Have you always wanted to be a book editor? For many people, especially avid readers and those who love writing, the idea of getting paid to edit other people’s books is a dream come true.
All authors will need a book editor before they can get their work published. It’s a necessary service that ensures that a manuscript is of the highest possible quality before it’s sent to the publisher. But there’s not just one type of book editing role out there, and the types of professional services on offer vary quite a lot.
Many book editors work exclusively on certain types of books, such as science fiction novels or autobiographies, while some editors offer a more general service.
If book editing appeals to you, then it’s important to know the ins and outs of what a book editor actually is and what they do.
In this article, I’ll give you a comprehensive overview of what book editing is all about and how you, yes you, can become a book editor yourself. So let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
What Is a Book Editor?
As you might expect, a book editor is someone who reads and edits manuscripts sent by an author, but this is just one element of what they do.
For many editors, there’s a lot more to the job than just correcting errors and cutting or adding words. Book editors act as an essential part of the publishing process, and they can make or break an author’s chances of getting published.
It might sound like a glamorous job, especially if you’re the bookish type, but there are upsides and downsides to this career path, as there are with most things in life.
Yes, as a book editor, you get to pour over some fantastic manuscripts and perfect them for release, but you’ll also likely spend a lot of time dealing with work that will never be published.
A substantial amount of a book editor’s working life will be spent reading bad writing, and it can sometimes feel like a lot of wasted time. But, to separate the wheat from the chaff, it has to be done.
What Does a Book Editor Do?
Broadly speaking, book editors select and prepare a book for publication. Many book editors work directly for a publisher. When an author submits their manuscript to that publisher, it’s the editor’s job to read it and decide whether or not it’s suitable for that particular publishing house.
They’ll consider things like quality of writing, the genre or subject, and its potential market, as well as if it fits in with the style and themes of the particular publishing house.
It’s in an editor’s best interests to work with authors whose books are going to be bestsellers. The more successful the author and their book is, the more successful the editor will be.
Once an editor has decided that a manuscript has potential, it’s time to start the actual editing process. This can involve basic edits of things like spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but more often than not, this stage of the editing process is carried out by a proofreader (more on this below).
A key task for a book editor is to make sure a text flows well and is easy to understand. They will also work closely with the author to make sure that the content matches up to the publisher’s style and editorial guidelines. This can mean adding new sentences, sections, or even entire chapters, and it can also involve taking sections away too.
Book editors also must verify any facts and figures that are included in the text. For nonfiction work, this can be a huge part of a book editor’s job.
Common Types of Book Editors
The above describes a general all-encompassing editorial position, but there’s no one size fits all book editor. Book editing services can vary quite a lot, and the type of work editors carry out will depend on what services the author and publisher are looking for.
Here are three of the most common types of book editing services around today.
Proofreaders exclusively look at spelling and grammatical errors in a text. This is usually the final stage of the editing process before the book goes to publication.
- Developmental Editing
The developmental editing stage looks at the bigger picture of an author’s work and helps them develop a story and flesh out ideas. They might take out chunks of content or change plot lines or characters. Developmental editors will essentially change the content to make it more marketable and inline with a publisher’s editorial requirements.
- Line Editing
A line editor’s work is a kind of combination of the above two roles. Line editors focus on aspects like tone, syntax, and word choice, to make sure a text flows correctly and is easily digestible by the reader.
Book editors can specialize in one of the above roles, or they can offer a combination of all three services and more.
The Editor/Author Relationship
Authors and book editors work very closely alongside each other, and good communication is critical. That’s why many authors work with just one particular editor for their entire writing careers. Even if that editor leaves their post to go and work for another publishing house, some authors will up sticks and move right along with them.
While book editors aren’t generally in the limelight, they play a crucial role in an author’s success. A great author can be stuck in a career rut for years without a great editor; the two really do go hand in hand.
How to Become a Book Editor
So how do book editors become book editors? Below, I’ll break down the things you need to do to make it in the editing world.
Step 1. Have the right skills
Here are the most important skills that book editors posses
- Reading skills
Book editors are almost always avid readers. They spend a huge proportion of their days reading manuscripts, so loving books and reading, in general, is essential.
- Writing skills
Your writing skills should be top-notch too. Book editors are in charge of critiquing and altering an author’s written content, so you should also be a great writer yourself. Things like grammar, sentence structure, and flow should come easy to you.
- Organization skills
Many book editors juggle several projects at once, so being an organized person is important if you’re going to succeed in this career. Editors often have to balance several deadlines at the same time, and they have to plan out their time effectively so that there are no delays to the publishing process.
- People skills
Although much of a book editor’s time is spent with their nose in a manuscript, there is a surprising amount of interpersonal skills needed to do the job well. Editors work closely alongside authors to polish and perfect their work, and so having the tact and the diplomacy to help them make necessary changes is essential.
- Digital skills
Long gone are the days where editors worked from a typewriter or handwritten manuscript. The editors of today need to have strong digital skills, or at least the willingness to learn, so that their work can be done as efficiently and seamlessly as possible.
Step 2. Have the right education
Though it’s not an official requirement, most book editors tend to be university educated. The minimum requirement for most entry-level positions is a bachelor’s degree in a subject like English, journalism, or communications. Generally, the more education you receive in fields like this, the better.
Having said that, a university degree might not be essential, especially if you go freelance and work for yourself. After all, it’s the quality of your work that matters, not a piece of paper in a frame.
Step 3. Gain the right experience
The best way to get your foot in the door of the book editing world is to gain the right experience. If you’re just starting out, look out for internship positions at publishing houses or even in the broader field of printed and online media. Any experience you can get in the editing world will help you along your way to becoming a fully-fledged book editor.
It’s also important to focus on the kind of editor you want to be. Suppose you’re interested in a particular field or genre, for example, health and wellness, and you’d like to niche down to editing only these types of books. In that case, it’s important that you have a solid background in this subject, too, such as a formal qualification or solid work experience.
Step 4. Know the right people
As with most things in life, it’s all about who you know. Making connections in the publishing world could be your golden ticket to a career as a book editor. You can have the right skills, education, and experience, but if you don’t have any connections, it can still be a struggle.
Look out for networking events where you can meet other editors and authors and keep in contact with them as you start out in your career. You can also use sites like LinkedIn to grow your online network and stay in the loop when you’re looking for new opportunities.
Step 5. Join an Organization
It’s also beneficial to sign up to some professional organizations so you can stay up to date on the latest news in the industry and meet other professionals who can help you along your way.
The Editorial Freelancers Association is a great example of a supportive network that can bolster an editor’s career. It’s a non-profit national organization run almost entirely by volunteers which is intended to provide support and opportunities to all types of editors.
There’s also groups like ACES: The Society for Editing, and the National Association of Independent Editors, which do similar types of work.
Another fantastic resource is the Publishing Professionals Network (the PPN), which can connect you with other professionals in the field and also list the latest jobs and opportunities that are available.
Step 6. Search for Opportunities Online
The most popular job sites today, such as Indeed, Monster, and ZipRecruiter, feature plenty of editing-related jobs each week. LinkedIn is also a great resource. It doesn’t just allow you to connect with the right people in the publishing world; it also lists job opportunities too.
Step 7. Join Online Groups
If you’re on Facebook, consider signing up for one of the many dedicated editing groups on there. This is often where newbie authors will come to find an editor for their first book, so it can be a great way to get your foot in the door.
Writers groups on sites like Facebook and Reddit are also well worth joining. You might find an author who writes in the same field you’re interested in, and you can pitch your services to them. At the very least, you’ll gain an insight into the publishing process from an author’s perspective.
Step 8. Consider Going Freelance
Getting hired as a book editor is a competitive process, and unless you’re already established in your career, it can be pretty challenging to find the right opportunities. Going freelance and setting up your own book editing business is a great way to take your success into your own hands.
Many first-time authors are willing to hire less experienced and, therefore, less expensive freelance book editors.
You can set your own rates based on your skills and experience, and as you gain more clients and learn the craft, your market value will also improve. A few years of freelancing experience under your belt will leave you in a much better position to find a good job with a publishing house.
But who knows, you might even find that freelancing gives you more opportunities, freedom, and success, and continue to go it alone throughout your career.
If you love reading and you’re also a skilled writer, becoming a book editor could be a great career choice, but getting your foot in the door isn’t always easy. Yes, having the right experience, education, and skills is super important, but it’s drive and determination that ultimately decides your success.
I hope this guide has given you a better idea of what it means to be a book editor and what you need to do to make it in this field. Good luck!