How to become a freelance editor

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As an editor, your job is to help other writers get their documents into tip-top shape. Your comments help clients hone their ideas, refine their language, and publish material without a single mistake. If you excel at making writing fun and easy to read, freelance editing could be a perfect career fit.

To get started as a freelance editor, take the following steps:

  • Identify your strengths & editing speciality
  • Curate your portfolio & build a website
  • Determine your rates
  • Find more jobs
  • Protect your business

Taking these simple steps can help you find your niche, set your rates, and get to work with the knowledge your business is protected from risk. This is your guide to building a thriving editing business.

Identify your strengths & editing speciality

It all starts with knowing your superpowers and what sets you apart. To be a great editor, you need to be a stronger writer and have a critical eye for details. As there are many types of writing, you can choose what type of writing you want to edit. Some of the common editing roles include:

Developmental editing – Think of this as editing from an aerial perspective. As a developmental editor, you’re another writer’s coach. You tell them where there are holes in their current project, and how they can fill them. In this role, you read a document and hold its overall structure in your mind. From there, you have a sense of what needs to change and move, as well as what needs to be cut or expanded.

Copy editing – If developmental editing requires a bird’s eye view, copy editing involves zooming in. Your job is to provide support on the sentence level. You help other writers make their prose as readable as possible by building in transitions, changing up sentence structure, and improving the overall sense of flow. Copy editing takes time and patience, which sets apart the novice writers and the professional editor roles.

Proofreading – As a proofreader, you put manuscripts under the microscope. It’s your job to catch each and every error, from a simple misspelling like “cannon” for “canon,” to a missing comma, to an extra space. As a professional proofreader, you need an expert eye for detail.

Some editors are hired to take on all three of these tasks. However, someone who excels at the big picture may not enjoy looking at the same project under a microscope—and vice versa.

Consider which of the above roles match your skill set as a professional editor and proofreader. From there, brainstorm your ideal client. You may want to specialize in texts closely related to your own interests and expertise. What kind of projects would you want to take on for your next freelance editing job?

  • Fiction manuscripts
  • Academic research papers, dissertations, and books
  • Science writing
  • General nonfiction articles and manuscripts
  • College admissions essays and student writing
  • Spiritual and inspirational literature
  • Publications in a specific field (automotive, agriculture, crafts, etc.)

Once you know what kind of project you’d like to work on and what kind of services you’re qualified to provide, you’re ready to build your business as an experienced editor.

Curate your portfolio & build a website

As you get started freelance editing, it’s important to have a place where you can showcase your skills and services, as well as show off your own writing chops. Curate your portfolio with your best work and a variety of styles. However, you need somewhere house all your great work. Thanks to all the different website platforms, it’s easy to create a good-looking, navigable website. Choose a theme that represents your style and from there, it’s up to you to fill it out with error-free content that highlights your expertise as an experienced editor.

Be sure to include the following on your page:

  • A bio
  • Client testimonials or links to past projects
  • A list of services
  • Rates (optional)
  • Contact information

Set your rates: How to charge for editing

As you’re creating your rates, you may not know what to charge. As an editor, consider two ways of billing:

By the hour – Set a fixed hourly rate for your work, and time yourself when you sit down to edit. The Editorial Freelancers Association recommends starting out at:

  • $30-35/hr. for proofreading
  • $30-40/hr. for copyediting
  • $45-55/hr. for developmental editing

By the word – If a client asks for an overall budget for a project, you may have no real idea of how many hours it will take. In order to provide an accurate estimate, charge by the word:

  • 2.5-3¢/word for proofreading
  • 2.5-4¢/word for copyediting
  • 4-6¢/word for developmental editing

Rather than advertising a set rate, i.e. 3¢ per word for copy editing, consider posting the range on your website or contact form to collect leads and customize your rates for each gig. This way you can evaluate each project individually. If a manuscript is full of surface-level errors as well as lacking in “flow,” charge towards the upper end of your range. If it’s relatively well-written already, charge towards the lower end.

Find new clients

Once you’ve built your website and set your rates, you’re ready to start looking for freelance writing jobs. Use the following resources:

Networking – Be sure to advertise your new editing business on social media, especially LinkedIn. Friends and family members may have a colleague who needs editing services.

Databases – There are a number of boards that regularly post jobs for freelance editors. Check out the following:

  • Freelance Writing
  • ProBlogger’s job board
  • Flexjobs

Craigslist – Check the “jobs” and “gigs” section of the popular website to connect with clients directly. Be sure to pitch your skills and qualifications rather than replying “still hiring?”

Freelance platforms – Fiverr and Upwork can be great places to find gigs while you’re building your client base. A same one-time project could turn into a long-term client.

Once you have your first few clients, you’ll be able to add to your web testimonials. Consider giving past clients a small discount if they refer you to a friend or colleague (and that person hires you, too).

Protect your business

Once you have your first client, get ready to invoice them, accept payment, and protect yourself while you complete the job. That means you should:

  • Create a clear contract for your services
  • Establish a legal business entity to protect yourself from liability (i.e. an LLC)
  • Take out insurance for your editing business

Do you really need insurance as an editor?

Say you’re helping a client edit their thesis. Should you fail to complete your work in advance of their filing date, they could claim you’re responsible for their failure to graduate and their dimmed career prospects. Would you be protected?

Without insurance, the answer is no. That’s why freelance editors should consider the following policies:

  • General liability insurance to protect against client and third-party claims of personal injury, advertising injury, bodily injury, and property damage related to your editing services
  • Professional liability insurance to protect against claims of errors and negligence related to your work that result in a client’s financial loss.

With clear contracts, a legal business, and insurance, you create the structure for a healthy, stable editing business. 

If you’re just getting started as an editor, you may only need insurance while you work on your first project—not for a year, let alone an entire month. That’s why we’ve created on-demand freelance insurance.

What is on-demand insurance? With Thimble, get insurance by the hour, day, or month. All it takes is 60 seconds to get a quote and proof of insurance.

Long story short...

Knowing how to become a freelance editor and actually working as one is separated by one thing: starting. If you have a passion for the written word and an eye for fluid writing, begin with the above steps:
  • Leverage your editing superpower
  • Curate your portfolio & build a website
  • Set your rates
  • Find more jobs
  • Protect your business

Becoming a successful editor can take time and perseverance. But as an editor, you know all about revision. Just follow your outline, and if something goes wrong, tweak your approach. Before you know it, you’ll end up with a thriving editing business.

Our editorial content is intended for informational purposes only and is not written by a licensed insurance agent. Terms and conditions for rate and coverage may vary by class of business and state.

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