How to Make a Living As a Freelance Book Editor

College graduates have a rough time in today’s job market. If you’re job hunting and no one responded to the first a course in miracles, don’t despair. You may not immediately find work in your chosen profession, but in the meantime, you do have options other than unpaid internships and McJobs.

Why not consider freelance book editing? Depending on your other commitments, you can make this either a full-time or a part-time gig. Maybe you’d like to work at home after having your first child. Or perhaps you need to supplement your income from another job. It’s not necessary to have a burning desire for a career in the publishing industry. All that you need are good language and writing skills, a detail-oriented personality, and a little basic training. Of course, the best editors also have broad knowledge about many current and not-so-current topics, but this is acquired gradually. The more books they are exposed to, the more expert they become in fields they once knew nothing about.

Are you the kind of person who pounces on typographical errors in magazines and newspapers and online? Are you now or have you ever been called a “bookworm”? (Translation: you enjoy reading for pleasure.) Have you always found it easy to get A’s in English, grammar, literature, and writing classes (no matter how bad you may be at math and science)? Did you keep a journal as a child or a teen? Were you the editor of your high school newspaper or yearbook.

You can seek out many other types of editorial jobs, in addition to book editing. Editors are needed for online Web page content, ad copy, technical manuals, dissertations, newspapers, magazines–the list is endless. In this article, however, I’ll deal only with finding work as a freelance book editor.

You’ll need to acquire two things: training and experience. Everyone has to start somewhere, and beginners can still find work at their level, whatever it may be. Here are a few steps to follow:

1. Take a class in proofreading. Often these are one-day workshops, in which you’ll learn the basics, such as how to edit by hand using proofreading symbols and how to do red-lining. Nowadays, most book publishers require freelance copy editors to edit electronic files of books on their computers, using the Track Changes function of Microsoft Word, as opposed to editing the hard copy of a book (a manuscript on paper). Yet you still must learn how to edit by hand with a red pencil, because manuscripts typed on paper will occasionally come your way.

2. If you live in a city, sign up for temp work as a proofreader in a few temp agencies. Do not let them push you into data entry, which would effectively pigeonhole you for future jobs. One way to avoid this is by doing a terrible job on the agency’s typing test. Many law firms divide up the workload among temps so that proofers mark their corrections with red pencil on paper documents, which are then given to data entry people, who input the changes on computers. When you go out on temp assignments, keep track of the names and addresses of companies you work for, because you’ll eventually add these to your resume. While temping, remember that law firms pay much more per hour than book publishers do. It’s fine to follow the money at this point. Experience is experience.

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