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Who Can Become a Copy Editor and What to Expect From the Job

When talking about occupations, it is best to talk about money first. Not because money is the most important thing but because money is a relative value when comparing other occupations. Zippia reports that a copy editor in America makes an average of $48,669 per year, equal to $23.50 per hour. The lowest 10% make $32,000 per year. The highest 10% make up to $73,000 per year.

In the order of the highest-paid salaries, the best states for good-paying editor jobs are California, Alaska, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Delaware. For those who work in positions that require going to the office in person, the best cities for the highest pay are San Francisco ($70,167), Washington DC ($68,541), and Anchorage, AK ($66,927).

Don’t worry if you do not live in those areas. Many editors work remotely. You can land a job from a high paying company even if you do not live in the immediate area. Getting a remote position was a bit challenging before the pandemic; however, now it is the norm. It is much easier to work as a remote worker.

Many projects need the help of a freelance editor. These projects are usually compensated on a rate per word. For example, to earn $20 per hour at the rate of two cents per word, you will be editing 1,000 words per hour. If you go slower, you will earn less. Anyone can pick up these freelance projects and earn a few extra bucks. I started this way and was paid $7 for my first job. I did not need any particular experience or resume, just the ability to do the work to a client’s satisfaction.

Nomadic workers who love traveling can find freelance work and complete the work from anywhere in the world that has a decent Internet connection. Working for a company based in the United States or the UK while living in a country with a low cost-of-living creates a wonderful life. I know. I have been doing this for more than 25 years!

How important are editors? Let’s explore that concept.

Stop the Presses!

If you watch a vintage movie that shows scenes about the newspaper business, you may see the phrase “Stop the Presses!” uttered by the Editor in Chief when an exciting news item breaks that requires a change of the front-page headline. A professional editor is a person who has the job of writing headlines and making sure all the published content is spelled accurately and is grammatically correct.

I learned the value of using an editor when I printed 10,000 copies of a brochure for my new company that had in bold, large font size, centered on the top of the back page the phrase OUR PROFESIONALS over two photos of the founders (one photo was mine).

Did you notice that “profesionals” is misspelled? It is missing one letter “s.” When I proudly showed my new fancy, four-color brochure that cost me $1 each to print, my mother turned it over to read the back, and within a few seconds, said, “the word professionals is mispelled.”

I was devastated because I had 10,000 of them to give away! Of course, trying to impress potential clients that we were professionals who advertised ourselves with a brochure that prominently featured a spelling mistake was not going to work at all.

We had to discard all of those brochures. My mother, never one to waste anything, used them at the bottom of her bird cages. She teased me by saying that the birds enjoyed pooping on the photos to cover up the mistake, which added to my humiliation!

I corrected the error and then printed the brochures again, causing me to waste $10,000. This was a time when money was so precious for my startup company, so it was a painful mistake.

I never forgot that lesson. Thereafter, before I printed anything, I hired a professional editor to review and edit it until it was perfect. By the way, did you also notice that mispelled in the quote from my mother, written four paragraphs above, is misspelled? Perhaps you didn’t. However, if you noticed it immediately, you may have what it takes to be an excellent editor.

It’s Not Your Grandma, It’s Your Grammar

I could be forgiven for making a spelling error because this story is from over 45 years ago, during the late 1970s, when spell checking and a copy editor’s role was a task done by people, not software. The first spell checking software was not available on PCs until the 1980s. The first one, Wordcheck for the Commodore PC, was offered in 1981.

Nowadays, when making professional documents, not using a spell-checker is foolish. Even better are the advanced grammar-checkers now available. My favorite is Grammarly, which is available for free and also offered as a premium paid service. The basic free service corrects common grammatical mistakes and misspellings. The paid service gives sophisticated grammatical improvements as suggestions to improve your writing.

Software such as Grammarly or English Grammar Checker and others use artificial intelligence software and machine learning that constantly improves the accuracy of the program’s grammatical corrections. If the software can do all of this, why is there any need for people working as copy editors? Because people are special.

Why Machines Will Not Replace a Human Copy Editor

As a professional writer/editor, I am frequently asked by clients if I am worried about being replaced by a machine. This is the most fun question to answer because I do not have any personal contacts with clients that are not text-based (emails and instant messages). They never see my face on calls, so my answer astounds them. I simply respond, “How do you know that I am a human?”

When personal computers became popular, one thought was that they would help create the “paperless” office. However, the opposite occurred. The expansion of personal computer sales came along with an expansion of copy machine and printer sales too. A mountain of paperwork could be created so easily that the volume of paper documents increased dramatically.

A similar thing is happening with artificial intelligence applied to the writing profession. I already use it to augment my efforts. Can you tell if a person or a machine has written this article? It is an example of both being used. I use Grammarly to correct the spelling and grammar; however, all the text is created by me, a humble human being. I am both the writer and the editor in this case. My skills are augmented by the computer tools, not replaced by them.

Are you talented enough?

My motto is “Don’t think, write. There is plenty of time for reflection when you read what you wrote.”

I wrote millions of words and edited many millions more. I did so much of this work that I lost count. And I never suffer from writer’s block because I always work on a deadline. I work when I am grumpy, happy, sleepy, or feeling like any of the other seven dwarfs. The hours pass, the keys are hit, and the work gets done. Next.

Being a Writer and Copy Editor

As a professional writer, the key to a successful career is to become both a content creator as a writer and an editor to improve your work. You may apply this to your own work or do separate projects in either area.

Many writers find it easier to proofread and be the editor for another writer’s work. There is the phenomenon of inattentional blindness, also called “mental blindness.” This might occur if you try to proofread your work. What another person will immediately see a glaring mistake you may overlook because your mind plays a trick on you and fills in the correct word for the mistake.

Generalization is a function of the higher mind. It’s how we recognize patterns in the world.

Here is an example of how easy it is for the mind to interpret things. Can you read the following sentence?

Sh_   w_nt   t_   th_   st_r_   t_   g_t   a   lo_f   _f   br_ _d.

Most people can easily decode that abbreviated sentence to understand it says, “She went to the store to get a loaf of bread.”

To avoid this problem and others, here are some tips to improve editing done by a human:

  • Change the text size, font, and background color before proofreading the work. This creates what scientists call disfluency and makes any mistakes more prominent.
  • Read the words slowly.
  • Move the mouse from one word to the next to read it carefully. Focus on reading the words, not on reading complete sentences or phrases. Use the mouse movement to circle each word.
  • Read the text out loud.
  • Take a break from reading something and come back to reread it an hour later.
  • Notice any obvious pattern of mistakes.

Many writers make the same mistakes repetitively, such as using the word “then” for “that.” If you find then that you do that, then that is then your problem. Type this sentence three times fast. See if you can get the “thens” and the “thats” in the correct order and spelling.

To quickly deal with such repetitive errors, after finishing the first draft, run a global replace. Change the incorrect word with the correct one, using the “find next” button to choose to replace or not.

Obsessive, Compulsive, Meticulous, Perfectionists are Welcome!

An annoying habit that may cause frustration in another part of your life might be exactly the skills you need to become a five-star professional editor. You really want to have the necessary internal drive to take a piece that you are editing and make it perfect. You want to be able to do this without changing the meaning of the original writing. Get a copy of the Complete English Grammar Rules to use as your reference guide.

Being compulsive about eliminating 100% of any spelling and grammatical mistakes is an advantage. Grammar-checking software gives a perfect score when the software does not find any spelling or grammatical mistakes. It is a fun game to see if you can use your skills as a copy editor to take a piece of writing, edit it by hand, and then run it through the editing software to get a perfect score on the first pass.

After decades of writing, I have not yet been able to type something perfectly on the first draft. My mind works too fast for my fingers to keep up. However, on occasion, I have been able to edit some written work and receive the cherished 100% score for getting it perfect on the first try when checking it with software.

Please note that editing software makes mistakes too. I found that relying on an editing software program and accepting all changes can introduce errors as well as correct them. This often happens when the meaning is subtle, and your word choice connotes a special meaning. I found that to have a perfectly-polished, well-edited piece requires a human editor to read and correct the final version to fix mistakes introduced by the software.

Working on Style and Substance

A copy editor works on more than simply getting the writing technically correct. There are many jobs that an editor does to edit a piece for length, style, and substance. Many publications have a specific style. Written submissions may not follow the style guide accurately. Sometimes writers introduce “fluff,” which is better eliminated since it does not convey anything significant.

An editor who works for a publication with a certain style does plenty of re-writing to massage the content to meet the organizational guidelines. If you are lucky, you might become an editor who works with a celebrity. You may even get a co-writing credit for doing this work. Many famous people do not have the time needed to write a book but have the fame needed to sell one. Keep that in mind when hunting for projects.

Summary

Copy editing is not for everyone because any form of writing/editing is mostly solitary work. This work is best done by those who like to work alone and don’t mind spending long hours every day typing on a keyboard. Nevertheless, for those who enjoy working from home and working alone, being a professional editor is terrific work.

One extra benefit is there was more work in response to the pandemic. My workload doubled! When all the famous people who I know suddenly had extra time on their hands at home, they were able to focus on creative writing projects that we wanted to do together for years.

Read More: What is Your Favorite Book? The Answer to this Interview Question Will Reveal a Lot

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