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Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises was the classic breakout novel. Except it almost wasn’t a breakout novel.
The original version opened with long soliloquies about the main characters. If it wasn’t for the editorial work of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Maxwell Perkins, the novel wouldn’t have started with its ultimate first sentence (“Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton”). Its main character wouldn’t have even been named Jake Barnes. Hemingway originally wanted the undisguised author-as-character named “Hem.”
There was a classic novel in there somewhere. But it needed editors first.
If a writer as polished and clear as Hemingway needed an editor, everybody needs editors. And that’s good news. If you’re on the hunt for a job that engages your natural “reader’s ear” and your love for making words come to life, that’s especially good news. The digital world needs you.
When a job’s in demand these days, it means you can become a freelance editor—and work from home as your own boss. Here’s how.
That answer comes in two parts. Freelancing means you work as a sole proprietor, taking paid projects as they come. Don’t let that throw you off. Not even Michelangelo’s David was salaried work.
As for the editing, your job will be to take a piece of writing and turn it into what the client wants. Freelance editors get their money when they make novels come to life, business memos brim with perfect clarity, and ebooks flow from one section to the next.
A freelance editor works contract jobs to smooth out and polish written work. Your job is to see the raw marble of written work and carve it into what its author intended.
But a freelance editor can be more than that. They might take on the role of a content manager for a popular blog, not only editing the work but helping plan it. A freelance editor might temporarily jump on a magazine’s staff.
It sounds intimidating. But if your job is to help move writing from an author’s mind to the masses, chances are you’ve already done some editorial work.
Technically, you can become a freelance editor as soon as you get someone to pay you to edit something. It’s that simple. But this is an article about being your own boss. And to do that, you’ll have to learn more than editing. You’ll have to learn how to approach it as a true business.
Possible Degrees for Becoming a Freelance Editor
Most people who hire you will want to see your experience, but it doesn’t hurt to have the requisite training under your belt. That typically means at least a Bachelor’s degree in any of the following:
That’s not a hard and fast rule—it’s more than possible to become a successful freelance editor without a formal education. But, it certainly helps to lay the groundwork.
Training in Freelance Editing
As a freelancer, your portfolio is more important than your resume. But people will want to know that you have the language and grammar skills to be a sort of “soccer goalie” between your writers and your audience. You need the training not to let any kicks through.
At Skillshare, instructors like Derek Smith can help you hone those skills until they’re sharp as a razor.
Build Freelance Editing Experience
After that, a certification or two won’t hurt, but your best training for freelance editor jobs will come from…well, freelance editor jobs. The best way to learn is to do.
Build a portfolio, just like a freelance writer might. The key here is to build a portfolio that doesn’t just show the end result, but where a piece started on each project. Show how you changed previous pieces, identified errors, and used your editorial judgment to bring the writing to life.
Want to know how to be a freelance editor who can work from home in the comfort of their pajamas? It doesn’t happen overnight. For starters, you’ll have to know how to identify available freelance editor jobs. To do that, you have to know where to look.
Working Directly With Publishers
Publishers routinely hire freelance editors, especially if there’s a lot of copy to get through in a hurry. This is a more traditional route to freelance editing, but the wave of self-publishing is changing the market as well. The question is: Where do you find the publishers and self-publishers who are hiring?
Reedsy is one option. Reedsy is a platform for writers who are looking for designers and editors to get a book finished and published the right way. They advertise themselves as a hub of 150,000 authors, many of whom are looking for a skilled editor.
Struggling with learning how to become a freelance editor and land your first job? One of the best ways to get started is to work with an established marketing agency with a platform of clients to work with. They can feed you regular freelance editing work so you’re free to focus on earning money while you get your own marketing system set up.
It’s not in the freelance editor job description to build an agency yourself, so you don’t have to. Agencies like Clearvoice and Contently are always on the look for professional editors who can make their content shine.
Maybe the best platform for finding freelance editorial work is on freelance editor websites and freelance websites in general. If you need one in a hurry, go to Upwork.
Upwork is one of the top freelancing platforms for anything from coding and development to writing and editing. As with Reedsy, you can connect with people you didn’t know before by establishing a professional profile and offering your work. It’s probably the fastest way to become a freelance editor if you want to get started today.
Even before you start searching for freelance editor jobs online, one of the first steps many people take is simply to reach out to people they know.
Get started. Buy those first business cards and carry them with you. Post on social media. Don’t wait until conditions are “just right” to start your new career—you can start earning money with freelance editor jobs from home as soon as possible.
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Before you can earn any money, the first question you have to ask yourself is the most basic: What will your freelance editor rates look like?
Typical Freelance Editor Rates
How much do freelance editors charge? According to the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), rates will vary wildly. Here are some samples of what they might look like:
- Copyediting for fiction: $.02 cents per word to $0.29 cents per word
- Copyediting for business/sales: $.04-$0.49 cents per word
- Developmental editing for fiction: $.03-$0.39 cents per word
- Developmental editing for non-fiction: $.04-$0.49 cents per word
This editing, of course, is more in-depth, while copyediting refers to line-by-line edits on grammar, spelling, and diction issues.
What about hourly? According to Miranda Marquit, freelance editors can often charge up to $50-85 an hour and more once they’ve established themselves.
The fastest way to get started is to surround yourself with freelance editors and editing opportunities. That means getting on the platforms where everyone else who’s connected with freelance editing in some way will inevitably be. Here are a few options.
EFA: The Editorial Freelancers Association
PEN: Connecting Writers, Editors, and Readers
PEN America focuses strongly on advocacy for writers and connecting anyone in the literary world.
ACES, the Society for Editing, includes a broad range of editors, from video editors to editors in book publishing. It also includes freelance editors of any type, offering both resources and training for people who want to break into the industry.
You’d be surprised by the level of support you can find in local communities. In most cases—especially if you’re from a small town—there won’t be enough freelance editors to form their own group. But you can make connections with a local Chamber of Commerce or business association, many of whom may be in the market for someone to take on editing duties for their business writing.
After all that, we get to the final question: What is a freelance editor? It ultimately depends on who you want to be. The beauty of freelancing is that it’s a choose-your-own-adventure career. If you don’t like working with one client, you can drop them. If you do like working with one client, you can give them more focus.
Freelance editing is an industry within itself. You’ll be free to focus on one subset of your skills, such as proofreading, copy editing, or developmental editing for large-scale works.
Do you want to be a bigshot editor for large corporate clients or do you want to work with self-publishing authors looking to bring their first book to life? If you have the basic writing and reading skills to make great recommendations, you can become your own boss.
And as an editor, you’ll get to boss around a writer or two along the way.
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