When you picture your perfect day, does it involve lounging around on a chaise longue (or, if your imaginary self is not that fancy, a couch) with a whisk-you-away novel in one hand and a cup of tea in the other?
What if that could be your reality – not just on your days off, but every day?
Okay, so it won’t be exactly like that – but it’s about as close as you can get while still making a living. (Unless we’re talking about getting a millionaire spouse or a winning lottery ticket involved, but really, where’s the challenge in that?)
What I’m talking about is creating a fiction editing business. Where you’ll not only get paid to read books every day – but also to make them better.
If you ever catch typos when you read books – and subsequently feel a bit smug about it – this could be the career for you.
If you think getting a book for Christmas is just the best thing ever, this could be the career for you.
And if you envisage a world in which you never have to leave the house again, except when you really, really want to, this could be the career for you.
But just how do you get into it?
How to Get Paid to Edit Books
There are two routes to becoming a professional editor: working in a publishing house and going freelance.
I’ve done the publishing-house thing. It’s hard. Hard to even get a foot in the door. And once you’re in, you’re at the bottom of a tall ladder that takes years to climb. The first few rungs involve a lot of admin: dealing with email, photocopying stuff, and all manner of mundane chores the higher-ups like to pass down. You don’t get to do much work with actual words. And, I don’t know about you, but the words are what I came here for.
By going freelance, you get to dive straight into the words. This route is hard too, of course, but in a different way. You’ll still have to deal with email. In fact, you’ll have to deal with pretty much everything: communicating with authors, scheduling projects, invoicing, bookkeeping, finding new clients, and everything else that comes with running a business. (But you probably won’t have to do any photocopying, which is nice.)
If you like the thought of working near books but not with books, please continue down the path of finding work in a publishing house. Alternatively, if you want to take matters into your own hands and forge a career where you actually get to work with words – keep reading.
How I Became a Freelance Fiction Editor
It all started when I was studying for my BA in English Literature with Creative Writing. The writing modules all involved workshopping – giving feedback on other students’ work. It turns out I was pretty good at it. My teacher asked if I’d considered editing as a career.
So I thought, ‘Yes, I’ll be an editor, because I enjoy it and I’m good at it. And people do that. Editing is a thing.’ And then I figured, ‘Okay, editors work in publishing, so I’ll get a job in a publishing house.’ And then I did – I became the assistant to two commissioning editors at Pearson (which owns Penguin).
It wasn’t what I expected. Instead of using my creativity and passion, I was spending my days poring over textbooks and drowning in email. My dreams of working with authors closely, in an authentic way – of helping them craft the best pieces of literary art possible – faded.
I wanted to do work that mattered to me, and I wanted to do it on my own terms. Floundering, I quit my job and started an MA in Creative Writing. I also resumed an insanely comprehensive copy-editing course I’d started previously. I didn’t know where this was all leading yet, but I just knew working in a big publishing house wasn’t right for me.
My MA rekindled my love of fiction and I realised that was the direction I wanted to go in. I decided to combine what I was learning in my copy-editing course with everything I’d learned through studying fiction, then go out and offer my fiction editing services as a freelancer. It took a lot of hard work, but eventually I got there.
What Life’s Like as a Freelance Fiction Editor
I now make a living from my business, earning an average of £35 an hour and getting booked up months in advance. I get to spend my days helping to perfect speculative fiction novels, which I love. I also never have to get up at a certain time or commute in traffic, and I have the freedom to work when and where I want. I even spent most of 2015 travelling around Europe and working from my laptop.
I ease myself into my days with a cup of tea or three, then I plug in my music. From there, it’s just me and the manuscript. I turn off all notifications and get absorbed in the work. Basically I get paid to read stories, but with the satisfaction of correcting grammar as I go.
It wasn’t easy to get to this point, though. I made many mistakes, including:
- Undercharging – so, so badly.
- Not having terms and conditions or contracts.
- Not using Track Changes.
- Not being clear about what my clients could expect, which led to some nightmare situations (there may have been tears).
- Being too formal and presenting myself as though I were a big company instead of being honest and authentic.
- Soooo many other things.
So yeah. It’s been hard. Mostly I just had lots of ‘is this the right way to do this?’ moments, which were stressful and confusing. It was tough to figure it out on my own, and I spent a lot of time second-guessing myself and trying to copy how other people were doing things (made even more confusing by the fact that everyone does things differently).
I was also scared – of so much! Will I make enough money? Will I get any enquiries? Am I good enough to do this? Should people trust me with their books? WILL people trust me with their books? How does all this work? AM I DOING THIS RIGHT?
Fortunately I’ve now figured out how to do this in a way that works for both me and my clients. I now charge more and am confident in quoting. I’ve rebranded completely, so I cater only to the genres that interest me. I’m a lot pickier about the clients I take on. I don’t work with people if I get bad vibes from them. I know my own pace and am more disciplined in my work.
Basically, I’ve shaped the business around me.
The thing is, there is no ‘right’ way to do this. There’s only the way that’s right for you. It’s taken me a long time to understand that.
And I want to share that knowledge with you. That’s where this course comes in. If you’re cut out for this, that is.
Taking the course has given me the skills and confidence to launch my career as a fiction editor. Without the support, guidance and expert advice offered by Sophie I would still be dreaming the dream instead of living it.
Do You Have What it Takes to Become a Freelance Editor?
As you can see, this is possible. Unfortunately, it’s not possible for everyone.
Here are a few reasons this course might not be for you:
- Your grammar is terrible
If you’re going to be taking other people’s precious books and tinkering with their words, you really need to know what you’re doing.
- Your English isn’t great
If you’re not fluent in English, becoming an English-language editor is a bit of a strange choice.
- You don’t like being alone
Freelance editing is a solitary job, so if you need a lot of human interaction this may not be the wisest move for you.
- You don’t like reading
I’m just going to give you a blank stare and wonder why you’re here.
- You’ve never caught a typo in a book
They’re there. In pretty much every book. (Editors are human, after all.)
- You don’t care about making your clients’ work better
This is mostly because I cannot stand the idea of sending subpar editors out into the world; if that’s you, I don’t want to show you how to do this. Please don’t sign up.
There are lots of things you’ll need to know to start your own freelance fiction editing business, of course, but I’ll be able to guide you through it all during the course.
However, there is one thing I don’t teach on the course – and that’s grammar. Well, spelling, punctuation and grammar if you want to be precise about it. Going into this, you should already have an impeccable grasp of grammar. Because how can you expect to be a competent editor – whose main job is correcting grammar – when you can’t even put an apostrophe in the right place?
You don’t have to be perfect, though. For one thing, you can always reference grammar books. And secondly, there’s no such thing as perfect when it comes to grammar; so much of it is subjective. Thirdly, didn’t I just tell you that even professionally published books have typos?
Loving the course and the incredible detail you are providing. This truly is a course about starting an editing business! So far you’re doing exactly as advertised and I appreciate it. You’re making me feel as if I can actually have a business running by the end of this course … which I know is what you promised but with so much false advertising these days you can’t blame me for not entirely believing it! Keep up the good work. Your integrity is a great example for how we should all be running our businesses.
Don’t You Need Editing Experience to Go Freelance?
Obviously it’s not going to hurt if you’ve already got experience of working in a publishing house. But it’s definitely not mandatory. I mean, I don’t use most of what I learned in my job to run my business.
The same is true of the giant all-encompassing copy-editing course I took. I don’t use 80% of what I learned, and, god, that course was intensive, time consuming, and overwhelming. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take any other courses to bolster your knowledge. But this course will show you everything you need to get up and running.
If I went back to the start, I would bypass my publishing house job altogether and just start my own thing. I’d still take courses, but I’d find the courses that were right for me. You don’t strictly need any official qualifications or credentials, especially if you want to work directly with authors, which is what this course is about. You just need to be competent in what you do. But don’t worry, I will recommend various additional resources to help you up your game.
The course is incredibly well written and covers a lot of bases that you may not have thought of. Sophie’s feedback is always clear, helpful and generally very lovely. Start Fiction Editing has given me the confidence and guidance to start my own fiction editing career.
How the Course Works
This course is specifically designed to help you set up a freelance fiction editing business in which you work directly with authors to help them get their books ready for publication.
There are two editions of the course available: guided and self-study. Here’s the difference:
The Guided Edition
The guided course runs for 6 weeks, and each week you’ll be sent a new PDF containing all the information you’ll need to understand how to set up and run your business, along with various additional materials to help you get going.
You’ll also be set homework each week, which I’ll give you detailed, personalised feedback on. The homework ranges from editing assignments to building your website to figuring out how much to charge, among other things. My goal is to help you get everything set up so you’re ready to start doing this by the course’s end.
You’ll also get access to a private Facebook group, where you can get to know your fellow students during your tea breaks. BYOB.*
* Bring Your Own Biscuits.
The Self-Study Edition
The self-study edition is exactly the same as the guided edition, but for three things: 1. You won’t get any one-on-one email contact with me. 2. You’ll receive all 6 weeks of materials as soon as you make your payment, which means you can get started right away and go at your own pace. 3. It’s a lot cheaper. You’ll still get access to the Facebook group though. Self-study sales are only open during registration for the guided course.
The Course Content
Introduction: The Editor’s Role
In this introductory module, I’ll teach you the basics of the fiction editing world, including the different types of editing services you could offer, a snapshot of the publishing industry, and the fiction editor’s role and responsibilities.
You’ll be sent this as soon as you sign up for the course, but you can also get it right now if you fancy a sneak peek – just enter your email in the ‘Get Email Reminders’ box below.
Week 1: How to Edit a Manuscript
I’ll walk you through the actual process of editing, including how to use Track Changes, how to use style sheets, and how to edit without damaging the author’s voice.
Week 2: Defining Your Brand
If you want to be successful at this, you need to brand your business effectively. This covers everything from the type of services you offer, the genres you work in, your own particular editing style, and the design and voice of your business. I’ll help you figure out what this should look like for you.
Week 3: Making Your Website
It’s time to take your ideas from the previous two weeks and turn them into something tangible: I’ll walk you through how to create your website step by step. Don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as you think – and I’ll be there to help you with any technical snags.
Week 4: Setting Your Rates
Figuring out what and how to charge your clients is a daunting task. Fortunately, we’ve got a whole week devoted to it. I’ll walk you through the different methods you can use to figure out your rates, as well as what an appropriate amount to charge is.
Week 5: Working With Clients
You now know everything you need to run an editing business … except how to actually work with clients. That’s what we’ll cover this week. We’ll touch on everything involved in the process of working with clients: quoting, invoicing, scheduling work, terms and conditions, communicating with clients, your legal responsibilities, and everything in between.
Week 6: Getting Work
And it’s crunch time! In the final week, we’ll go over exactly how to get clients. I’ll show you all the different methods you can use to find and win clients. We’ll also give your website a final polish to make sure it’s ready to go.
Bonus Material: Working with Publishing Houses
This course is about working directly with fiction authors who want to prepare their books for publication. However, another route you could take as a freelance editor is working with publishing houses. I’ve put together this bonus guide to show you how that works.
Bonus Material: Extra Resources
This resource pack contains information to help you further your editing career. It includes details about useful editing societies and networks, style guides, books, blogs, and other editing courses.
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Who’s teaching this course?
The course is created by Sophie Playle of Liminal Pages and Karen Marston of Untamed Writing. As I – Sophie – am the one who actually runs a fiction editing business, most of the course materials are written by me and it’s me who you’ll get your one-on-one email tuition with.
So what’s Karen’s role, exactly?
Karen’s input is mostly behind the scenes; she deals with things like sales copy, refining and formatting the course materials, and sharing her business knowledge – in particular her knowledge about marketing and running courses. This means that if you’ve taken either of her freelance writing courses, you’ll know roughly what you’re in for in terms of the structure of the course!
Is this a scam?
Yes. Give us your money.
That was a joke, silly.
Can I pay in instalments?
Not at the moment, no.
Are there any additional expenses?
You’ll need enough money to buy your website’s domain name and hosting. This usually comes to around £60/$100. Aside from that, there’s nothing else you’re required to buy, though I will recommend various books, style guides, society memberships, and other courses that you may find helpful in your future editing career. Oh, also, ideally you’ll have Microsoft Word, which you may have to pay for if you don’t already have it. But there are free alternatives available if you can’t afford it just yet.
How much money can I expect to make?
It will take a while to build up your income, but it’s definitely possible to make a living from this. People do, after all! Personally I make around £35 per hour, and I know people who’ve been freelancing for years who make £40–50k a year. The suggested minimum rate for copy-editing, according to the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, is £26.50 per hour.
Are there enough clients out there?
Yes, definitely. The self-publishing industry is growing at an alarming rate. That’s why there are so many shitty Kindle books out there. THE INDUSTRY NEEDS YOU.
How much time will this require?
You should set aside at least 6 hours per week, though it may take longer depending on how fast you work and what the specific homework is that week.
Can I do this alongside my day job?
Yes. Both the course and freelance editing itself. The beauty of freelancing is that you can slot it in around your other responsibilities, and you can choose how much work to take on.
Can I do this while I travel?
Does it matter what country I’m from?
Nope! There are publishers all over the world, which is a good sign. Plus, self-publishing is all done on the internet. You could even work with authors from other countries if you wanted.
Can I specialise in a certain genre?
You certainly can!
Do I have to take your course to make this work?
Nope, but it’ll sure darn help.
Am I guaranteed to make my money back?
No guarantees in life! (But if you do it properly and make a go of it, it’s extremely likely. You could even make your money back from a single project.)
Is this suitable for me if I’ve done other editing courses?
Yes. You can never do too many editing courses.
How is this course different?
This course is broad rather than narrow. A lot of editing courses are focused on one specific issue and go really into the details of it. Whereas this is like, here are the essentials you need to know to get up and running. There are courses on editing fiction and courses on running an editing business, but I think this is the only one that combines the two. So it’s value for money – two in one! Like shampoo/conditioner. Which is usually terrible, so I take that analogy back.
I already have some knowledge of editing/running a business/making a website/something else covered in the course. Is it worth signing up?
YES. Ha, just kidding. It totally depends, of course. For example:
If you already run a different type of editing business:
The course will focus on building a fiction editing business from scratch – so it’s not as suitable if you’re looking to incorporate fiction editing into your current editing services. But if you want to switch to editing fiction? This course could certainly be right for you.
If you already know how to build a website:
That’s awesome, but we’ll be looking at building a website specifically to attract fiction editing clients, rather than just ‘how to put a website together’ – so perhaps there will be useful components for you there.
If you’ve mastered Track Changes:
Go you. It’s a vital skill to have, but we’ll also cover how invasive your edits should be based on the service you’re offering and your own defined style of editing – that kind of thing.
In short, I can’t fully answer whether or not this course is right for you. Best thing you can do? Have a think and go with your gut. The gut always wins, except when you eat three-day-old Chinese takeaway.
I already have a freelance writing website. Can I just add my fiction editing services to this?
It’s annoying, but I seriously don’t recommend doing this because writing services and fiction editing services are aimed at totally different markets. It doesn’t make sense to try to appeal to both of them with one website – you’ll just end up confusing people and appealing to nobody.
What about if I remove all reference to writing services – can I just transform it into my fiction editing site?
That depends on what your current domain name/URL is. If you think editing is the route you want to go down, it’s best to get a domain name that reflects that. Branding is super important, after all! So if your current domain name has ‘writing’ in it … yeah, you’ll probably need a new one. Soz!
I already have some other sort of freelancing website. Can I just add my fiction editing services to this?
Are you even listening to me at all?
Will the course include critiquing?
No, the course won’t focus on critiquing – that’s a much more advanced service that requires a different set of skills. The main focus of this course is copy-editing, with a hint of line editing. (If you’re unsure what the difference is, enter your email in the ‘Get Email Reminders’ section further up and I’ll send you the introductory module that explains everything for free.)
How long does it typically take to edit a book?
It takes me about two weeks to edit a book of 80k words. This could be quicker with a lighter edit or a proofread, or longer with a heavier edit. Everyone edits at different speeds, though, and you’ll find your speed changes as you gain more experience. We’ll cover this kind of thing in more detail during the course.
How do you trust yourself to take on someone’s book and not totally mess it up?
Obviously taking courses, getting experience and receiving good feedback helps a lot. You’ll almost certainly feel some level of imposter syndrome in the beginning, but there are ways of coping with it. For example, conducting a sample edit is a good way to show a potential client what you can do – and if they’re happy with it, you can be happy with it, too. We’ll talk more about building up your confidence, experience and skill set during the course. And don’t forget you’ll get a chance to do some practice editing during the course, with feedback from me.
This ‘giant all-encompassing copy-editing course’ sounds important. Can I be a good editor without a heavier editing course?
Yes. I don’t use most of what I learned in that course. A lot of it was to do with marking up paper proofs using special proofreading marks (which you don’t need if you’re editing digital documents) and editing things like tables, references, figures, graphs, recipes, instructions, etc. – really not relevant to fiction! Although I do think the more you can learn, the better, so I’ve put together some suggestions for further learning in an extra resources PDF, which is delivered at the beginning of the course. Saying that, if you’re a grammar whiz, Start Fiction Editing will teach you everything you need to get going without having to do any further courses.
I don’t know much about writing fiction. Can I still be a good fiction editor?
You don’t need to know anything about story structure or how to write poetic prose to be a copy-editor or proofreader. You’ll need to know a little about writing craft to be a line editor. You’ll need to know a lot to be a development editor. But Start Fiction Editing focuses on copy-editing, so that’s no problem.
How will freelance editing affect my own fiction writing pursuits?
It depends on the type of person you are. For instance, I find it difficult to focus on my own writing if my head is in someone else’s manuscript, but there are ways to deal with this – like working on your own writing before you start working on someone else’s, or editing one day and writing your own stuff another. Plenty of editors manage to keep up with their own writing just fine. In fact, they feel it makes both their writing and their editing better because they’re seeing the work from both sides.
WHY HAVEN’T YOU ANSWERED MY QUESTION?
Ahh, I don’t know! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get right on that.
This course takes you through all the necessary steps to launch a fiction editing business. I spent a year trying to gather all of the same information and do all the necessary steps. Now, I am ready to launch after just two months with this course. The feedback from Sophie is invaluable!