Do you find yourself picking up on grammatical mistakes and typos in emails? Interested in a freelance writing career but prefer editing someone else’s work, rather than starting with a blank page?
You might want to consider a job as a freelance editor.
Freelance editors do what the name suggests: take over a piece of content from another writer and make changes to it. This could be anything from grammar changes in a blog post, to proofreading ad copy or making developmental changes for a book.
In this guide, we’ll answer the questions you have about becoming a freelance editor, including:
Table of Contents
- What is a freelance editor?
- What does a freelance editor do?
- How much do freelance editors make?
- How do I become a freelance editor without experience?
- Where do freelance editors find jobs?
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What is a freelance editor?
A freelance editor is somebody who works for a variety of different clients to get their content ready for publication. Instead of working in-house (like for a publisher), you work independently on a project-by-project basis.
This means freelance editors are more like business owners. It’s up to you to find editing clients, send invoices, and manage your own workload–much like any other freelance writing-related career.
It’s estimated that 13.8% of all editing jobs are held by remote workers.
What does a freelance editor do?
There is no single job description for a freelance editor, as the tasks you do will depend on your clients’ needs and what you specialize in.
Generally speaking, a freelance editor works with their client (or a copywriter) to refine their voice. It’s their job to make sure the writing is accessible, error-free, and achieves its purpose.
Let’s take a look at the different types of editing job you might do:
The first stage of the editing process is developing the idea you’re trying to communicate.
If you’re the developmental editor for a book, for example, you’ll be involved in the early stages of writing. You’ll work directly with the author to make sure the book’s plot, chapter structure, and overall style make sense.
Also known as copy editing, this is one of the most common editing jobs.
Your job as a copy editor is to read each paragraph line-by-line and ensure the document makes sense, flows well, and is structurally sound. This part of the editing process involves making changes to:
- Sentence structures
- Word choice
- Paragraph order
Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process, but is usually the easiest way to break into freelance editing.
As a proofreader, you’re taking a glance over someone else’s writing and double-checking that it makes sense. You’ll remove any grammatical errors and polish things up… but that’s it. In most cases, large rounds of edits are done before it heads for a proofread.
As the name suggests, fact checkers go through a copywriter’s work and check the points they’ve made are true and accurate. You’ll verify any claims they make, research they reference, and link to the right sources.
(Sometimes fact-checking is bundled in with line editing. But clients can hire fact checking editors to run through a piece of writing before publish.)
Stylistic or brand editing
Stylistic editing happens when changes are made to reflect a brand’s tone of voice.
If you’re editing a blog post for a software company, for example, you might need to make stylistic edits to match the tone of voice with other blog posts already written. Similarly, if you’re making brand edits to a copywriter’s email, you might need to change the formatting of the content to fit with the brand’s email templates.
How much do freelance editors make?
Truth is: It really depends. The salary that a freelance editor earns depends completely on their type of editing, the clients they’re working with, and the content they’re editing.
It’s estimated that the average content editor makes about $56,859 per year.
(Bear in mind that this salary data is aggregated across in-house, remote, and freelance editing roles.)
Like with most freelance jobs, you have the potential to out-earn traditional in-house salaries, depending on your skill level, demand, and availability to take on new editing projects. But remember: you have to factor-in things you don’t get as a salaried employee–like tax, pension, and insurance contributions.
The Editorial Freelance Association gives the following guidelines when pricing freelance editing jobs:
- Developmental editing: up to $0.79/word
- Copy or line editing: up to $0.49/word
- Proofreading: up to $0.39/word
- Fact checking: up to $0.59/word
Your freelance editing rate totally depends on your skill, demand, and reputation. The more projects you have under your belt, and the more talented you are at editing, the higher rates you can charge for your freelance editing services.
How to become a freelance editor in six steps
Ready to become a freelance editor?
Whether you’re going for a developmental editing role or want to start proofreading, here are five steps you can take to start freelance editing:
- Build your writing skills
- Read… a lot
- Take small freelance editing jobs
- Find your niche
- Create your own website
1. Build your writing skills
There aren’t any essential qualifications you’ll need to become a freelance editor. Granted, some companies might look for editors with English degrees or creative writing qualifications.
The most important thing? Your editing skills. After all, if you can prove you have the skill a client is looking for, there’s no reason not to hire you.
However, building your editing skills actually starts the step before: writing.
You’ll be reading other people’s writing day-in, day-out. Learning how to write yourself–especially the type of content you want to edit–helps you understand what that content should look like.
Build your writing skills by:
- Starting a newsletter
- Becoming a freelance writer
- Writing a personal blog
- Contributing guest posts
- Taking online writing courses
Let’s put that into practice. Say I wanted to become a freelance editor for a company’s blog. Before I edit someone else’s work, I’d need to know what a good blog post looks like, the ideal rate of revelation for the reader, how to communicate an idea through writing, and how to structure a piece of online content.
All of those skills are technically copywriting skills–but they’re essential for anyone breaking into a freelance editing career.
2. Read… a lot
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” —Stephen King
☝ That quote is true when it comes to freelance editing, too.
There are a bunch of benefits you’ll get from reading more, including:
- Exposure to different writing styles, formats, and genres
- Understanding of why writers write the way they do
- Build your vocabulary
- Widen your knowledge (which can be used to improve existing content in your rounds of edits)
The good news? Reading isn’t exclusive to books. Blog posts, emails, and newsletters all count as reading.
For example: After reading a handful of articles, you’ll notice how writers structure their introductions in a way that convinces the reader to continue. Once you get to grips with the structure of a non-fiction book, you’ll spot patterns to take through with you when you’re doing developmental edits.
3. Take small freelance editing jobs
While it might be tempting to ditch the traditional path and go freelance the second you can, it’s worth noting that freelancing isn’t an easy path. It can take years to get to a point where your freelance editing career brings in a decent salary.
That’s why we recommend taking small editing jobs on the side of your job.
Of course, we’re not saying to work a low-paying (or worse: unpaid) internship.
You could take small freelance jobs through platforms like Reedsy, or find a part-time editorial assistant role to reduce the risk and help you figure things out.
If you’re brand new, taking a part-time editing job will give you some invaluable contacts. You might also get inside information that you may never have been privy to if you went freelance straight away.
4. Find your editing niche
A niche is an area, industry, or type of work that you specialize in.
If you’ve thought about any type of freelance work before, you’ve likely heard that choosing one is important. The same is true for freelance editors.
Having a niche means you become the go-to editor for a certain type of company, industry, or type of client. Plus, being that go-to person often means you can demand higher rates for your freelance editing services.
Popular editing niches include:
- Fiction books
- The self-publishing industry
- B2B blog posts and SEO content
Don’t panic if you’re unsure which niche to pick. You don’t need to decide right now.
Start by taking on your first few editing jobs and test the waters with a handful of popular freelance niches. You’ll soon start to see which you find most enjoyable–and pays the most money.
5. Create your own website and portfolio
It’s easy to fall into the trap of using a freelance marketplace (like Upwork and Fiverr) as the home for your new editing business.
There are a few problems with that set-up:
- You’re not in control of your profile. The marketplace can choose to shut down your account at any time (leaving you with nada.)
- They take a cut of your fee. Sure, they introduced you to clients. But is that really worth the extortionate cut they’re taking from your rate? Probably not.
- Quality projects are rare. Most jobs you’ll find on Upwork and Fiverr are low-paying, one-time gigs. If you do find a solid gig, you’re up against hundreds of other bidders.
Which is why we always recommend starting out solo.
Create your own website outside of a freelancer marketplace, and find your own clients. It takes time to get going–but it’s a much safer bet if you want to turn your freelance editing career into a full-time job (or an agency) in the future.
Make the following information easy to find on your website:
- What you do
- Who you are
- The types of client/copy you work with
- Examples of previous editing work (a portfolio)
- How potential clients can get in touch
Arguably the most important part is your portfolio. This is a list of high-quality links, documents, or books you’ve helped to edit–like this example on Louise Harnby’s freelance editor website:
Don’t have any experience yet? Your portfolio doesn’t have to be paid editing work. You can include writing samples, guest posts, and friend’s copy you’ve edited while you get the wheels turning.
So long as you can prove you know how to write, you’re ready to start taking editing jobs.
How to find freelance editing jobs
There are lots of different places that you can look to find freelance writing jobs. What about editing?
- Job boards: Companies share freelance editing job postings on boards like Problogger, Contena, and All Freelance Writing.
- Social media: Search queries like “looking for freelance editors” on LinkedIn and Twitter. Respond to any calls you find.
- Join an editing marketplace: Sites like Reedsy connect freelance editors with writers and authors. Just be aware that most marketplaces take a cut out of your earnings. It’s more sustainable to build your own network.
- Networking: Speaking of networking, start to build relationships with people in the industry you want to niche down in. Join freelance communities, introduce yourself as a freelance editor, and become their first point of call when they’re looking for one.
Ready to start freelance editing?
There’s no doubt that freelance editing is a fantastic career path for people who love to write.
Thinking of making the leap? Start building your own network of freelance buddies to cheer you on, give feedback, and refer you for freelance editing jobs.
You’ll find all of that inside Peak Freelance.