How To Become A Book Editor: 3 Best Tips on Getting Started

For many, being a book editor is an exciting, enjoyable, and rewarding profession that is necessary to the publishing world. Book editors work with writers to review, develop, and polish manuscripts before their publication. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to start becoming a book editor. We will guide you and give you some tips on how to become a book editor.

Book editing is a field that can be confusing with those wondering how to break into it. While the role of a writer is clear, book editors come in all sorts of types, specialties, and with different levels of expertise. Some work for publishing houses, while some thrive in freelance editing.

There are many types of editing, and going through the ins and outs of each would fill a book rather than an article. For more in-depth answers, a book on editing is strongly recommended. This article, however, will act as a beginner’s guide to the different types of book editing that exist, some of the qualifications necessary, and the work they do.

Qualifications of a Book Editor

Most professional editors have a bachelor’s degree in one or more of several different fields. Journalism, English, Writing, and Literature are all strong backgrounds to get a degree in when considering or pursuing work as a book editor. Sometimes an associate’s degree or experience is all you need. Some editors even have a master’s degree in the field.

Another way to break into the editing world is if you have any experience in magazine editing or newspaper editing. This translates fairly well into book editing, and many people with this sort of experience are able to begin careers in editing in an entry-level capacity with this level of experience.

While a degree is strongly recommended, what really matters is gaining experience and getting your foot in the door, and mastering the craft of editing. Many begin their editing career with entry-level editing, freelance editing, or as an editorial assistant. 

From there, it’s all about learning the craft, strengthening your writing skills, editing skills, and communication skills, and deciding what type of editing is right for you. While experience does certainly count, it should be stressed that most publishing houses require their editors to hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.

Types of Book Editors

To figure out how to become a book editor, you must first understand the different types of book editing. Whether you want to work for a publishing house or work as a freelance editor, you need to understand the publishing industry and the different roles that each type of book editing entails.

To properly explain this, this article will describe the various sorts of book editors often used and needed for the various stages of a novel or short story before it is published.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editors are often employed by publishing houses and as freelance editors when the author is new or has less experience than well-known, bestselling authors. Many of these more experienced authors don’t have a need for developmental editing because they are highly aware of their intended audience and have mastered the written word well enough to know exactly where they want to go with their story.

how to become a book editor

The job of a developmental editor is to take a book that is still in its infancy and help the author to piece it together in a way that is cohesive and stands the best chance to be well received by readers. This sort of editor must maintain good working relationships with both the publishing houses they are employed by and the authors.

When an author has what he or she thinks is a great idea for a story or has large pieces of the story but doesn’t know how to put it all together to make it flow well, that’s when a developmental editor comes in. 

They help the author in the process of creative writing by giving ideas of what the author needs to spend less time focused on in the story or more time focused on. This editor informs the writer what works and what doesn’t and how to marry all of the different parts together to have one story that flows nicely.

This editor asks a lot of questions and wants to push the author to consider better points to address in the book. An example of things that a developmental editor might say to an author is, “Why did you make the detective an elderly man? Do you really think that the reader will believe he engages in foot chases with bad guys several times in this story with no trouble? It would be a good idea to readdress your main character and make him more believable.”

This editor assumes the mindset of a reader and doesn’t focus on grammar or other technical processes. It’s a content job, in a manner of speaking. This sort of editor doesn’t actually do any writing, but they do give suggestions on what would work better in the author’s content to make for a better story. This is a valuable step of the publishing process for new authors.

In some cases, developmental editing can be done with no actual book in existence. This type of editor position can be employed in the brainstorming phase of writing. An author can come to this editor with an idea, notes, a little bit of research, and a lot of questions, and the editor tries to give the author insight and suggestions on ways to tell the story so that eventually, the story can come to fruition and be introduced to the publishing world.

Stylistic Editing

More commonly referred to as line editors, stylistic editors are focused on words – not grammar, not content, but words. Once an author has completed their story, the line editor comes in and does all the deep and extensive work involved with ensuring that the writer didn’t get too wordy, too descriptive, or use too many common or difficult terms.

A line editor has to know who the audience is for the book they are editing, and they then go line by line through the book and make word corrections and suggestions to best suit that audience.

For example, a line editor working on a book intended for young adults may take out outdated slang words, overused cliches, and overly complicated words. 

They suggest words that appeal to a teenage reader, that a teenager reader would use, and they try to get the biggest punch possible from each sentence. Masters of saying a lot with a few words, they try to cut down on lengthy, wispy, unimportant phrasing and stick to short and punchy sentences.

These editors aren’t very concerned with the content of the story. They don’t care too much about grammar, either. They are simply going line by line, like the job title suggests, and choosing better words. 

Editing books in this capacity often means that the editing job is a long and tedious one, but a good editor can still hit the deadlines given to them, and many publishing houses insist upon tight deadlines. A great line editor can work quickly under pressure.

Copy Editing

Copy editors are grammar and spelling police. A copy editor takes the book after the other editors have had a turn with it, and they go through it line by line and pick up all the grammar errors. 

This means that a copy editor must have very strong language skills, an ability to find and fix grammatical errors that the average reader wouldn’t pick up on, and the ability to work quickly and efficiently when under pressure and with strict deadlines. Copy editing is for those who are more geared towards grammar and English than literature or content.

Technical Editors

Sometimes writers include subject matter that they aren’t experts in and could have incorrect information about. That’s where technical editors come in. Many editors in this field have degrees, certificates, or experience in certain specialty fields outside of writing or editing, and they lend that knowledge to the author by editing books to include correct terminology, procedures, protocol, and expertise.

For example, if a book is about a wrongful death dispute due to a surgery gone wrong, not only will there be the possibility of someone editing it with surgical and medical knowledge, but legal experts and editors may (and probably should) come into the editing process. 

During this editing process, an expert or person with specific knowledge about a particular subject matter who has become an editor performs in a fact-checking capacity.

While it may seem silly that an editor in a specific area of expertise would need to enter the picture for fact-checking, you have to keep in mind that books are read widely and that potential readers are also doctors, attorneys, ski instructors, professional dancers, coroners, and every other profession that may be mentioned in a book. 

Before publishing a book, an expert editor may come in to make sure that the author isn’t going to lose out on those potential readers by getting the information wrong.

how to become a book editor

Academic Editing

Academic editing is closely related to technical editing in that you have to have a firm grasp of the subject matter presented in the content of the book. If you are editing a social studies book for a middle school, you must be knowledgeable in social studies.

This means that your education is never really finished. An academic editor has to attend courses over time when findings, research, and knowledge in their specialized field changes or increases. A great editor of this type may even go back to school to obtain a higher degree to become a better expert when editing.

Pursuing a Freelance Career

Some editors get their start or stay in the field of freelance editing. This type of editor works on a contract basis and can work independently with authors and agents or with publishing companies. 

This editor can also perform as many of the editing jobs associated with a book as they are comfortable with. This means that a new or self-published author can hire a freelance book editor to do all of the editing work as freelance work from start to finish.

A freelance editor has to be good at managing their own time, negotiating and setting their own prices and fees, and communicating closely with the author, agent, or publishing company. A publishing house is more likely to contract a freelance editor who shows strong communication and time management skills.

When starting an editing career, freelance work as an editor is also a great way to get your foot in the door. If you build up a clientele and make connections with publishing companies, you could potentially get offers for book editor jobs by big-name publishers, which will most likely give you a boost in income as well as a reputation for your editing services.

Entry Level Editing

All editors have to start somewhere. Unless you have connections immediately, most editors have to start at the bottom and work their way up. Many editors start out by applying to be an assistant editor or editorial assistant and learning under an experienced professional editor. 

The knowledge that can be gained as an assistant editor or editorial assistant is what can propel you up the ladder to associate editor, then to a full editor position, to eventual senior editor. This is a career path where the editing services you are able to provide well are largely based on your experience.

How to Get Started as a Book Editor

If you want to become a book editor and have decided which type of editing is right for you, you can boost your offers and get your name out there in the hopes of getting a foot in the door in several different ways. The following suggestions can help you to become a book editor and make a name for yourself.

Create a Website or Host Your Own Blog

If you want to become an editor, starting your own blog or website can help you introduce yourself, your skills, and your experience to freelance writers and publishing houses. 

Social media usage can also help you. Following authors, publishers, and other editors on platforms like Twitter can help get you noticed, and Facebook groups devoted to editing and freelance work can get you work as well.

Apply for Internships

Many publishers hire interns in both paid and unpaid capacities to work for them, and many hire after the internship is over. This is a great way to rub elbows with people in the industry and gain valuable experience. 

Look on websites for companies like Publishers Weekly to find lists of publishing companies that are accepting intern applications. Editors work tirelessly at the beginning of their careers to make the connections needed and gain a reputation so that they can climb the ladder. If you want to become an editor, your best starting point may be an internship.

Join Professional Associations

Just like with many other professions, editors can join professional associations that teach seminars, job fairs, further training, networking, and chances to grow in the profession. 

They are available both online and in-person and are not only great for helping you get a job in the field, but they can help you figure out how to become a book editor if you’ve not yet had your big break with a publisher or indie author.

Is This the Right Career For You?

If you think that you could be an asset to the literary or publishing markets with your editing skills, then you should seriously consider what sorts of editing you’d like to do and pursue it. 

This profession is vital in the literary world, and they are depended upon heavily not just by authors but also by publishers. The pay for this field isn’t bad, either. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2020 that the median annual salary in the US is $63,400.

You can have great success in this field if you are a hard worker, continue to learn as you progress in your career, get your name out there and network, manage your time, work well under pressure, and meet strict deadlines. 

It’s not just about making sure that the words in a book are spelled correctly, and that dangling participles are used correctly. There are many facets to book editing. Once you find the one that’s right for you, work hard to attain a career.