How to Start a Freelance Copy Editing Business
Interested in joining the world of freelance copy editing? You’ve made an excellent choice. I’ve been a full time freelance for over 6 years and can tell you with confidence:
Editing is one of the best remote jobs out there.
Today I’m a full time business writer. But when I first started freelancing, most of my work was in editing.
I loved being an editor for a lot of reasons. Unlike writing, editing requires little or no research on your part. That means you don’t need constant internet access either. You can download your documents, edit from anywhere, then upload when you’re done. You can do it from a kid’s baseball game or at the park. No need to sit in some office space to get work done.
Editing is also a really easy niche to get into, if you follow the right steps. A lot of people try to get into editing but they don’t understand how to become a freelance editor online. I can tell you right now there’s a big difference between traditional editing for a publisher and freelance editing online.
As long as you understand what freelance editing is all about and know how to market yourself online, it’s really easy to succeed.
So I’m going to explain everything you need to know, including:
- Exactly what freelance copy editing is
- The different types of copy editing
- How much you can charge for copy editing services
- How to start your freelance copy editing business
- How to find your first copy editing clients
Ready? Let’s go!
What is Freelance Copy Editing?
Before deciding whether freelance editing is the right choice for you, it’s important to understand what the job is all about. Back before freelance editing was popular, copy editing was one very specific service professional editors offered. In the traditional editing world, copy editing is distinct from other forms of editing and proofreading. Here’s the definition according to Google:
So traditionally, copy editing is about improving readability and consistency of written content. But now that writers increasingly rely on freelance copy editors, the definition has blurred a lot. Someone hiring you for copy editing online could expect you to perform a variety of editing tasks.
It’s important to know what all these types of copy editing are so you and your client understand and agree on what your job really is before you start working.
6 Types of Copy Editing
There are many different types of freelance copy editing you can do. Here’s a look at the main types of copy editing services I’ve encountered as a freelancer over the years:
1. Line Editing — Line editing involves editing content sentence by sentence with the goal of improving the quality of writing overall. It can include making changes to spelling, syntax and grammar. Line editors also ensure language is consistent, concise, and easy to comprehend.
2. Proofreading — In the traditional editing world, proofreading involves reading the printer’s proof of written material and marking errors. Content has already been edited and just needs a final check before publication. 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.
3. Fact-Checking — Some authors will ask you to help with fact-checking, especially for fiction work. Instead of editing grammar, spelling and syntax, you’ll focus on the content of the story, making sure any places, dates, depictions and historical events mentioned are accurate.
4. Rewriting — In the freelance world, rewriting is often considered a form of editing. Rewriting involves recreating a piece of content so that it’s unique and passes plagiarism checkers. A client could ask you to rewrite something for a lot of reasons. For example, they might not like the voice of the original content, or want to update it to be more relevant.
5. Developmental Editing — Developmental editing is the most in-depth type of editing out there. It involves “significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscript’s discourse.” This usually happens with early stages of a manuscript. Developmental editors are free to make criticisms of the story line and suggest changes to improve it. Developmental editors should have significant knowledge and experience with the specific genres they’re editing.
6. ESL Editing — 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. ESL editing is quite different than regular copy editing because it can take much more time to rework writing and fix errors. ESL editors are in high demand among university students and in business.
It’s important to know what kind of editing job you’re getting into before you agree to work on a client project. Some types of copy editing require more skills and time to complete. You can and should charge more for these services.
What Are the Requirements to Be an Editor?
I used to think you needed an English degree and special certifications to start freelance copy editing. I was wrong. Absolutely anyone can be a copy editor. I’ve done all sorts of editing and my background’s in anthropology!
The only real requirements to be an editor are an excellent grasp of the English language, spelling and grammar. It helps if you also have an understanding of the mechanics of good writing (fiction or nonfiction), word choice and style. If you have a passion for reading and knack for writing, lots of people could use your help as an editor. Attention to detail is a must.
In some cases, it’s valuable to know the rules to different editing style guides, such as Chicago, APA, or MLA style. You could also get certifications from reputable organizations to verify your skills. But 95% of online editing jobs won’t require any of this.
I’ve never used special credentials in editing gigs over the years.
Freelance Copy Editing Rates
At this point you’re probably wondering how much you can earn with freelance copy editing. How much you can charge really depends on the type of editing project and how much expertise is required.
There are several ways to set freelance copy editing rates: Charge by the hour, per page or per word. In order to charge per page or per word, you should first have a good idea of how much time it takes you to do different kinds of editing. That way you don’t accidentally underpay yourself for tedious work.
The Editorial Freelancers Association has a helpful table that shows a range of fees for different kinds of freelance editing:
These fees are really just guidelines. You can easily earn a lot of money copy editing if you specialize in certain genres, niches, and types of editing.
How to Get Started Freelance Copy Editing
You’re probably wondering how to start out as a freelance copy editor. It’s actually quite easy to begin. It doesn’t matter if you want editing to be your full time job or just something to supplement your income. You can get started within a week.
Here’s what you need to do:
1. Get samples of your editing work
It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a degree or special certification in editing. All you need are samples of your editing work to illustrate your skills.
Don’t have any samples of your work?
No problem. You can create them.
Start by collecting some content in your main editing genre, preferably something that’s first draft. If you’re planning on being a fiction editor, make sure it’s a fiction piece. If you plan on being a technical editor, make sure it’s technical content, etc.
If you have friends or family that are writers, you can ask their permission to edit one of their early draft pieces. If you can’t find someone with content that needs editing, then you can offer to do a small sample edit for free for clients you pitch online.
Once you have some content to edit, create two copies and use track changes to show the edits you made in the document. With the author’s permission, you can use it as a sample of your editing work. It’s worthwhile to have several different samples from different kinds of writing.
2. Clean up your online presence
The next thing you need to do is update your social profiles. You need to decide which of your social profiles will be private, and which you’ll use to promote your freelance editing business. For example, you might add freelance editor as a new job title on LinkedIn.
When potential clients are trying to learn more about you, they’ll often turn to Google and social media. You don’t want them checking out your Facebook page if it features photos of you drinking at parties. Nor do you want them to see your Twitter page if most of your tweets are political rants. Either clean up your social profiles so they contain nothing off-putting, or set them to private so potential clients don’t see them.
Lastly, Google yourself and go through the first few pages of search results. If there’s anything that comes up for your name that’s irrelevant or seems unprofessional, make efforts to get the content removed.
3. Set up a professional website
The last thing you need to do is create a website for your freelance editing business. Lots of people think creating your own website is hard, but you can really do it in a day if you want. You don’t need to have any special technical skills to do it. It’s also not very expensive at all.
If you want step-by-step instructions for setting up the perfect website for freelance work, my course will teach you everything you need to know.
In my experience, having a professional website is the most important step on the road to success as a freelancer. I didn’t have a website when I first started pitching clients. Once I created one and shared the link in my pitches, I immediately got way more responses.
Most people never bother creating a freelance website so if you take the time to do it, you’ll really stand out as a professional when applying for gigs.
Examples of Freelance Editor Websites
Not sure what kind of media you should put on your freelance editor website? It’s best to get some inspiration from other successful editors. I’ve rounded up a few freelance editor websites that I really like as examples:
Mary Kole has a simple website explaining her editing services and experience in the industry. She has just a few basic pages in her navigation bar: Home, services, resources, rates, and about.
What I like most about Mary Kole’s website is her rates page. It details exactly what she charges for different editorial services:
You don’t have to publish your rates on your website (I don’t). That way you can decide to charge more or less based on the type of client and their budget. But it is a good strategy to publish your rates if you want to ward off potential low-budget clients from contacting you.
Rhonda Merwarth’s website is very cute. I like the color scheme and font. It’s also refreshingly feminine (which I’m not, ha!). Her site includes a home page, about page, service page, FAQ, and a page about her own writing. If you’re a writer yourself, I think it’s great to showcase that on your editor website.
Rhonda got creative with her domain name (RhondaEdits) instead of naming it after herself (e.g. CourtneyDanyel.com). That’s a smart move because her last name isn’t very common, so people might not know how to spell it. Choosing RhondaEdits makes it more memorable for potential clients.
Inspired Ink Editing is another website for an individual freelance editor. She just chose to name her editing business differently instead of using herself for branding. You can do this too if you want.
Her website is just a basic white and the logo is really simple. There are a couple of things I really like about the site. One, she has a great visual portfolio that includes examples of her published edited works. She organizes these by genre:
Once you start working with your first clients, ask permission to receive a byline as official editor for their book. Then once it’s published, you can create a visual portfolio like this one.
The other thing I like is that she includes her Editorial Freelancers Association Membership as a credential on the bottom of her site:
As I mentioned before, you don’t need any credentials to get started in editing. But if you do have a certification or membership, you should showcase it on your site. The Editorial Freelancers Association offers an annual membership for $145/year.
Amy Koerner’s site is a great example of a freelancer website for a combined writer/editor. She’s bilingual (English and German) so she has versions of her site in both languages. Nice job of catering to her audience’s needs!
My favorite thing about Amy’s site is the header. The language she uses shows personality and I like her call-to-action. I also really like her services breakdown:
Highlighting different landing pages on her home page makes it easy to navigate and learn more about the different kinds of services she offers.
How to Find Freelance Copy Editing Jobs
Once you’ve created your freelancer website, you’re ready to launch your copy editing business. But it’s important to remember that setting up your shingle is the first step on the road to success. Next you actually have to market yourself and get potential clients to check out your website.
Luckily, there are lots of freelance websites, agencies and platforms out there that can help connect you with freelance copy editing work. Here are some options to find editor jobs:
- Cactus Global
- Cambridge Proofreading & Editing
- Pure Content
- Research Square of American Journal Experts
- Writer’s Relief
Some of these sites are freelance platforms where you need to sign up and apply for editing gigs. Others are agencies that will provide editing clients for you. Each has their own benefits. I recommend trying out a few different platforms to see which is the best fit.
I love being a copy editor. It’s an easy niche to get into, there’s plenty of gigs, and it’s really easy to work from anywhere. If you’re looking to get into freelancing but are not sure where to start, editing is a great gateway niche. Many successful freelancers (such as myself) started out with editing then moved into other niches. Others just stick with editing because it’s easy and they love the work. Either way, you can’t go wrong starting a freelance copy editing business.
If you follow the advice outlined in this post, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful freelance copy editor. If you need more guidance each step of the way, I can help you.