Home > Blog > writing > How to Become A Copy Editor (Even As A Beginner)

How to Become A Copy Editor (Even As A Beginner)

Jackie Pearce

Looking to get into the writing and editing industry, but not sure if you should become a copy editor?

Well, if you love editing and have a sharp eye for details, you might love this option as a career or even as a side hustle.

As a copy editor, you’ll be in charge of editing writing before it becomes published, making sure it’s polished, and making sure it meets the editorial guidelines of the publication, which is what makes it different from proofreading.

Proofreading and copy editing both fall under the umbrella of editing, and if you like to edit work you might end up doing both.

However, copy editing requires its own set of skills and rules, which we will cover in this article.

If you’ve been considering becoming a copy editor, this article will go over what they do, the experience you’ll need, some basics you need to know, and how to get your foot in the door.

What Do Copy Editors Do?

Copy editors have the main goal making sure the “copy” aka, the writing to be published, is as close to perfection as it can be.

They spend a lot of time going through a piece. Not only do they need to make sure there are no obvious errors, but they need to make sure that the piece works as a whole. That could mean fitting it into the publishing guidelines, fixing loose ends that need to be tied up, making sure parts are accurate, and making overall suggestions throughout the whole piece.

Copy editors work in a wide variety of writing industries, too. If you choose to become one, you could work on books, documents, business writing, magazines, articles, blogs, and more.

Copy editing is different than proofreading or editing in general, since they often make sure the publishing guidelines are being met as opposed to just looking for punctuation or spelling errors.

Getting Experience as A Copy Editor

Before you can start to find work as a copy editor, you’ll need to work on your editing skills and learning the basics of what sentences and written pieces need to be ready for publication.

If you have not checked in with editing rules in quite some time, you might want to pick up a guide of The Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style or some other type of editing guide. That will cover a lot of the basics you’ll need to know and have memorized to succeed as an editor.

Depending on who you work with, your client might also have specific requirements when it comes to citation rules, punctuation preferences, and general formatting for published pieces.

You won’t know the specific rules until start working with clients, but it would still give you a head start to figure out what the newest guidelines are when it comes to certain formatting rules.

If you go to school for writing or editing, it will be easier to get experience, but know that you can still get it on your own with or without a degree.

What Skills Do You Need As A Copy Editor?

More than anything, it’s important for a copy editor to be able to spot issues in sentences and be able to suggest ways to improve the writing.

Everything else is just little details, but those are the most essential skills you will need and should start to practice before you apply for any jobs.

Other things copy editors are in charge of:

  • Making sure everything is readable and flows well
  • Edit any and all grammar, punctuation, formatting, and spelling errors
  • Update the writing to match any and all style guidelines
  • Fix headlines to improve clarity and intrigue
  • Give feedback to writers so they can improve their writing
  • Fact check all information in the piece

Know that any publication errors will fall on your shoulders, so it’s important that you are able to catch errors without letting them slip past you.

Outside of basic editing skills, you’re going to need to learn how to apply editing rules from a publication, be able to hit deadlines, and work well with people.

With every piece of work you edit, you’ll want to make sure the reader will be able to clearly understand what is being said. That means you might need to edit the tone and voice in the piece to make sure it works for the intended audience.

Can You Work Remotely As A Copy Editor?

Generally, it will depend on the company or client to decide if you can work remote, but it’s certainly possible to find remote work as a copy editor.

Since editing is something you can do through sending internet files back and forth, it would be one of the easier choices as a remote job.

However, there are still quite a few publications out there, especially the big ones, that require people to be in the office.

If finding a remote job is important to you, you’ll want to ask ahead of time or search for copy editing jobs based specifically on if they can be done remotely or not.

How Much Do Copy Editors Make?

The average salary for a copy editor is $74,700.

You can expect more or less depending on your experience and education, but that’s a good starting point to assume how much you will make.

How to Become A Copy Editor

Let’s assume you now have some experience to work with and you’re ready to start finding work.

For the most part, you have two clear options to go with.

You can either start to find some freelance work or you can work for a company.

Either way, you’ll need to start gathering your work experience and create some kind of portfolio to showcase to potential clients or employers.

Build your portfolio and testimonials

To build your portfolio, you’ll want to gather all of your editing work and nice testimonials people have given for your work all in one place.

This will give you something to show to clients or potential employers and give an accurate summary of your skills.

Yes, you might also need to put together a resume and cover letter as well if you’re doing a traditional job, but a strong portfolio is your best bet to getting hired.

Decide what kind of work you want to do

Do you want to become a copy editor for newspapers? Blogs? Publishing companies? Magazines?

Do you want to work for a certain industry?

You might need to try a few out before you really find something you’re passionate about doing, but having a good idea of where to begin can help you start to know where to apply.

Otherwise, if you scroll on any kind of job hunting site, you might be able to find some jobs that sound interesting.

Keep submitting your information and networking

While applying for jobs is a way to get your foot in the door, nothing beats networking in order to get work.

You might want to reach out to friends, family, alumni, and other professionals you know to see if anyone has a contact at a publisher. You might not find a job through that person but it would help you understand what is required in the industry and how you can stand out.

Social media and blogging might be a way for you to improve your reputation and reach as well, but it’s not always necessary to do so.

Either way, as long as you keep putting yourself out there, you will eventually find a way to work as a copy editor.

What to Do Next

Ready to build a writing career that will keep growing and withstand anything?

Become recession-proof: