How do you gain experience as a freelance editor?

It’s that age-old conundrum: if you don’t have editing experience and all the editing jobs require experience how do you get experience?

First, and most important, almost any kind of job you have or have had almost certainly has transferrable skills if you think about it in the right way. So, for example, if you’re an English teacher, well, you already know how to talk about stories and how to teach others. Talking about stories and teaching others are huge elements in effective developmental editing.

If you’re a nurse, you understand how to prioritize by importance: the Code Blue patient gets attention before the broken foot patient; cleaning and dressing a wound is step one before you offer the patient information on how to lower their cholesterol levels. This kind of triage takes place in developmental editing, too.

Emphasize these skills when you’re talking to potential clients.

Second, invest in professional development. Obviously I’m biased because I run an education company, but I don’t think it’s realistic to say you know how to edit if you haven’t learned what the accepted practices are. Good classes will help you learn what an effective editorial query is, how to manage author relationships, how to spot story problems, and more. But you can also learn a lot by reading books about the writing craft, reading novels critically, hanging out with writers, and otherwise immersing yourself in the world of words.

Third, get practice in offering feedback and critiques, such as by offering to be a beta reader. Or, if you’re a writer yourself, become a critique partner with another writer.

Depending on where you start (if you have any related experience, etc.), it is likely to take you anywhere from one to five years to be ready to start taking on your first paying clients.

You don’t have to drop everything and become a full-time editor; there is plenty of room for part-timers or gig workers (taking a project on when you have time).

It is more difficult to gain traction as a part-timer but it is also a great way to edge into freelance developmental editing without having to quit your current job or while dealing with chronic illness, elderly parents, childcare, and similar issues.

Dip your toe into editorial waters with the self-paced Naked Editing and the instructor-led Beginning and Intermediate Developmental Editing of Fiction.

Earning the Club Ed Certificate in the Developmental Editing of Fiction can be a good way to reassure yourself (and your clients) that you’ve received sufficient training in developmental editing.

Join the Club!

how to become an editor

New to story editing? Begin at the beginning.

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