How to Become a Freelance Academic Editor
Want to become a freelance academic editor? You’ve made a good choice. Editing was one of the first freelance jobs I got after leaving academia 7 years ago. Whether you’re looking to supplement your income or make the switch like I did, you can earn good money as a freelance academic editor from home.
That said, there are numerous low paying freelance editing jobs out there. It’s easy to get taken advantage of if you don’t know what you’re doing. This article will tell you what academic editing is all about, and give you the knowledge you need to succeed at it.
What Kind of Editing Experience Do You Need?
Let me be clear about one thing right off the bat:
You do not need any special certifications or a degree in English to become a remote academic editor.
Here’s all you need (at a minimum):
• A bachelor’s degree in anything
• An eye for catching mistakes in writing
That’s all you need to land academic editing gigs today. Now, you may need more experience for certain types of editing jobs. Dissertation editor jobs, for example, usually go to people who have a PhD themselves. Also some clients may ask you to edit using a certain style guide (APA, MLA, etc.), so it helps to have experience using them yourself.
Just know that even if you don’t have a PhD or lack previous experience as a professional editor, you can still get into the business. If you do have special credentials, then you can charge extra for your services! It’s win-win.
Types of Academic Editing
There are several different types of online editing you can get into based on your experience. Academic editors are very specialized, but often they end up wearing a lot of hats. Here are the main types of academic editing that I’ve run across in my years of freelancing:
Academic Copy Editing
Copy editing involves making changes to spelling, syntax and grammar to improve content overall. You’re also making sure language is consistent, concise, and easy to comprehend. You could be hired to copy edit all sorts of academic writing, including undergrad papers, presentations, graduate work, or papers for publication.
Copy editing and proofreading are often confused with each other. In the freelance world, proofreading essentially means a light edit. You read through content for minor spelling and punctuation issues, but all major problems have already been fixed. You can make good money as an academic proofreader, fixing minor mistakes before publication.
Lots of people hire someone to edit their dissertation. You’ll probably need to have a PhD yourself to land this kind of gig, preferably in a discipline related to your client’s. Dissertation editing can involve copy editing or basic proofreading, checking references, formatting, etc.
Developmental editing is the most in-depth type of editing out there. Developmental editors are asked to make criticisms of a manuscript and suggestions for improvement. Academic developmental editors often work with early drafts of dissertations, journal papers, and book manuscripts. Developmental editors should have significant knowledge and experience with the discipline they’re editing in.
There are lots of freelance gigs out there for English as a Second Language (ESL) editors. ESL editing involves eliminating spelling, grammar and syntax errors in non-native English writing. The vast majority of academic editor jobs are in ESL editing. Some ESL university students have every paper they write edited.
Formatting for Journal Submission
This isn’t technically editing, but since I was often asked to do this as an academic editor, I’m adding it to the list. When academics submit articles or manuscripts to journals, they need to format the whole thing for the journal’s unique guidelines. This includes in-text citations and references. To save time, they will often pay an academic editor to read the journal’s guidelines and format their article for them.
How Much Do Academic Editors Make?
If you’re wondering how much academic editors earn, it really depends on the type of editing they’re doing. Editors earn the most from projects that require the most skills and expertise, such as in-depth copyediting or developmental editing. The most basic ESL editing involves only fixing grammar, spelling and syntax as a native English speaker, so it tends to earn less.
If you want to get a sense of how much academic editors make, there is a way to find out. Sign up for Upwork.com as a client (not a freelancer). Then you can search their database for “academic editors.”
There you can see examples of active freelancers on the platform that call themselves academic editors. Browse their profiles, then you can see what kind of skills you might need to charge high rates as a freelance academic editor:
There are a few different ways you can charge for your editing services:
• Per page
• Per word
• Per hour
When you’re first starting out, I think it’s a good idea to charge per hour. This is the safest bet since you don’t know how long it’s going to take you to complete an editing job. Once you get more experienced, you can start charging per word or per page for your services.
How much you should charge for your editing services depends on the type of editing and how much skill and expertise you’re bringing to the job. If you need help figuring out, check out this article that explains more about how much to charge for academic editing services.
Where to Find Academic Editing Jobs
Once you know what kind of editing you’ll be doing and how much you want to charge, you’re ready to get out there and start finding some clients! Here are some of the best ways to get clients as a freelance academic editor:
One of the easiest places to get freelance editing clients is Upwork. Upwork is a freelancing platform that connects businesses with freelancers to help them with all sorts of tasks, academic editing among them. All you have to do is create a profile on Upwork then you can start searching for jobs to apply for. Search for terms like “academic editor” or “dissertation editor” to find gigs to apply for:
Just be prepared to ignore all the really low paying editing gigs you’ll come across on the platform. Only apply to editing gigs that require your unique expertise and pay well.
Networking is good for any kind of freelance business but especially for academic editing. The first place you should look for clients is with your existing friends and colleagues. Let everyone in your contacts know that you’re now working as a freelance academic editor and you’re available for projects. Include details about the types of editing services you offer and what editing styles you’re familiar with.
Networking will only get you so far with building your client base, so next you should start marketing yourself. I recommend the first thing you do is create a website to showcase your services. This will make you look really professional too.
Having a website also means people can find your site through Google search. Ranking for keywords like “freelance editor” is hard, but if you specialize in “freelance academic editing,” it’s much easier to reach a niche audience. If you need an idea of what a good freelancer website looks like, check out mine at courtneydanyel.com.
Another way you can market yourself is by reaching out to people and organizations that might benefit from your services.
Kolabtree is another freelancing program designed specifically for scientists and researchers. If you have a graduate degree and want to find editing work that fits your advanced skills, Kolabtree is a great place to start.
Freelancers on this site can offer a wide variety of services, including literature search, secondary research, scientific writing and scientific editing. Freelance editors can find lots of well-paying gigs on this site. Like with Upwork, you can set up your shingle and browse job postings to apply for. Researchers can also reach out to you for your services on the platform.
5 Tips for Success as a Freelance Academic Editor
At this point you understand enough about becoming a freelance academic editor to get started. However I’d like to finish up with a few tips for success. This is career advice I wish I’d heard when I first started freelancing.
1. Demand the pay you deserve
The important thing to realize is that even though you’re just starting out in editing, you deserve good pay from the beginning. You’re offering a specialized type of editing services that you should charge good money for.
It doesn’t matter if you have years of experience or a PhD. People will pay you a pittance for your services if you allow them to. So choose pay rates that make you happy to do the work. Set a hard line and never settle for less than what you deserve.
2. Avoid editing agencies
If you Google “ freelance academic editor” you’ll come across a bunch of agency sites that act as a middle man between editor and clients. Many of them are specifically for ESL students but some are not. Others are just pretending to be editing agencies — they’re really platforms that allow people to hire someone to essentially do their homework for them.
I recommend you avoid editing agencies for two reasons:
- The pay is horrible. The middle man is taking the majority of the profits and giving you the leftovers. It’s better to go out and find your own clients.
- You don’t want to get caught up helping college students cheat on their homework. Some of these platforms will try to rope you into doing just that. There’s a huge online market for it.
So, you can find clients through networking, personal marketing and job sites, but stay away from editing agencies.
3. Put yourself out there
Freelancing is not the kind of business where clients just fall into your lap. After 7 years of freelancing, I can count the number of clients who’ve offered me work out of the blue on one hand. Even so, most of them discovered me because of my marketing and networking efforts anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, I hate pitching people. But it’s necessary for success. If you want your freelance academic editing business to grow and succeed, you need to put yourself out there. Reach out to people to tell them about your services. Get used to explaining what a great editor you are. Follow up with your previous clients to see if they need more help. The worst that can happen is they say, “No thanks.” You need to experience quite a few rejections before you can land a new client that brings you tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. That’s just how online marketing works.
4. Collaborate with other editors
As you start to apply for gigs and market yourself online, you’ll likely come across other academic writers and editors out there. They are your competition, but they should also be your colleagues! Make it a point to connect with these people so you can support each other, network, and work together.
Lots of people looking for a manuscript or dissertation editor want two sets of eyes. In this case, you can refer your clients to your freelancer friends and vise versa. You and your colleagues also might have expertise in different areas. If one of your colleagues has a client that’s looking for an editor with knowledge of Humanities, and you have a degree in that area, they could refer the client to you.
5. Clarify projects with your clients
As a freelance academic editor, you understand exactly what each of your services entails, whether it be proofreading, copy editing, dissertation editing, developmental editing, etc. But that doesn’t mean your new client has the same expectations as you.
I remember once years ago someone hiring me for developmental editing. Later I learned what they really expected was for me to write half their paper for them! That’s why you should always clarify what a project entails with your client before agreeing to work on it.
I recommend sending your potential client a project proposal that details exactly what your editing service includes. Long ago I created a freelance proposal template to make creating proposals easy for myself. If you’d like a copy of it, you can download the project proposal template here.
Academic editing is one of the best work at home jobs for people with a higher education. Anyone with a degree and knack for catching errors can earn a living as an academic editor if they follow the right steps. Those with an MA or PhD can earn even more in this freelance field.
Just make sure you research the competitive landscape before you get started. Then build a professional website and market yourself effectively. Follow the tips in this post to get yourself on the right track, and be sure to check out the other advice on my blog about starting and running a freelance editing business.