Thinking of a Career in Editing?

Thinking of a Career in Editing?

Selfie with pile of books I refer to just about daily for editing: Modern American Usage, Chicago Manual of Style, Scientific Style and format, Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Canadian Press Style plus their Caps and Spelling, Meeting Professional Editorial Standards (now Edit like a pro), Children's writers word book, Editing in Word 365
These books helped me learn to edit. I still refer to them all regularly.

Updated March 2024

Curious about editing? A conference is a great way to find out about the people who edit, the variety of tasks they do, and the places /clients they work for. There are many conferences.

Most editors come at the profession from other areas of expertise. They find they are good with words and have become the “go to” person at their workplace. Stepping from science (say) into science editing is a sideways step that can be much less painful than a complete career change. The steps below can help you gain experience and an idea of whether or not editing is for you. Editors make up an incredibly diverse career group. As you navigate the early phases, remember that whatever someone tells you, the exact opposite may also be true.

You may want to watch this free live demo to peek at what editing is all about and start considering whether days of this will make you happy. It sure isn’t “reading” and neither is it just “spotting typos”! The Editors Canada released a booklet about developing a career in editing. You can read that advice on their website.

To learn about editing

  1. discover the various editing tasks done at each stage of editing
  2. attend a conference
  3. complete exercises
  4. take a course or seminar
  5. read a style guide or four
  6. join a professional organization

Starter Kit for Editors category | Finding Work | Office Essentials | Background Skills | Reading List | How to Become an Editor | Estimating Your Pace | Setting Fees

To learn about freelancing

  1. join a professional organization
  2. take a course or seminar, or attend a conference
  3. read Louise Harnby’s book about running the business
  4. read Erin Brenner’s official 2024 Chicago Guide for Freelance Editors

These other posts from my colleagues are helpful:

Join a professional organization

  • If you noticed that I said that twice, you might be an editor.
  • If it bothers you that there are about 3 lists above with overlapping points, you might be an editor.
  • If you are looking for a third point in these punch lines, you might be an editor.

Professional organizations give you access to colleagues, resources, training, and accreditation (sometimes). They also help you look more professional. Most importantly, you’ll be surrounded by people who understand why the “inconsistencies” above aggravate you so.

The Editors Canada (formerly EAC) has many local groups where you can meet other editors and take part in training. There are low-cost options for student membership as well as pay-as-you-go participation. EC also offers workbooks, seminars, standards, and skills certification for experienced editors.

If you are in the US, you might join the Editorial Freelancer’s Association (EFA), or ACES, or a number of others. In Australia, look into joining IPEd, in the UK, seek out CiEP, and in India, find Indian Copyeditor’s Forum. Get the idea? There are tons of groups related to editing, and many now have international branches and extensions. Look around.*

No matter where you are, you might join the free and international copyeditors list (an email-based discussion forum) or Facebook’s Editors Association of Earth or Business + Professional Development for Editors to see what editors talk about, the types of products they work on, their challenges, and their successes.

There are professional organizations that get even more narrowly focussed, such as BELS (life sciences editors) and the AMWA which have somewhat global appeal and reach — one of the benefits of the world wide web.

Take a course or seminar

woman lecturer in Africa

Look for courses on running a freelance business, as well as those online editing skills. There is a large and specific skill set related to editing, part of which is understanding the basic types/phases of editing. You can educate yourself, the way most veteran editors have done.

Today, there are several programs in higher education that specialize in editing. For example, SFU and Toronto Metropolitan University offer courses online and Queen’s University now offers an overview course through distance ed.

Professional organizations like EC and EFA offer in-person seminars across the country and other professional associations (such as BELS) offer courses online as well.

Taking a certificate in publishing or editing seems like an easy way to organize learning, access the pro community and its leaders, and get validation of your skills as well as a bit of mentorship. Check the options on this comprehensive list of training sources from the Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base.

For online training

Many professional editors associations offer editing courses online that address technology and publishing, not just language. Don’t be dissuaded by a course in a different country, there are differences in English around the world but editing concerns are just about universal, and any differences you learn about will just make you more valuable. Consider it cross-training.

Attend a Conference

This can be a great deep-end experience that lets you peek in at a wide variety of types of editing and see what, if anything, might be of interest. Sessions are often heavily geared toward new starters. Again, the Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base has a comprehensive list of editing conferences worldwide.

Annual editors’ conferences around the globe:

Read a style guide

You should really read more that one, so you understand that there are choices. Depending on your desired (or most accessible) market, you might read

There’s likely a style guide specific to your subject area and/or to your market. Peruse the extensive list maintained by KOKedit, in the form of the Copyeditors Knowledge Base.

Complete exercises

proken red pencil

You may get the best idea of the various types of editing by reading the EC’s skills definitions and detailed Professional Editorial Standards. For a more conversational approach, check out the anthology, What Editors Do. (Also available as an audiobook.) Or check out my [now ancient] podcast.

Recommended workbooks:

You might even try the online test that Editors Canada now offers those beginning a career to demonstrate your competence in editing. (This is different from the certification exams which demonstrate “excellence.”)

*For a lengthy list of professional associations and sources of training, style, guides, and so forth, check the copyeditor’s knowledge base assembled and maintained by my indefatigable colleague in The Quad, Katharine O’Moore-Klopf.

What’s your story? How did you come to editing?
What do you do for professional development and career advancement (also called business development)?

Related posts: How to Find Freelance Editing Work and Starter Kit for Freelance Editors

8 thoughts on “Thinking of a Career in Editing?

  1. Gael Spivak, EAC National Director of Volunteer Relations has this advice:

    You can also get experience though volunteering.

    To guide you in thinking strategically about the best way to volunteer for professional development (including developing non-editing skills), see the presentation Lisa Goodlet and I gave at the recent EAC conference, “Develop and Maintain Your Skills: Volunteering for Professional Development.” You can find it here:

    If you have any questions about volunteering with EAC, please ask.

  2. Louise Harnby wrote a post about business planning that (insufficiently) summarizes her book. That’s code for “you should really read her book.”

    And here is another good summary she wrote. Note that “Having a good eye for detail and a strong grasp of language is only the start.” (Point #6.) Gawd, every time I read some of Louise’s business advice, I find myself punching the air in enthusiastic support. Read it and follow it; it will put you on a fruitful path.

    The SfEP published sample edits on their website, so you can see what you’re getting into. (A bit like what’s in the MPES books; using UK English & style.)

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