Have you ever read an article and encountered a glaring typo, or been annoyed that an ad was missing pertinent information? If you notice these kinds of errors in text, you would probably make a great copyeditor.

Copyeditors, also called proofreaders, are professionals who review text in newspapers, magazines, journals, books, advertising, and online to ensure what is written is free of errors. Beyond that, copyeditors also make sure the text reads well and targets the appropriate audience.

Some companies hire copyeditors just to ferret out errors, while others may ask their copyeditors to intensively review the publication and even rewrite the text. At some publications, copyeditors work closely with writers, suggesting minor and even major changes to improve the text. At other companies, a copyeditor’s only interaction with the writer may be handing him marked-up copy to revise.

Copyeditors usually base their edits on a style guide, which is a document that lays out exactly how words must be spelled, abbreviated, capitalized, and so forth. Style guides ensure the consistency of all text in a publication or on a website. It can be jarring to the reader, for example, to have a state spelled out in one sentence only to have it abbreviated in another.

In some fields, such as print journalism, it is standard practice for all publications to use the same style guide. If you seek a job in these industries, be prepared to demonstrate that you are intimately familiar with these guides. There tends to be more variety among the styles of Internet-based publications, and you may have to develop a style guide if you are the company’s first copyeditor.

Most employers want copyeditors to have an English or journalism degree. Even without a degree, however, you can become a copyeditor. Some college English courses in literature and composition, as well as writing and editing experience, will improve your chances of landing a copyediting position. Some employers will want to see clips, which are samples of your writing, before hiring you. They want to ensure that you can produce quality writing before hiring you to improve others’ texts.

An easy way to gain both editing and writing experience is to work for local newspapers and magazines. Many volunteers begin to build their portfolios by producing college newspapers. You also can volunteer your editorial services to small local newspapers and magazines. These publications often run on shoestring budgets, operated by just one or two people. These owners tend to be grateful for a free extra set of eyes on their copy.

Most copyeditors work for companies, though you can work as a freelance copyeditor after spending a few years in a salaried position. An entry-level copyediting position pays about $25,000 per year, which is actually a bit higher than many beginning journalism jobs. Copyeditors for technical or highly specialized publications such as medical journals tend to earn more than those who review consumer publications like newspapers. Seasoned copyeditors can earn up to $70,000 annually.

Being a copyeditor does have its downside, however. Some writers can be difficult to work with and may resent your changes to their work. It can also be tedious and boring to edit drier publications such as software manuals, and you must be able to live with a writer getting credit for a published article that you polished from mediocre beginnings.

Copyeditors are editorial alchemists: they take authors’ raw texts and turn them into literary gold. They must then be content to let others take all the credit. It is this innate humility, along with copyeditors’ willingness to help others reach their potential, which makes them the unsung heroes of the publishing world.


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