In this article
What does a book editor do?
Book editors read, review and edit manuscripts from authors. They may edit words, punctuation, style, voice, overall story, mechanics, pacing and formatting to ensure an author’s writing is clear and without errors. Having excellent attention to detail and fact-checking ability is a must.
There are four main types of book editors: copy editors, development editors, line editors and proofreaders. They can specialise in various areas, such as book genres, and may choose to edit other publications. Some may decide to focus on editing the whole life cycle of a book or particular stages of development. Therefore, what they do will depend on their specialisms.
A book editor’s aim is to work with authors to help them improve their manuscripts to increase their chances of getting published and having a successful book. They will carry out many tasks, including collaborating with authors, reading, reviewing and editing, checking facts and sources, determining publishing potential, providing feedback and opinions, meeting deadlines, attending meetings, liaising with publishing personnel, etc.
Book editors can work with many people, such as editorial directors, project managers, senior book editors, editorial assistants, marketing personnel, graphic designers, proofreaders, publicity personnel, etc. They will also liaise with external stakeholders, including one or more authors, literary agents, publishing houses and publishers.
Book editors can work in offices for different-sized companies, from large publishing houses to small publishers. They can also be self-employed and work freelance from home on a contract for authors or for themselves.
A book editor’s responsibilities will depend on many factors, including who they work for and their role.
Some examples of their day-to-day duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Acquiring manuscripts for review.
- Meeting with authors and working closely with them on the manuscript content.
- Collaborating and building relationships with authors and other personnel.
- Reading, reviewing and editing manuscript content.
- Identifying and correcting errors, e.g. spelling, grammar and punctuation.
- Checking facts, citations and sources for accuracy and legitimacy.
- Identifying any legal issues, e.g. copyright or libel.
- Confirming the text meets the requirements of editorial guidelines and the publisher.
- Providing feedback and opinions to authors.
- Determining which manuscripts have the most publishing potential.
- Meeting publishing deadlines for manuscripts and managing schedules.
- Going to regular meetings with the publishing team to keep them informed on scheduling and any issues.
- Liaising with other book publishing personnel, such as editorial assistants, graphic designers, marketers and proofreaders.
A book editor’s working hours are highly variable and will depend on whether an individual is employed or works freelance. They can expect to work 37–39 hours a week, but they can do more or fewer hours depending on the requirements of their role and the company’s needs. If book editors work freelance, they will usually set their own hours.
Book editing is not usually 9-5, as there will be deadlines to meet, which may require working evenings, weekends and bank holidays.
Some roles will be full-time and permanent, and others temporary or contract. There may also be flexible working options for book editors, e.g. part-time, job share, remote and homeworking.
Travel may be a requirement for a book editor if they need to meet with authors and publishing teams. There may also be overseas opportunities for some individuals. However, these are rare.
What to expect
There are many positives to being a book editor, especially if individuals have a passion for books, reading and writing. Reviewing manuscripts and helping authors write well and get published can also be rewarding, especially if their book is popular or a best seller.
It is a good fit for those who do not want or cannot do physical work. Book editors spend most of their working time inside offices or at home. Working from home can also be a perk for some and give them a decent work/life balance.
Being self-employed with your own business or working freelance and having an opportunity to be your own boss can be attractive. It can give individuals the independence to take charge of their working day and overall career progression. The start-up costs can also be low; in some cases, individuals may be able to do it as a side job.
Boredom will never be a problem for book editors, as each story they read and review will differ, and authors’ writing styles will vary. They can also meet and collaborate with authors and publishing teams, which can be interesting.
Even though there are positives to being a book editor, there are challenges and cons, e.g.:
- Mental demands – the role is not easy, as they need to really concentrate when reading and checking. Book editors work hard and must meet deadlines, which can often be tight. They must be able to give authors constructive criticism, which can be difficult if the author disagrees with their feedback. There is also a lot of responsibility and pressure on book editors, which some may find stressful.
- Computer work – a lot of computer work is involved in book editing, which can mean a significant time sitting down for long periods. The work can be time-consuming.
- Low pay and competition – the salaries for entry-level book editors can be low compared to other careers. If individuals work as freelance book editors, work is not always guaranteed, so there can be fluctuations in income. It can be challenging in the beginning for book editors to get paid for work. Individuals must stand out and demonstrate their experience to earn a decent income in this career.
- Future career prospects – technology is constantly advancing, and many proofreading apps and websites exist. These technological advances could also be extended to entire book editing in the future, which individuals should bear in mind.
It is important to note that a book editor’s role is not to change an author’s books. If an individual wants to get involved on this level, it may be worth having a go at writing their own book.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is for them. Being a book editor can be mentally demanding, there is a lot of computer work, and salaries can be low. However, there are many positives too, and those who become book editors have a passion for books and working closely with authors.
When considering whether to be a book editor and the type of role, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a book editor
Some of the personal qualities a book editor requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- A passion for books, reading and writing.
- A discerning eye for details.
- Knowledge of the English language, spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax.
- Knowledge of publishing.
- Knowledge of data protection, copyright and libel legislation.
- Knowledge of current trends, developments and audiences.
- Knowledge of social media.
- Sensitive, understanding and empathetic.
- Confident, assertive, determined, motivated, persistent and resilient.
- Honest, trustworthy and with integrity.
- Objective and non-judgemental.
- Excellent communication skills, both verbal and written.
- Customer service skills.
- Critical thinking skills.
- Problem-solving skills.
- Listening skills.
- Writing skills.
- Observational skills.
- Time management and organisational skills.
- Interpersonal skills.
- Research and investigative skills.
- Being thorough, accurate and having excellent attention to detail.
- The ability to deal with conflict.
- The ability to be flexible and adapt to change.
- The ability to work well with others in a team and alone using their own initiative.
- The ability to develop and maintain relationships.
- The ability to give constructive feedback and accept criticism.
- The ability to work quickly and efficiently, prioritise different demands, multitask and meet tight deadlines.
- The ability to use initiative.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to use the computer and relevant software packages proficiently.
Qualifications and training
There are many different routes to becoming a book editor. Individuals could go to university or college, enrol on a course with a private training provider or apply for an apprenticeship. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.
An individual does not need a degree to become a book editor, but most in the role usually have a degree. An undergraduate or postgraduate degree in a relevant subject can help individuals stand out.
Some examples of the topics that may increase their chances include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Media or communications.
- Creative writing.
- Digital media.
If individuals want to specialise in editing specific genres, it may help them to have a degree in that field, e.g. science for scientific books. It is important to note that, at this time, there are no specific editing degrees.
The entry requirements will depend on each university; individuals should check before applying. They will typically need two/three good A Levels for an undergraduate degree or a certain number of UCAS points. Postgraduate degrees usually require a 2:1 or 2:2 in a relevant undergraduate degree. Some institutions also invite applicants for an interview as part of the selection process.
Undertaking a college or private training course can help individuals become book editors.
Some examples are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- Level 2 Diploma in English language.
- Level 3 Diploma in Digital Publishing.
- Level 2 Diploma in Media and Journalism.
- Level 3 Diploma in Journalism.
- A Level English language.
Individuals usually need:
- Level 2 – two or more GCSEs grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent.
- Level 3/A Levels – four/five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent.
Private training companies may also offer courses, including the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) and the Publishing Training Centre. There are also publishing schools specialising in book editing. Some offer training on how to be a freelance book editor.
It may also be worth enrolling on low-cost online short book editing courses to see if the career would be of interest. That way, if not, it will save an individual a lot of time and trouble. Even community courses can count.
Courses and qualifications do not guarantee a role as a book editor. However, it will demonstrate to employers, companies and authors that the individual is keen on the job and may give them a competitive edge. Always check the entry requirements before applying.
Individuals could do an apprenticeship to help them get into the role, e.g. a publishing assistant advanced apprenticeship. Individuals usually need five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English and maths. Some employers will set their own entry requirements.
Opportunities are found on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed.
Relevant work experience, either paid or voluntary, can help individuals stand out and build their knowledge and skills. To gain experience in editing and proofreading, they could start work as an editorial assistant or junior editor at a publishing company or apply for other publishing or editing entry-level roles. Qualifications may be necessary for some jobs.
Some companies may offer internships or trainee roles. Individuals will still need a good education and demonstrate a passion for books. Most job sites advertise trainee roles and internships.
Individuals may be able to work with recruitment agencies on temporary contracts in administrative work or work part-time as a freelancer. They may also be able to apply for a job at a publishing house or publisher in another role and learn on the job.
There may be volunteer opportunities where individuals could gain experience and help build their portfolios. They could write and edit articles for student and community newspapers, local publications, small businesses and websites.
Charities and community schemes may need volunteers to write and edit publications and websites, help them with social media, etc. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.
Individuals may also find it useful to gain experience by reading different published books, critiquing them, and even writing their own.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training companies can provide relevant training courses.
Some examples of courses that may be useful for individuals looking at a career as a book editor include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Office health and safety.
- DSE awareness.
- Workplace stress.
- Health and safety for homeworkers.
- Equality and diversity.
- LGBTQ+ awareness.
- Data protection and the GDPR.
- Customer service skills.
- Complaints handling.
- Time management skills.
- Resilience training.
As mentioned, there are also courses specific to editing and publishing.
Professional bodies and associations, such as the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), the Society of Editors, the Independent Publishers Guild, the Society of Young Publishers and other organisations, can also advise on reputable training courses.
Some also provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become book editors and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.
The type of training required will depend on who an individual works for and their specialisms. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for roles. Jobs are on websites such as GOV.UK find a job service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Bookseller Careers & Jobs, Bookbrunch, Penguin Random House Careers UK and many other sites. Also, look at recruitment agencies for temporary and contract roles.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities for individuals. Refresher training is also advisable as it keeps their knowledge and skills up to date.
Being self-employed or freelance
Individuals can choose to become freelance book editors.
They can set up their own website offering their own services or join a publishing community where authors can find suitable book editors, for example:
If an individual decides to be self-employed, they will have additional responsibilities.
- Have the correct insurance, i.e. professional indemnity and business. If employing anyone, employers’ liability insurance will be required.
- Register with HMRC.
- File tax returns.
- Register with the ICO to hold personal data (to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR).
Further advice and guidance on being self-employed can be found on GOV.UK.
If an individual decides to be self-employed, they will need to factor in certain costs, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- IT and office equipment.
- Professional memberships.
- Joining a community.
- Training and CPD.
- Supplies, e.g. office.
- Marketing and advertising.
Where do book editors work?
Book editors can work for various companies and individuals, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Large publishing houses, e.g. Penguin, Harper Collins and Pan Macmillan.
- Smaller publishers.
- Online publishers.
- Public bodies.
- Authors directly.
Individuals can also be self-employed with their own businesses or freelance, or work on temporary contracts with recruitment agencies.
Most book editors will work in offices, and there are homeworking opportunities. There are roles across the UK, and there may be opportunities to work overseas for some individuals.
How much do book editors earn?
A book editor’s salary is highly variable and will depend on their role, qualifications, experience, geographical location, employment status, working hours, specialist area, etc.
The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading has suggested rates for 2023, for example (these are subject to change):
- Proofreading – £28.65 per hour.
- Copyediting – £33.30 per hour.
- Substantial editing, rewriting, and development editing – £38.30 per hour.
- Project management – £41.40 per hour.
- Indexing – £29.75 per hour.
Some employers will pay a flat rate per piece of work.
According to the National Career Service, a copy editor’s average starting salary is £22,000 and £46,000 for those more experienced.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of book editing to specialise in
As stated previously, there are four main types of book editing, which are as follows:
- Development editing – these types of editors look at the whole manuscript and its overall structure, plot, character and form and will make suggestions to authors on how to improve it. They will usually charge a higher fee than other editors, as more work is involved. If developmental book editors carry out some line editing, it is known as substantive editing.
- Copy editing – this type of editing requires copy editors to ensure an author’s writing is clear, consistent and correct. They focus on the style and tone of a manuscript, check the content and determine if it is well written and correct any errors. It takes more of a scientific approach to writing, but they tend not to focus on the story’s content or plot.
- Line editing – these types of editors go through a manuscript line-by-line at the sentence level and will look at the consistency, style and overall readability. Their role is to ensure that each sentence makes an impact by improving the clarity to captivate readers. Line editing is more in-depth than copy editing and requires more interpretation from the editor.
- Proofreading – involves proofreaders reading the manuscript text and checking it to ensure there are no spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency or sentence structure issues. They confirm it is correct and complete before it is published, and they are usually the last line of defence for authors.
Book editors can also do editorial assessments to determine whether the manuscript needs editing. They may also focus on fact-checking when editing books.
Book editors can also choose to specialise in specific genres of books, such as:
- Non-fiction, e.g. self-help, travel, biography, autobiography, history, memoirs, philosophy, religion and spirituality, science, nature, medical, art, etc.
- Fiction, e.g. literary, science, crime, thriller, fantasy, horror, poetry, historical, children and young adult, classics, fairy tales, etc.
They may also be able to combine their role with other types of editing, e.g. publications, magazines and online content.
All specialist book editing roles require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. All book editors must have excellent observation skills and a passion for books, reading and writing. They must also have a good eye for manuscripts and determine which has the most publishing potential. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a company is looking for and a book editor’s intended specialist areas. Further training may be necessary for specialised roles.
If book editors do not do their roles correctly, they can miss errors and not identify poor manuscripts, increasing the chances of an author not being published or a book that does not sell well. In worse cases, it can result in unhappy clients, legal action and a poor reputation. Therefore, whatever the type of role, book editors must have the necessary competence to carry out the work professionally and correctly. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.
Standards, laws, products, trends, audiences and technologies are regularly changing. Therefore, book editors must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to carry out their roles effectively and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives book editors the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities, and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional body or association can help prospective and current book editors enhance their skills and overall career. They may offer different levels of membership, CPD, support and access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is an opportunity for career progression for book editors. With more training and experience, they could become a chief editor, senior book editor, project manager or manage a team. They could also move from a proofreading, copy or line role to a development editing one or move into editing different book genres. They could also decide to become self-employed or freelance.
Knowledge, skills and experience gained from being a book editor can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, they could move into other areas of publishing and editing, e.g. magazines, journals, TV, film or online. They may even decide to write their own book. Who knows, they could become the next Stephen King, J K Rowling or Dan Brown!