Updated Jan 2023
UPDATE: Editors Canada now offers an online test to demonstrate competence in editing for those beginning a career.
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.
- discover the various editing tasks done at each level of editing
- attend a conference
- complete exercises
- take a course or seminar
- read a style guide or four
- join a professional organization
- join a professional organization
- take a course or seminar, or attend a conference
- read Louise Harnby’s book about running the business
These other posts from my colleagues are helpful:
- How to Transition to Copyediting From Another Career
- Proofreaders-to-be: Loving Books Isn’t Enough
- Are You Editor Material?
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 the Society of Editors or, in the UK, seek out SfEP. 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 forum) or Facebook’s Editors Association of Earth (which is also trying to make the switch to WT:Social) 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
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.
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.
For freelancing advice
Read Editor Mom’s webpage and pick up Louise Harnby’s excellent overview: Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters, which I have reviewed. And check out Liz’s growing resource.
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:
- Editors Canada @EditorCon — June
- Society for Editors and Proofreaders @TheSfEP — September, UK, and a Toronto mini-con in fall
- Communication Central @commcen — September, USA
- Council of Science Editors @CScienceEditors — May, USA
- American Medical Writers Association @AmMedWriters — September
- American Copy Editors Society @copyeditors — March
- Northwest Independent Editors Guild “Red Pen” @EdsGuild — October, USA
- Christian PEN (Proofreaders and Editors Network) @ChristianPen2 — May, USA
- SENSE (Society of English-Native-Speaking Editors) — November, Netherlands
- IPEd (Institute of Professional Editors) — *biannual, Australia
- METM (Mediterranean Editors and Translators Meeting) — new Mediterranean location each year, fall
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
- For academic and corporate products/clients:
- For media-related products:
- Canadian Press Stylebook (and Caps and Spelling)
- Associated Press Style
- For government:
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.
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 podcast.
- Meeting Professional Editorial Standards (and the forthcoming new edition: Edit Like a Pro)
- 8-step Editing (Quick Fixes for Business Writing)
- Subversive Copyeditor
- Editors on editing: what writers need to know about what editors do
- The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications
*For a lengthy list of professional associations and sources of training, style, guides, and so forth, check the copyeditor’s database assembled and maintained by my indefatigable colleague, 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)?