How To Become A Copy Editor (And Develop Editing Skills)

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Do you want to become a copy editor? You can do it even if you don’t have a lot of experience in the field.

If you love books, words, grammar, literature, publishing, and have intrinsic attention to detail, you’re already halfway there.

Below you’ll find what the job entails, the requirements you need to get it, as well as ways to hone your craft and get paid more. Are you ready? Let’s turn you into a copy editor.


How to Become a Copy Editor:

1. Who is a copy editor, and what does he or she do?

A copy editor is a person responsible for reviewing and correcting written materials. The aim is to make the copy accurate, free of errors, inconsistencies, omissions, as well as fit for a particular audience, and ready for publishing.

Copy editors usually work in a regular 9-to-5 environment (around 40 hours a week). But nowadays, many editors prefer to become freelancers and work from home. In this situation, you can set your work schedule.

The average salary of a copy editor is $59,330 per year. It can vary, depending on your experience, position in the company, and how much you’re willing to work (we’ll talk more about the salary below).

There are a couple of rungs on the editorial ladder. You usually start as a copy editor, but you can go higher with time and become a copy chief or news editor. This would enable you to manage a group of copy editors.

There are three primary levels in copyediting: light, medium, and heavy. The type used will depend on time constraints, and the budget allowed for a particular manuscript.

Light copyediting includes:

Medium copyediting includes:

Heavy copyediting includes:

There are also two primary types of editing – mechanical editing and substantive editing.

Mechanical editing is about following a strictly defined house style. You would ensure that style and grammar rules are consistent across the whole publication. This includes the usage of grammatical symbols, formatting, spelling, punctuation, correct use of language, as well as format of charts, tables, and visual materials.

Content editing (substantive editing) is all about ensuring that the structure and organization of the manuscript are correct. It includes messing with the manuscript much more, as well as taking care of internal inconsistencies and higher-level editing errors.

In summary, on a surface level, you’re responsible for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and word use. But usually, there is much more to it. You could also enforce house style rules, polish the structure of a manuscript, make sure that the style is consistent, and that the copy is clear.

Finally, you would also make the manuscript publishing-ready by providing oversight in terms of typography, art, and formatting. Each organization has its definition of what a copy editor does, so check the responsibilities of each position.

“Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.” Patricia Fuller


2. Your main duties as a copy editor

Below, you can find a detailed list of responsibilities you may have to fulfill on a day-to-day basis:

Important note: this is a broad overview of the responsibilities. The specific tasks will depend on your position within the company. You can always see what the particular job entails by analyzing individual job postings online.


3. What are the requirements for becoming a copy editor?

By now, you must be wondering what specific requirements you need to meet to join the guild of wordsmiths.

Here’s a list of the main requirements:


4. What is an average copy editor’s salary?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average, you can make $59,340 as a copy editor in the United States. That’s around $29 gross per hour.

Based on reports from 1000+ editors on, if you’re a newbie, you’ll get paid around $32,000 a year. But with a couple of years of experience, you can go as high as $75,000 a year. You can also count on small bonuses and profit-sharing schemes along the way.

If you have only one year of experience, you can expect around $38k per year. With about 5 years of experience, you’ll likely earn around $47k per year, and with 10+ years of experience, you can go as high as $60k – $70k.

Of course, your pay will largely depend on your location (you will earn more in New York than in Alabama). It will also depend on the company you’re working for (Vanity Fair will pay more than your local county newspaper).

If you work as a staff editor, you would usually earn more than if you were a freelancer. Working remotely has its benefits, but it can also mean working longer hours and having no extra perks that come with a 9-5 position. Also, as a freelancer, you will most likely be paid per project, not per hour. It means that your average rate can be higher, but you need to get regular projects from clients.

If you’re not living in an expensive city (or country), being a freelancer can be great. That’s because your earnings will be high relative to the average cost of living. For example, $60k in California is not worth a lot, but the same amount in Bali, Indonesia puts you in the top 10% of earners.


5. How to get a job as a copy editor

There are a couple of different ways in which you can get a job as a copy editor. Let’s look at the possibilities:

a) Get an apprenticeship as an editing assistant and move from there.

This is the easiest way to get your foot in the door, as you can get an apprenticeship while still in college. If you prove yourself to be dependable, publishers will be happy to give you a full-time gig once you graduate.

However, you can apply for an apprenticeship fresh out of college too. Do not expect a high wage here. Instead, treat it as a stepping stone towards a proper career in the editing business.

b) Get a part-time or full-time job at an entry-level copy editor position.

This is probably the best way to go for most people. Entry-level jobs in copyediting are easy to get. And if you prove yourself, you can advance to higher levels within an organization within 1 or 2 years.

If you don’t have previous experience, becoming an editorial assistant is your primary way of getting a full-time editor gig soon. To get the job, you need to meet at least some requirements mentioned above. Then you’re ready to apply to online job postings.

Your primary sources of editing job opportunities are:

You may also look at job postings in your local newspaper. While it’s old-school, you can find unique opportunities there (and the competition will also be lower).

Before applying, pen a pristine cover letter and prepare a beautiful CV. Pay attention to details! If your prospective employer finds grammar mistakes in your cover letter or resume, your chances of getting the job are slim.

To take your CV to the next level, you can use a service like Fiverr. It offers professional CV design gigs for as little as $25. Also, use a targeted approach and write a new cover letter for each job you apply to.

This extra effort will pay off because employers will see you took the time to read the job posting. Stand out among 50 other candidates for the same position, and you stand a chance of getting an interview.

Pro tip: when applying for copy editing jobs, make sure you have a couple of editing samples to show to your prospective boss. An editing sample is a document (usually in Word format) where you show your editing chops by including corrections and revisions in the document’s margin. This is one of the best ways to show that you know what you’re doing.

c) Start with cheap freelance editing gigs and move from there.

You can make a move to the editing world by starting with freelance editing gigs. They usually have much lower requirements than a position in an established company. The leading platforms you can use are,, and By completing simple jobs online, you will get essential experience, as well as valuable editing samples.

The rates on these platforms are relatively low, but this shouldn’t stop you. Showing some editing experience on your CV will put you ahead of the competition when applying for actual, full-time editing positions.

d) Create your website and show off your impeccable grammar skills.

Starting a blog can be an essential first step to getting a job as a full-time editor.

Imagine a scenario: two people are applying for the same position. One of them has a nice cover letter, a properly designed CV, and a few editing samples. The other one has all the above plus a website with half a dozen long-form articles with proper formatting and eye-catching imagery. What do you think, who is going to get the job?

You can learn how to start a website in one day and then sign up with a host like Bluehost for as little as $3.95 per month. This is one of the best investments you can make in your editing career. It will improve your chances of getting a job, plus it will lead to many other opportunities and income streams along the way.


6. The advantages of being a copy editor

Here’s a quick list of advantages of being a copy editor:


7. The disadvantages of being a copy editor

Here’s a quick list of advantages of being a copy editor:


8. Becoming a freelance editor – one of the best remote working opportunities

This is one of the best possibilities to do the work you love on your terms. For many people, becoming a freelance editor is a dream come true. You can work from home or any place around the world and if you play it right, you can get paid quite a lot.

Freelance editing is my specialty, and I adore it. I get paid per project, so I have more motivation to finish my tasks faster. Sitting all around just to let the time pass doesn’t do me any good.

Most editors can go freelance after earning two or three years of experience within a larger organization. It’s crucial that you first learn the ropes of the industry and become proficient at editing and client communications jobs. Once you have what it takes, you can start getting side projects, and then take a leap to become full-time.

This allows you to get paid while you’re backpacking in India or sipping coffee in your neighborhood cafe. Enough said.


9. Why having a website is one of the best investments you can do

Starting your blog is an absolute must-have if you want to further your career and earn more money. Yes, it demands extra work, as well as gaining skills in SEO, and basic web design.

But this is going to pay off big time if you’re willing to put in some sweat in it. You can set yourself up in one day with a host like Bluehost that will manage your website.

A few reasons copy editors should have a website:

a) It will act as your business card in the publishing world. Applying for jobs is so much easier if you can show your well-designed site besides your cover letter, CV, and writing samples. In the past, I hired editors just because they had a website (and other candidates didn’t).

b) It will open many work opportunities for you in the future. If you do it right, your website will start attracting organic traffic from the search engines. People will start emailing you and ask if you have time to do a project for them. How’s that for a change? Now you’re the expert, so you can be pickier.

c) It will allow you to earn more money. If you publish regularly and stick with it for two or three years, you can make $500 extra per month from your website. The best thing about this income is that you put the work upfront, but then reap the rewards over months and years.


10. How to become better at copy editing?

Here’s what to do to master the editing process and get promoted faster:

a) Read some of the best books about copyediting (more on that below)

b) Take some of the best courses about editing (more on that below as well)

c) Get certified as a copy editor. You can get a certificate from a university, as well as professional associations:

d) Read more books. The more you know about the world, the more equipped you will be to deal with many editing tasks.


11. Being bilingual or trilingual will give you more work opportunities

Learning new languages will open many doors for you. That’s because publishing houses, content marketing agencies, and magazines are looking for editors who can deal with two or three idioms.

These organizations face a simple choice. Either hire two editors – let’s say one for English and one for Spanish, or hire a two-in-one editor who can handle both languages. Option number two is more economically viable, and that’s what companies go for.

Sometimes you don’t even need to be at an advanced level with your second or third language. That’s because you may still have foreign-language editors under you, who’ll send the edited work for your review. It’s only vital that you can verify it and make sure it’s correct at a broader level.


12. Find your niche to earn more money

In the world of copy editing, specialists earn more than generalists. If you have specific skills and knowledge in a particular domain, you can use it to get high-paying clients.

For example, if you’re an editor with knowledge of medicine, science, tech, law, business, sports, or any other narrow domain, you can set yourself up for success pretty quickly.

People in the pharmaceutical or tech industries have tons of money on their hands. They will willingly spend it if you show them your knowledge in their particular area.


13. Respect the editing guidelines and the stylebook

This is one of the best tips I can give you if you want to become successful at editing. All respectable organizations have specific editing guidelines and a stylebook.

In terms of style, 90% of companies use The Chicago Manual of Style, so do your best to devour it. It will spell out all the rules ever about language and the publishing world. Highly recommended.

Also, each organization will have a particular house style. It contains rules about the appropriateness in terms of length, content, words, punctuation, formatting, links (if it’s a web publication), and other things you need to know. It’s best to print out this document and put it on your desk where you can see it at all times.


14. Don’t be afraid to point out mistakes

Many copy editors are afraid to use their red pen and point out mistakes in manuscripts. Don’t let this be you. You need to show confidence in your abilities and to be assertive with writers.

Yes, you are trying to kill their darlings, something they put months of their life in. But your job is to point out mistakes. Ultimately, this will improve the final product and make everyone happy.

“Authors who mourn with praise for their editors always seem to reek slightly of the Stockholm syndrome.” – Christopher Hitchens


15. Learn how to keep the deadlines

This is a prerequisite for a successful career in copyediting. You shouldn’t only keep the deadlines; you should submit your edits faster than expected. Develop a reputation for being a fast worker, and more exciting projects will come to you.

This is especially true if you’re a freelancer. Most organizations have a couple of editors working for them and the fast ones get more projects and earn more money.


16. Learn how to better communicate with writers and clients

This one seems quite obvious, but it’s worth pointing out. You need to be kind when talking with others on the phone, through video chat, or email. Keep your woes to yourself and behave like a professional. Be concise in the way you speak and attack problems head-on.

This professional approach will earn you the respect of others, so they’ll listen to your advice more readily.


17. The certifications you can get to become a copy editor

You can get certifications from the following organizations:

These are not essential for getting a job as a copy editor, but they can help. They are not as expensive as courses served by universities and start at as little as $150-$500. You can usually complete a certification course like this off business hours.

This is perfect if you already have a full-time job, but you’re thinking about moving to a position in the publishing world. It will take you around one month to get a certificate, for example in: “advanced copyediting,” “editorial skills for business” or “publishing strategy toolkit.”


18. The courses you can take about copy editing

Besides the above, you can also complete a couple of courses from companies like:

Many of these courses are self-paced so you can complete them in your own time. After completing each course, you will also get a diploma to include your CV. It will improve your chances of getting a job within the industry.


19. The best tools for a copy editor

The top tools you should use and master are:

Here I also recommend you check my list of the best resources for bloggers and writers.


20. The books you can read to learn more about copy editing

Here’s a list of the top books you should read to become better at copyediting:


21. What are the career paths you can take as a copy editor

If you want to move up in the publishing world, you can get a higher position in a larger organization within one or two years.

If you apply yourself and show enough ambition, you can one day become a copy chief or a managing editor. This means you would manage a whole group of line editors. You would manage a range of publishing projects and ensure they meet specific standards and follow strict house style guidelines.

As a person with vast experience in language, you can also branch out into other avenues. You can become a freelancer and work directly with authors who have manuscripts they want to publish. Being a hired gun has its advantages as it allows you to work from anywhere and at the time of your choosing. You can also take up more projects and charge your clients more.

Another great thing you can do to further your career is to start your website and grow it fast by using your superior editing and publishing skills. As an editor, you have 90% of the knowledge required to start a successful online publishing platform. After a while, you could start earning money with advertising, affiliate marketing, and selling your own digital or printed books.

But if you prefer to stay within a larger organization and climb the corporate ladder, there are many other paths you can take.

It will all depend on the company you are working for, but here are the career possibilities:

To get a position higher in the organizational structure, you will need to add more skills to your repertoire. These include business skills, like management, accounting, legal, project management, forecasting, analytics, sales, marketing, etc.



I’m sure that reading this guide gave you at least a few valuable ideas on how to start your career as a copy editor. As you can see, it’s not as difficult as you might have expected. All you need is a passion for the English language, books, worldly affairs, and, of course, attention to detail.

Being an editor is often a solitary endeavor suitable for introverts, but it doesn’t have to be. Always remember that besides the struggle with words, maintain good relationships with fellow humans.

Rafal Reyzer

Hey there, welcome to my blog! I'm a full-time blogger, educator, digital marketer, freelance writer, editor and content manager with 10+ years of experience. I started to provide you with great tools and strategies you can use to achieve freedom from 9 to 5 through online creativity. My site is a one-stop-shop for freelance writers, bloggers, publishers, content enthusiasts who want to be independent, earn more money and create beautiful things. Feel free to learn more about me here.