If you’re a writer looking for an additional source of revenue, you may want to consider proofreading or editing. This is not to say that just because you can write you can edit (or vice-versa), but if you find you have a knack for it–and enjoy it–it can be a great way to bring in some extra money while your writing business is gaining momentum, and it can provide an excellent source of industry connections.
There are essentially three categories of editing, all of which are quite different from one another. Typically if you get hired for a project by a publisher, you would be expected to do only one of these three. If you are working for an independent author or a small business, then you may do all three. The three categories are as follows:
1. Content editing–In content editing you are looking at the big picture: For nonfiction this would include overall flow and organization of materials, paragraph structure and construction (do all paragraphs stick to one thought or theme or are they scattered?), passive vs. active voice, style, clarity, etc. For fiction you’d also be checking for use and consistency of dialogue, story arc, conflict, resolution, story pacing, and character development.
Your job as a content editor is to make sure that the writing reads well overall, makes sense, and has a logical flow. Content editors will re-arrange paragraphs, cut scenes that don’t work, and add text to give the writing clarity.
2. Copy editing or line editing–While the copy editor will make note of any of the above content editing issues, the focus here is more on sentence structure, proper grammar, precise wording, and fact checking. By the time the copy editor gets the manuscript from the publisher, the “big picture” stuff should be ironed out. It’s the copy editor’s job to go through the manuscript line by line (hence the job title) and work on individual sentences and wording. Also, if there are quotes used or other references in the text, the copy editor will check those for accuracy.
3. Proofreading–This is the final stage of the editing process, and most publishers have 2-3 proofers that will read a manuscript before it heads to print. At this point, you will be looking for spelling mistakes, words used incorrectly, punctuation errors, typos, consistency with heading/subheading styles, and, at the final proof, formatting issues. If you are a detail-oriented person, proofreading can be fun. If you’re not, it’s a nightmare!
If you think you may be good at one or all of the above and want to try your hand at it, one good way to break in is to contact publishing houses and ask if they use contract or freelance proofreaders and/or editors. In all cases, they will give you a test, which involves editing a sample manuscript according to their house style guides and other resources they use (AP style manual or Chicago Manual of Style, for instance). It’s more common for publishers to hire freelancers for proofing and copy editing than for content editing, which they will typically do in-house.
Once you get in with one publisher and prove yourself, it’s easier to walk through other doors. Often you can “work your way up” as well, starting out as a proofreader then moving to a copy editor and then a content editor. Even though the skills are unique for each, and one isn’t “better” than another, there seems to be an unwritten rule that proofreaders are the bottom rung of the ladder!
Although classes do exist for editing–usually at community colleges or through writing workshops–the best way to learn is simply by practicing. You can also learn a lot by paying close attention to what edits have been made to manuscripts that you’ve sent to publishers. I always like to compare my original work with the post-edited finished product to see what the editors changed. Not only does that help be become a better writer, but I learn about the editing process as well.
There are also many online forums and networking groups strictly for editors. These can be an excellent place to ask questions about the industry, get editing tips, and find out where the jobs are.
Don’t discount editing if you think you might be good at it. I’ve landed many writing jobs as a result of the in-house editors getting to know me first through my editing/proofing skills.