Your Complete Guide to Learning How to Become an Editor

Editor marking mistakes on paper in red

They don’t get their names on the byline, but just about every professionally produced bit of text you read or audio dialogue you hear has gone through revisions by an editor at some point. Books, magazines, YouTube transcripts, movie dialogue, advertisements… even this website!

These very words have been polished and approved by an expert and experienced editor!

Editors perform a critical kind of quality control and continuous improvement process that brings an extra set of eyes and an experienced, analytical mind to shaping written communications. They can apply those skills at almost any point in the writing and publication of written works, from the first formative ideas, right down to putting the last period on the final page.

Even though it’s a critical role in publishing, becoming an editor isn’t always a straightforward process. There are no Bachelor of Editing degrees available. You can’t join the military and get on-the-job training as an editing specialist. There are some editor apprenticeships scattered around, but only in very limited areas of the profession.

Instead, editors usually come to their profession by a winding road that has the sign-posts of a classical liberal arts education at every turn.

If becoming an editor is your goal, you will have to hone parts of your communication and literary skillset through other avenues. And that’s where a liberal arts degree can put you at the front of the pack.

The Editor Job Description Can Involve Any Part of The Publishing Process

Editor jobs are way more diverse than most people outside the publishing industry realize.The creative process for producing both fiction and non-fiction works benefits from an outside perspective at many different points. Judgement and finesse can keep writers from going down the wrong path before they even lay finger to keyboard, as well as culling awkward phrases or obscure language from a final product.

You can think of an editor job as one that always involves improving the final written product.

That contribution can take on a lot of different forms, though. Editors help…

Editor Jobs Hold the Reins in Major Publishing Organizations

Sometimes editors just edit. In other cases, there’s a big crossover between editing and supervising. In journalism, for instance, a managing editor job description or an editor in chief job description will have a lot more managerial tasks in it than anything that looks like actual text editing. The responsibility in those positions doesn’t have a lot of overlap with entry level copy editor jobs.

Modern Editor and Publisher Jobs Blend Artistry With Technical Expertise

All editors have to have an intimate and amorous familiarity with the art and poetry of the written word. This usually means they are voracious readers as well as writing professionals. They will be widely read in the classics as well as staying on top of modern works in a wide variety of fields. Naturally, this is a hallmark of a liberal arts education.

Although editing is an ancient profession and one that has roots in creativity and artistry, today’s editors spend most of their time in front of a computer. In some cases, high tech is just a tool for shuffling words around. In other cases, editors must develop a higher level of technological expertise. The modern world of publishing relies on technology for critical tasks like:

Editors also have to have a strong command over the tools that writers use, which in this day and age means word processors. Microsoft Word and Excel skills are pretty much unavoidable qualifications for editors, but you will also find jobs that require mastery of other software such as:

Technology Might Soon Put Editors on the Bleeding Edge of Another Innovation: Editing for Robots

Financial data analyst using AIToday, editors are most likely to use technology as an aid to the editing process—using machine-trained algorithms to help proof simple spelling and grammar mistakes. But a new wave of algorithms is emerging, ones that do way more than just check spelling and grammar. These AI-driven programs, such as the GPT-3 neural network, actually write articles and stories themselves.

That means tomorrows editors may be editing for robots more frequently than for human authors. Feedback on those pieces may rely less on marked up scratches on a set of galleys than tweaking settings and configuration files. The editor’s role might shift from providing the technical corrections to text and into giving it a human touch that robots just don’t deliver.

It may be a big shift for editors in both technical and ethical skills, but that’s exactly the kind of adaptability that a liberal arts degree delivers.

Editors Almost Always Give Attention to Search Engine Performance

Editors working with text that is destined for online consumption have to add expertise in search engine optimization (SEO) to their repertoire. It’s no longer enough to shape writing that touches and delights the human audience. Editors also have to satisfy the hungers of their algorithmic robot overlords, ensuring that keywords and sentence structure please the Googlebot web spider as well as the occasional human reader.

That means that many editors spend time not just working directly with text to be published, but also using tools like the Google Search dashboard and various commercial SEO packages. It also means that their relationship with a piece of writing may no longer end at the point of publication. Today’s editors are expected to track and analyze reader engagement through big data analysis and website monitoring tools. They may continue to tweak and adjust text well after initial publication to fine-tune it for the results they want.

Copy Editor Jobs Increasingly Require Deep Subject-Matter Knowledge For Informed Readers

Some kinds of editing also require specialized subject-matter knowledge. If you plan to work for a scientific journal, for instance, you better have a solid background in biology, chemistry, and physics. You can’t really productively edit a text that you can’t begin to understand.

But this is yet another way that a liberal studies degree is a great way to prepare for a job in editing. Editors don’t necessarily have to master all the diverse subjects they encounter, but they do need a working knowledge and enough familiarity to know how to present the topic intelligently to readers who might know more about it than they do. The broad, interdisciplinary knowledge that comes with a liberal studies degree is a great way to get that level of familiarity with a broad spectrum of fields. The liberal arts offer a set of tools for rapidly absorbing new information and fitting it into your existing competencies.

Choosing From All the Different Kinds of Editor and Publisher Jobs In The World Today

There are no shortage of different kinds of editing roles in the world of writing and publishing. In fact, many organizations handle their editorial pipelines in completely different ways, so you can find combinations of all these different types of jobs mashed together, or even combined with other roles entirely.

There are rarely hard and fast lines to editing jobs, either. Although it might not be their primary role, even a managing editor might pick up a pen from time to time and cross out an awkward phrase in copy that comes across their desk. Improving the writing and making it clear to the reader is always the ultimate goal for every kind of editor.

Copy Editor Job Description

Copy editor is the role that most people are most likely to think of when you use the word “editor” in a sentence. They handle the nuts and bolts details of getting a piece ready for publication by validating essentials such as:

They also check for consistency, both internally with respect to tenses and terms used, as well as with external references such as style guides. Copy editors have to have an unfathomable attention to detail as well as a complete command of the rules of language. They also need judgement and discretion. A degree in the liberal arts offers excellent training for this job by pulling all of those skills together.

Remote Copy Editor Jobs: How to Become an Online Editor

With the onset of COVID-19, pretty much all copy editor jobs became remote jobs. Writing and editing were always two of the professions that were easiest to work in remotely. When online work became the safest kind of work, even editing jobs that once involved going in to the office ended up going remote anyway.

It’s unclear what the long-term effects of the pandemic will be on office work in general, but if there was ever any doubt that copy editors could work effectively online, that’s all gone now. Copy editing jobs that are entirely remote are easy to come across on job search sites today.

What you need to bring beyond your regular editing skills are the kind of self-motivation and dependability it takes to work independently and hit deadlines even without the boss hanging over your shoulder. It’s similar in many ways to the kind of motivation you need to get through a self-directed liberal studies program, where your own drive and standards are the ultimate incitement.

Book Editor Jobs: How to Become an Editor of Books

Book editing is a marathon. While articles and stories can often be edited in a day or less, books are hundreds of pages long and often go through a number of substantive revisions before publication. A book editor can expect to work closely with the author, often going through multiple rounds of edits, offering feedback and pointers along the way. Some book editors start even earlier in the process, sifting through proposals and sample chapters to identify works that are a good fit for their company.

Anyone interested in how to become an editor for novels has to be able to keep the big picture in perspective, as well as having great familiarity with literature through the ages and literary forms and format. It’s a good fit for liberal arts studies that take in all kinds of great books through the ages and helps to train you not only in the details of grammar and language, but also delivers the context to understand why great novels have had a great impact on the world.

Remote Book Editor Jobs May Be The Future in Book Publishing

Editor working remotely in a cafe on a laptopThe book publishing industry has gone through even more disruption than other kinds of publishing with the advent of print-on-demand services and big online booksellers like Amazon. According to Publisher’s Weekly, only about 16 percent of the books on Amazon’s bestseller lists come out of the traditional Big Five publishing houses today. Self-published books represent 31 percent of e-book sales, and independent authors take home 40 percent of all author earnings.

That means that traditional book editing jobs for major publishers are in short supply. Instead, many online book editors are going solo, offering up their skills as independent service providers who work directly with authors as part of the self-publishing process. These jobs are almost entirely remote and require good business acumen and a well-rounded skillset in marketing and customer relations as well as editing.

Learning how to become an online book editor isn’t much different from any book editor job description. Your communication and time management skills have to be top-notch, though, both skills you will hone in liberal studies programs.

Stepping Up Into Managing and Publishing Editor Jobs

Newspaper editor talking with colleagues in officeManaging editors take the reins at big publishing houses, magazines, or newspapers. Depending on the size of the organization, they might primarily manage the ranks of associate, or assistant, editors, who in turn manage the writing staff, or they might call the shots for the stable of writers themselves.

That makes managing editor an exceptionally broad role to fill. You have to pick up leadership and business skills on top of the day-to-day considerations of rewriting and reviewing pieces. Just as important, you’ll have to have a good perspective on your audience. You need to understand society and culture at a deep level to detect stories that resonate and understand how to tell them in ways that will be understood.

Liberal studies programs offer exactly that depth of perspective on society and culture, together with the communication and leadership skills that managing editors have to possess.

Assistant Editor Jobs: How to Become an Associate Editor of a Journal

The job description of an assistant or associate editor is whatever the managing editor says it is. That means these jobs can take on many or all of the same kinds of tasks and responsibilities as a publishing editor, although usually with a more narrow focus. For example, a managing editor might delegate brainstorming and story development work to one assistant editor, while putting copy editing tasks on the desk of another. Or, as is common in news organizations, assistant editors can be divided up by subject, with one managing the criminal justice beat and another ruling over politics.

Associate editor is more often used as a title to describe entry-level editing jobs in larger organizations. These editors can end up with almost any editing-related task on their plate. They are most likely to work primarily as copy editors, however.

Writer-Editor Jobs 

Writer-editor sounds like a pretty confusing job for anyone who isn’t schizophrenic—pick a lane! But you will see jobs for writer-editors listed sometimes that are completely serious. Usually, they indicate that the role involves both writing and editing responsibilities beyond the self-editing that every good writer engages in. Since most editors also consider some writing as part of the job, these positions usually indicate more writing than would normally be required in an editing position.

Even if it sounds a little strange, the writer-editor job represents a kind of natural transition point for many people as they get into editing for a living. Many editors start out as writers. Taking a job as a writer-editor is one way to parlay that writing experience into a professional editing job.

College Essay Editor Jobs Are a Clear Fit For Liberal Arts Students: How to Become an Academic Editor

If you’re just getting ready to attend or graduate from college, you already know why this job has become so hot over the past decades—college has become a high-stakes game where admissions and grades can determine the entire arc of your career. Students who want to excel are often willing to pony up some extra cash to have a professional editor proof and revise their work.

This requires a strong familiarity with academic writing standards in general, but also a high degree of adaptability. Every school and professor has their own peculiarities. You have to adapt to different styles as well as different subjects, and you have to do it in a way where the end result reflects the original work of the student, not a cookie-cutter outside editor at work.

Liberal studies offer a strong preparation for academic pursuits in general, but they are particularly ideal for future essay editors, because courses here usually involve writing a ton of essays. There’s no better way to polish your editing chops than writing up and getting graded on your own endless series of liberal arts essays.

Content Editor Job Description: Content Editor Jobs Represent the Future of Editing

Content editing is the next wave of editorial jobs for the modern media environment. Content has become the generic word to describe the meat and potatoes of web consumption: text, images, video, and audio that draws traffic and, with luck, goes viral.

Content editor jobs aren’t all that different from the managing or assignment editors you find in traditional publishing. They conceive, assign, produce, edit, and analyze either digital or traditional publishing content in a wide range of industries. Content editors are generally expected to be familiar with multimedia presentation, layout considerations, and search-engine optimization on top of their regular responsibilities for checking spelling, syntax, and grammar.

Naturally, a big-picture liberal arts education is a great way to get ready for the broader responsibilities and considerations involved in content editor jobs.

Fiction Editor Jobs Let You Explore Other Worlds

Fiction is fun. Whether it’s sci-fi or romance, you are getting a glimpse into another world, meticulously crafted by someone with a story to tell. Fiction editors exist to help those creative authors get their stories across, by ensuring they adhere to the forms of genre, the rules of language, and the hard-to-judge lines of suspension of disbelief that must be gently pulled.

Fiction is a serious business. Our most fanciful works are often used as a kind of mirror, illustrating human nature and exploring aspects of culture and society that aren’t spoken of openly.

You can learn the rules of grammar and syntax through any kind of English program or editing workshop, but becoming familiar with the tropes and forms of fiction can only really be done through reading. A liberal studies program will ensure you get in not just the core reading of a wide variety of fictional works, but also that you get experience dissecting those works to see what makes them tick. Understanding the evolution of fiction writing and the way it reflects current society and culture is a key piece of understanding you will take away from a liberal arts degree, and better qualify you for editing fiction.

The Education and Experience You Must Build to Learn How To Become an Editor

Editor and colleagues selecting images for projectAs noted above, getting into editing isn’t always a very straightforward process. That’s because it’s not exactly an entry-level role in the world of writing and publishing. While some big publishing houses might once have brought in fresh college graduates for assistant editing positions, those jobs are becoming more rare and going to more experienced professionals today.

For most people, the path to editing runs through writing. That’s the place where you put together your love of language, your taste for the flavor of dialect, and your judgement of pacing and rhythm to the test against real audiences, and hone those abilities through practice and feedback.

A Liberal Arts Education is a Common Requirement to Become an Editor

Editors almost always have at least a bachelor’s degree. There are a lot of different majors that are considered acceptable for editor jobs, including:

But you’ll also find many editor jobs that simply have the requirement of holding a bachelor’s degree in a liberal arts or sciences field. Which makes a bachelor of liberal studies a clear fit for the profession.

How Liberal Arts Training is Essential For All Kinds of Editor Jobs

There’s a strong hint in the construction of the original and traditional seven liberal arts that they are a solid way to prepare for editor jobs. That’s because two of them are must-learn subjects in both writing and editing: grammar and rhetoric.

Grammar – The mastery of the rules and logic of language composition is obviously a must-have skill in writing and editing. Strong education in the grammatical rules of English builds fluency and clarity in writing and in analyzing writing.

Rhetoric – The arts of expression and persuasion are the other half of effective writing. Presenting topics with clarity, concision, and focus are exactly the objectives that editors are employed to achieve. Studies of how this has been done both classically and in modern writing are excellent ways to build familiarity and expertise in this art.

Liberal arts also give editors a leg up in the comparative and analytical skills they will need to help writers improve their communication skills. The vital tools of metaphor and simile are only available to editors who get the references; classical allusions require some kind of familiarity with the classics before they can be employed.

Liberal arts and sciences training exists to expose students to exactly those common bodies of knowledge that modern culture is built on.

Experience is an Essential Part of Qualifying for an Editor Job

Although most editors don’t go through a formal apprenticeship process, it’s difficult to master all the intricacies and considerations of writing and editing without actually practicing it professionally.

Editors generally learn on the job, whether as writers or through entry-level editing positions that often combine writing and editing responsibilities.

Breaking through into the editing world requires more than just writing experience, however. A writer only engages with their own product, a single point-of-view with a unitary voice. A breadth of writing styles, subjects, and formats are the best kind of writing experience for a prospective editor to pick up. That kind of adaptability is exactly what is necessary to put yourself into the shoes of different types of audiences and to communicate effectively with different writers to help them hone their text.

Can a Bootcamp or Workshop Turn You Into an Instant Copy Editor?

Editors often start out as writers, but there are some skills that writers never need that a successful editor does. Things like tact, diplomacy, and perspective aren’t really in the writer’s métier, but a good editor must have them. There’s also a world of voice and consistency involved in professional editing that writers may never really experience.

So to build on the essential writing skills of grammar, punctuation, and style, many future editors turn to editing certificate programs or workshops to gain practical skills in reading and revising the work of other writers. These programs can be weeks or months in length, and may be self-guided online studies or conducted as regular classes. In some cases, they are offered by colleges directly, while others are privately run.

They can offer a good overview of editorial considerations like:

These programs are almost always intended to build on your existing experience, though, so don’t expect an instant copy editor job to come your way as soon as you complete one.

Is a Master of Liberal Arts Degree a Good Choice For Becoming an Editor?

You won’t find any editing job anywhere that requires a MALS, or Master of Arts in Liberal Studies. But that doesn’t mean that earning one can’t help your job prospects, or help you to become a better editor along the way.

A two-year MALS program can usually be tailored to focus on almost any kind of subject in the liberal arts that you want. If you want in-depth studies of journalism and the media, you can get them. If you’re more interested in fiction and book editor jobs, you can drill down into the world of literature, even focus on specific sub-genres. All of those courses can give you invaluable, in-depth knowledge to boost your editing skills.

On top of that, every master’s degree in liberal arts is going to come with a healthy dose of writing and honing many academic papers. That usually includes crafting a master’s thesis, which can take a year or more just by itself. And those papers will be picked apart by experts, drilling down into every spare comma and dangling participle.

There’s no other kind of formal experience that will give you that level of review of your own written work, and the sort of polish and training that editorial work requires.

How to Get a Job As An Editor That Pays The Bills

Sometimes what you learn in a liberal arts education can be a little disconcerting. That’s often the case for writers, who are assigned to read the classic novel Little Women and learn that character Jo March wins a story contest in a magazine and is paid $100 for her troubles. After 160 years of inflation and negotiation in the publishing industry, a writer entering a similar competition today might expect to make… exactly the same. Maybe a free copy of the magazine, if the publisher is feeling generous.

There’s a reason that many writers eventually gravitate to editor jobs: it’s a great way to make more money with a liberal arts degree.

According to 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the median salary for editors is $63,400 while those in the top ten percent make more than $126,800.

Like all careers, salaries for editor jobs vary by both location and industry of employment.

As you can see, New York, center of the publishing world, and one of the highest cost-of-living parts of the country, comes out on top, although the metro Washington D.C. area just beats it at $95,590 for the top paying region of the country.

With the big shifts in many industries to remote work, it’s not clear how salaries will play out for editors who decide to relocate but remain with their current employer. But it could well be that industry starts to become a bigger factor than location for salary levels in the future.

The top-paying industries for editor jobs might surprise you:

So you can see that, like writing, editor jobs can get a boost from picking a niche. Developing expertise and experience in a particular field will always make it easier for you to pick up other work in that area.

Freelance Editing Offers Freedom But Uncertainty in Salary and Benefits

Many editors today are freelancers. This can offer a lot of flexibility in both your time and your salary, allowing you to make the trade-offs based on your own preferences and lifestyle. But it also requires taking on all the other responsibilities of any small business owner:

Here, too, a degree in the liberal arts can give your career as a self-employed editor a boost, equipping you with the basic knowledge of business and the can-do attitude needed to make it as your own boss.

BLS doesn’t track self-employed editors separately, but as the media and publishing industry moves toward more flexible employment terms, their numbers are increasingly part of the data reflected above.

Whether you decide to strike out on your own or go for a traditional editor job, having that liberal studies degree behind you offers a toolset that goes far beyond what most candidates can draw on. Your judgement, sensibilities, knowledge, and editing skills all benefit from the broad scope of liberal arts training.

2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for Editors reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed December 2021.