspelled words, incorrect punctuation and grammar gaffes, you may have what it takes to be an editor.

But what distinguishes professional editors from the otherwise red-pen-obsessed? Accomplished editors leverage a fusion of the following specialized skills that yield polished, professional reading material:

Excellent Writing Skills

Editors who are practiced and talented writers themselves are better equipped to relate with writers, offering creative solutions that arise from years of experience and cultivated writing skills.

Depth of Knowledge

how to become an editor knowledge

Good editors are artful in their approach to improving the written works of others.

Their approach is to take the time to understand the writer’s style and level of creativity, then coach the writer with suggestions or constructive criticism that uncovers the best version of the work.

Creative Thinking Skills & Problem Solving

Let’s face it.

Certain writers struggle with accepting direct feedback from critics.

But talented writing editors facilitate collaboration instead of conflict with productive suggestions to reconfigure text, smooth awkward passages, or provide additional clarity to the reader.

The result?

A better read.

Boom.

Detail Oriented

Editors get into the nitty-gritty of prose and spot errors, inconsistencies or under-developed concepts that writers gloss over.

Although creative writers are aloud to make such mistakes, editors, and especially proofreaders must practice meticulous editing skills and scan through every word to assure perfection.

Incidentally, included in the above paragraph is an itty-bitty error that diligent editors would surely uncover.

Did you spot it?

Kudos to you!

Decisive and Efficient Multi-Tasker

how to become an editor multitasking

Tight timelines and ever-changing priorities build a fast-paced and stressful work environment for an editing staff.

Editors must be able to assess situations, make rapid decisions that’ll sustain momentum on current assignments, and quickly shift focus to future projects as needed.

Tactful & Respectful People Skills

Excellent editors are artful in their approach to improving the written works of others.

The best editors respectfully and strategically strive to understand the writer’s style and level of creativity and know-how to coach with constructive criticism in order to reveal the best version of the author’s work.

Selfless

Good editors are the silent cheerleaders for their writers.

They work hard in the background to polish imperfect writing, then selflessly promote and credit the published works to the original authors.

How to Get Into Editing (Do These 8 Things to Get Started)

Clearly, editors rely upon a unique set of skills to meet the depth of tasks, decisions, and responsibilities of their role.

Editors lean on their proficiency of the English language with a well-developed vocabulary and knowledge of proper sentence structure, grammar and punctuation.

Although instinctive abilities help get editors started, well-developed soft skills such as time management, leadership and interpersonal skills equally contribute to an editor’s success.

Follow the tips below to help you build and develop this multifaceted skill set that’ll set you up for a successful career as an editor.

The good news is that, as a writer, your journey’s already underway!

1. Read a Lot

how to become an editor read

Easy one, right?

Of course you read a lot.

To build your skill in preparation for an editor position, focus on consuming the written word within the genre or publication type that interests you. Then round out your reading with books about the craft of writing.

For instance, if you’d like to become an adult fiction editor, build your reading list around the New York Times bestsellers.

2. Write a Lot

Write, then write some more. Rinse and repeat.

“To write is human, to edit is divine.”  – Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of a Craft

To add variety and purpose to your daily writing routine:

3. Earn Your Degree

how to become an editor earn your degree

As mentioned earlier, bachelor’s degrees are typically required for entry-level editing jobs with respected publications.

Earning an advanced degree (including a master’s degree) will give you a competitive edge for editorial supervisor roles.

Concentrate your studies on your field of interest, choosing among:

  • English,
  • journalism, or
  • mass communication.

4. Gain Experience

Paid or volunteer work experience are wonderful ways to gain insight into the publishing industry and build perspective for your career, with an added boost of credibility to your resume.

Short-term opportunities are plentiful, especially volunteer experiences.

Be sure to gather testimonials of your performance from superiors and colleagues. If they’re hesitant, write a testimonial for them and ask them to approve it!

Look for opportunities like:

  • school, church or club newsletters,
  • editorial assistant internships,
  • online editing jobs from home, and
  • freelancing.

5. Keep Your Skills Up-to-Date

Computer skills, speed reading, people skills, research skills, you name it. It’s tough to know where to focus your energy.

Aim to stay informed about new technology or trends in the business (and journal about it).

The good news is that blogs and self-driven classes are plentiful. For editorial focus, seek out classes and certification programs that offer instruction for tech or people skills suitable for up-and-coming editors, like:

  • people management
  • time management
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and
  • “all things Google”

When asked his opinion about the most important skill editors will need in the future, Smart Blogger’s Editor-in-Chief, Kevin J. Duncan, singled out:

“…the need to have a mastery of all things Google and SEO. Many editors are tasked with mapping out the organization’s content strategy. To do that, and do it well, an editor has to understand things like search intent and topic clusters. This is the big shift that’s begun to happen and will continue in the next decade – an editor isn’t just responsible for the creation of content, but content that’ll rank in Google.”

6. Build and Maintain Your Network

how to become an editor networking

Your personal network of fellow students, teachers, associates, and friends is an invaluable asset for learning more and collaborating about your future career.

Take advantage of opportunities like these to cultivate relationships with like-minded colleagues:

When you’re ready to apply and interview for an editor’s job, your degree and volunteer experience look great on your resume.

Your golden ticket will be in the form of glowing reviews from people who know you and the quality of your work.

7. Hone Your Niche

Follow your passion and challenge yourself to dive deeper into topics that interest you.

Niche publication writers and editors (say, for tech journals) require unique knowledge that focuses on specialty topics.

Editors that are SMEs (subject matter experts) of hot topics are in higher demand and draw higher rates.

Think of your expertise as another bullet point for your resume. For example, if you’re passionate about growing your own veggies, market yourself as a fact-checking expert (arugula-to-zucchini, that is) with gardening journals.

8. Climb the Ladder

“Climbing the ladder” is a phrase that’s often associated with career promotions.

Similarly, your steady progression and preparation for an editing career is also a climb worth acknowledging and tracking.

Formulate your vision of success as a steady progression up the rungs of a ladder. Set goals, methodically progress toward achieving them, reflect, celebrate, then continue to move forward.

Still interested in a career as an editor?

For a deeper dive, let’s take a more comprehensive look into the various roles and responsibilities of editors in different publishing businesses.

What Are the Different Types of Editors?

Specialized editorial roles contribute to the success of their distinct type of publishing company.

Publishing House Book Editor Jobs

how to become an editor publishing house

Proofreader

Prior to publication, a manuscript is converted to a soft (electronic) or hard physical proof that mimics the to-be-printed version of the book.

Proofreaders meticulously scan preliminary book models to assure that the formatting is clean, has correct page numbers, contains proper page or word breaks, and is completely error-free.

Final approval from proofreading is verification that a manuscript is ready to advance from the complex editing phase to the printing process.

Copyeditor or Mechanical Editor

Copyeditors are the equivalent of a team of 9th grade English teachers equipped with a lifetime supply of red ink (minus the judgy attitude).

These book editors address spelling or grammatical issues, punctuation, typos or syntax errors that would otherwise discredit or dilute the writer’s message.

Listen to ‘Jersey’ Marie Forleo relate how she and her copyeditor resolved a “problematic” predicament in her latest book, Everything is Figureoutable.

A mechanical editor is a more specialized type of copy editor who reviews and applies an established style to a manuscript.

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) is considered the gold standard style and citation guideline for the book editing and publishing industry.

Substantive Editor or Line Editor

The role of a substantive editor (also called a line editor) is slightly similar to a copyeditor, but with a more comprehensive perspective.

For instance, line editors work to identify any inconsistent points of view, incorrect verb tense or word usage issues.

Their role is to enhance a book’s logical flow and functionality for its target audience.

Production Editor or Executive Editor

Production editors, sometimes called executive editors, manage and coordinate book publishing initiatives from their conception through the production of a finished product.

These editors collaborate with writers and internal editing, publishing and marketing teams to drive book publishing projects to completion.

Acquisitions Editor

Acquisitions editors are content scouts who evaluate new material for their publishing houses to market.

These experienced editors align with their company’s marketing plan to evaluate the profit potential of book proposals through cost forecasts and projected timelines.

Newspaper & Magazine Editor Jobs

how to become an editor magazine publisher

Copyeditor

Similar to publishing house copyediting positions, magazine or newspaper copyeditors review and correct printed stories prior to their publication.

The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook is their authoritative guide for formatting and presenting news publications in a consistent manner.

Managing Editor

A managing editor typically oversees and assigns article ideas directly to staff writers.

This role is responsible for developing a content editorial calendar, monitoring and managing production schedules, and approving final drafts of published articles through online or printed media.

Editor-in-Chief or Executive Editor

The editor-in-chief is the highest editorial role within a newspaper or magazine publication.

Also called an executive editor, the responsibilities of this position vary depending on the size of the organization, but this role typically holds the ultimate authority for approving the publication of content.

The editor-in-chief establishes publication layout and style standards and manages the entire team of editors. Other duties include writing articles for the publication and targeting future content material based on research and requests of the publication board.

Engagement Editor

The role of an engagement editor evolved within the past decade with the shift from printed news and magazine content to online platforms including social media.

Based on trending data, engagement editors recommend online story ideas to journalists in order to engage audiences and build their brand. This type of editor also develops analytical strategies to best reach consumers of their organization’s content.

Website Editor Jobs

how to become an editor website editor

Website Content Editor

A website content editor writes web copy (including blog posts and landing pages) and edits the work of other writers for publication.

Website editors enhance the presentation of content with digital media like images, infographics or videos. They’re often responsible for publishing new material through the site’s content management software and keeping existing content up-to-date.

Other responsibilities may include keyword research, developing blog content briefs for other writers, social media posts, email broadcasts and outreach campaigns.

SEO Editor

An SEO (search engine optimization) editor’s objective is to improve a company’s website ranking on search engines, subsequently attracting more organic web user traffic to their site.

Skilled SEO editors use their expertise to suggest changes to website and social media content based on their research and analysis of keywords and competitor sites.

They collaborate with the website’s technical team to optimize design and response time, focused on boosting search engine rankings. Additional strategies such as external link building are on the SEO editor’s task list.

Web Editor-in-Chief

The website editor-in-chief’s role is similar to those for newspapers or magazines. But staffing for website management is often lean, which defaults all editorial responsibilities onto the editor-in-chief.

Website editors-in-chief are responsible for executing strategies related to driving traffic to their site, so they develop editorial calendars for content planning, maintain website style guides, and they are proficient with SEO.

They also write and edit blog content and design and write copy for social media posts and outreach campaigns.

Now that we’ve reviewed a good variety of editorial jobs, let’s explore typical work settings and the job market for editors.

Work Environments & Career Outlook (with Salary Expectations)

how to become an editor work environment

Editors typically work in one of two settings:

  • as part of an editorial staff for a particular publication, or
  • independently, as a freelancer working with many clients.

The Staff Editor Environment

Whether working in a shared office or remotely, full-time staff editors collaborate with their team and are dedicated to supporting, maintaining and improving their company’s publication or products.

As an employee of a larger organization, most staff editors enjoy:

  • the security and predictability of a consistent pay schedule and
  • employee benefits such as health insurance and a retirement savings plan.

Staff editors, particularly in entry-level positions have little choice over the projects and deadlines they’re assigned. They’re also constrained to work and be present or available during designated office hours.

Freelance Editor Environment

Successful, experienced freelance editors enjoy the freedom of selecting projects and individual writers (or larger organizations) with whom they work.

Many argue that those working in freelance editing have the potential to earn more than staff editors because they:

  • can be selective about potential clients and
  • set their own rates.

However, like other freelancers, they’re responsible for paying their own income tax and must budget accordingly to prepare for tax season. Additionally, most freelancers must account for the lack of a steady, consistent income, vacation and sick pay, health insurance and retirement benefits.

Editor Careers: Credentials, Compensation & Coming Times

Employers of editors traditionally require specific credentials for new candidates and compensate their employees based on salary standards, level of experience, and trends within the industry.

Let’s take a look.

Editor Job Requirements & Preferred Qualifications

Entry-level editor job descriptions and postings typically specify a preference for candidates with a bachelor’s degree majoring in English, journalism or communications. However, experience sometimes outweighs the advanced degree requirement.

Employers seek candidates with excellent written and verbal communication skills, with a proven ability to prioritize assignments, multi-task, and manage projects.

Salary Expectations

An average in-house editor salary typically lands above the $50k national median annual salary.

ZipRecruiter.com shares current salary estimations based on their internal algorithms:

how to become an editor salaries
Source: ZipRecruiter (Feb 2021)

But, what about the future of editing jobs?

Substantiated forecasts from people who study job market trends are reliable predictors of the availability of jobs in the future.

Let’s see what they say.

The Next Decade

The Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational outlook predicts a 7% decline in the number of editor jobs (including self-employed freelance editors) from 2019 through 2029, primarily attributed to increasing shifts from printed publications to online media.

The good news?

With the appropriate background, you have the opportunity to earn a comfortable living for you and your family while nurturing a professional career that you love.

What could be better than that?

Ready to Get Started?

Congratulations!

By reading this post, you’ve taken another step toward preparing for an editor’s role.

Clearly, editorial roles are dynamic, challenging, and demanding. To set yourself up for success and assure your job satisfaction down the road, focus on a genre or niche that’s near and dear to your heart.

Smart Blogger’s Editor-in-Chief did just that, and enjoys “every single aspect” of his role:

“For years, Smart Blogger was my favorite blog to read. Then Jon hired me to run it. I’m a fan who’s been given keys to the kingdom.” – Kevin J. Duncan, Editor-in-Chief, Smart Blogger

Maintain focus on your journey, welcoming the opportunities that’ll provide the knowledge, experience, and progress toward your future career as a successful editor.

7 thoughts on “How to Become an Editor: 8 Things to Get You Started in 2021”

  1. Hi Barbara,

    Interesting article! Content editors come from a variety of backgrounds, with the option of writing, editing, or even marketing experience as a basis for their position. A content editor has to be comfortable working in pretty much any kind of company, and with various market places and customer profiles. Thanks for sharing, Cheers!

  2. Hi Webbe,

    Thanks for your insight regarding content editors!

    You’re right – web content editors certainly bring a variety of experiences to the table.
    With dynamite SEO skills, they’re bound for success in whatever niche they land!

  3. Great advice! Finish your degree, command syntax, get certified, work in the publishing industry, and keep learning! Plus, I would recommend that you learn how to coach and consult with authors. Good luck!

  4. Excellent and comprehensive blog post, Barbara. I’ve always felt that a good editor can elevate good writing to excellent writing while a great editor can take it up a notch to great content. It’s difficult to improve poor writing. Good editors struggle, but great editors can take poor writing and at least make it palatable. So many writers fail to see the value in hiring an editor, especially self-publishing book authors. In my mind, editors are an essential part of the publishing process.

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