How to Become a Copy Editor

The role of the copy editor is to oversee the finalisation of text before it is published. Working to perfect the language and flow of content intended for books, journals and websites- the copy editing profession is an attractive proposition for individuals with an excellent standard of English who enjoy challenging, immersive and creative labour.

Requiring professionals to work to tight deadlines whilst playing extremely close attention to detail, copy editing is a role suited only to those with the ability to hold concentration over long periods of time. Well-formed written and spoken communicational skills are also a valuable asset, given the need to provide constructive feedback to writers.

The Job

Copy editors are essentially responsible for preparing a writer or authors work for publication. They do this by reading through the content (book, manuscript, journal entry, web article) and highlighting/altering any faults there are with the spelling, grammar or punctuation.

The day-to-day task list of the typical copy editor may look a little like this:

-          Make corrections to errors found during a proofread

-          Checking a texts length and making sure it fits the publishers requirements

-          Making sure content is in-fitting with a publisher/publications house style

-          Checking narrative, flow and meaning of text

-          Authenticating quotes, references, picture captions

-          Proofing for potential legal issues (libel, breach of copyright etc.)

-          Resolving queries with the author

-          Consulting with author upon issues encountered

Nowadays it is most common for copy editors to work on a computer to check for and amend any errors. However, it is still possible for the process to be carried out upon a physical hard copy- particularly in the case of novels and manuscripts.


Salaries for in-house copy editors working for a single publisher usually start at around £16,000 per year. As the editor gains more experience and is entrusted with larger and more sensitive/priority projects, this will rise to £25,000 and above.

Freelance copy editors (as many of them now are) of course enjoy the benefit of setting their own rates. Whilst the Society of Editors and Proofreaders do suggest certain minimum hourly rates, publishers are not indebted to meet these numbers.

Qualifications Required

It is very rare to encounter a working copy editor that doesn’t hold a degree of some kind. Whilst most subjects are accepted by publishers providing the candidate can showcase proof of their aptitude with language, those centred upon the publishing industry and media are likely to yield the best results in any job search.

If a candidate wishes to gain employment in a specialist area of publishing, then it is more than likely that they will require a related degree. For example, finding work as an editor who proofs intensive history copy will prove easier with a history degree.

Experience Required

Gaining experience in any field of interest is always a good idea if the end goal is to gain employment within it. The publishing industry functions heavily around the process of networking and link-building. So if a candidate can amass one or two shining recommendations before they’ve even graduated- their chances of securing employment once they do is greatly increased.

Working as a freelancer in the field is one sure way of building a list of contacts, as is volunteering in-house with nearby or particularly renowned publishers. Membership of organisations such as the aforementioned Society for Editors and Proofreaders shouldn’t go a miss either, as they provide a unique platform for building a useful network- not to mention expanding your personal knowledge and expertise!




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