Before I was an agent, I was a freelance editor. Now a lot of people ask me how to get into freelance editing, but I never quite know how to answer. My freelance career grew from my contacts and experience working in the publishing industry for a dozen years. It grew organically out of what I was already doing, which was in-house editing.
I think you’ll find that most freelance editors are either published novelists whose skills the in-house editors trust, or former in-house editors, either at a book publisher, a magazine, newspaper or other kind of publication.
If you haven’t proven yourself by working your way up in a publishing company, then it will be more difficult to convince companies that you do, in fact, have editorial skills. I guess the first question I’d recommend you ask yourself is, “How do I know I have editorial skills?” Many people are good writers and excellent with grammar and punctuation, but there’s more to it than that. Do you have any objective evidence of your editorial ability?
If so, make sure you know what kind of editing you’re good at. Substantive/developmental editing? Line editing? Copyediting? There’s a world of difference between them.
Also, you need to be familiar with some of the guides editors commonly use:
The Chicago Manual of Style
Elements of Style
The Associated Press Stylebook
The Copyeditor’s Handbook
Here are some others I like:
Eats, Shoots and Leaves
The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style
Woe is I
Lapsing Into a Comma
100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses and Misuses
Once you know you have skills, and you know what they are, there are a few ways to approach the goal of becoming a freelance editor.
1. You could get a job as an Editorial Assistant in a publishing house, work your way up the ranks and be an editor for a few years, then go out on your own as a freelancer. That’s obviously the long way around, but it’s the route the majority of freelancers took.
2. You could write and publish several well-regarded books (with major publishers), spend years learning and perfecting the craft, impress lots of people with your skills, then begin marketing yourself as an editor. This is the route taken by some of my friends including Mary DeMuth, Camy Tang and Susan May Warren.
3. You could begin offering your editorial services to smaller local publications—magazines, newspapers (most communities have them)—and you could even start by doing it for free to hone your skills and prove yourself. You might do this at your church, or find local businesses that need help. Then work up to bigger publications and/or book publishers.
4. Most book publishers hire freelance copyeditors. When you apply for the job, they give you a standard copyediting test. This is a great way to find out if you really do have copyediting skills, and I can tell you that most people can’t pass the test. You definitely need to study! If you pass, this is a great way to get started copyediting for a major house. (Try to find out ahead of time if the company uses AP or Chicago as its main style source.)
Other than these basic ways to get in, there are probably many individual stories that are as varied as the people themselves.
→ Any readers out there who are freelance editors, please share your stories of how you got started.
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Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.