So you wanna be an editor?

Every couple of weeks, I get an email or Facebook message that reads something like this:

I’m thinking about becoming an editor. Where should I start? What advice do you have for me?

As it turns out, I have lots of advice and after a request to share that advice publicly, I’ve decided it’s time to bring it to the blog. Here are my top five:

1. Figure out your niche.

There are at least four different types of editing: developmental, line, copy, and proofreading, and most editors don’t do all four. For example, I specialize in developmental and line editing. I never proofread (I leave that to other Quill Pen editors) and only rarely do copy editing–it’s within my skill set, but I don’t love it. My passions are helping writers craft their stories and tweaking prose so that it flows beautifully. Figure out what you’re best at and what makes you tick. Is there a particular genre you’d like to focus on? What don’t you want to see? Once you’ve established your niche, stick to it so that you can develop a solid reputation.

2. Use Elance with caution.

I got my start on Elance, a website that connects freelancers with clients. I learned a lot during my time there, but I don’t use it anymore. There are relatively few interesting projects, and I had to sell myself short on my hourly wage in order to land the ones that I did work on. It can be a good place to cut your teeth and start a client list, but once you get established, you’ll want to rely on word-of-mouth referrals.

3. Don’t sell yourself short.

Figuring out what to charge is hard work when you’re just starting out! The Editorial Freelancers Association provides a sheet of typical rates that you can use to help get your bearings. You don’t have to charge the full $40-$60/hr right when you start building a portfolio, but I wouldn’t start lower than $25/hr, and I’d advise starting closer to $30. Remember, you’re rendering a professional service, and someone who expects professional quality is prepared to pay professional rates (and if they’re not, they will quickly be persuaded when they see the quality they get at $10/hr).

4. Network. Network. Network.

You’ll get your best clients from recommendations and word-of-mouth advertising, and one of the best ways to do that is to plug into a writing community. Interact with prospective clients in forums and Facebook groups, and if you have the funds, attend writing conferences to connect with communities of writers. But when you’re networking with writers, make sure that you’re adding to the conversation for them, not just self-promoting–no one likes someone who is just there to advertise.

But don’t forget to network with other editors too! Even though freelance editors are technically competing with each other, there are a lot of really supportive communities online, and I’ve learned so much from other editors.

What other questions can we answer? Ask us in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter!


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