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How to Become a Copy Editor

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How to Become a Copy Editor. A copy editor reads a manuscript with care, querying or correcting errors in grammar, word usage or sense; resolving inconsistencies; and often marking the manuscript for the printer. If you enjoy reading and writing and have a great ear for language, you may enjoy being a copy editor.

Begin in high school and college by taking as many English and literature classes as possible.

Consider that a good education in a broad array of subjects will also serve you well. General knowledge about a vast number of subjects is invaluable to a copy editor.

Work for your school's newspaper or literary magazine; even if you're not copyediting, it's useful to learn about the process of putting together a newspaper, magazine or other publication.

Take advantage of any faculty advisors the publication may have. Tell them about your interest in becoming a copy editor; they might be able to help you develop your skills.

Read books that inform you about editing and the publishing process. One of the best is "Words Into Type."

Take a class in copyediting if at all possible (many are offered through local colleges). Here you'll learn concrete skills such as copy editor notation.

Decide whether you are most interested in copyediting books, magazines, newspapers or Web sites.

Decide whether you'd like to work for a single publisher or for several; some copy editors work "in-house" for one employer, while others work on a project-by-project basis for various publishers.

Apply for copyediting jobs that you find through local job listings. If you've taken a copyediting class or two, you might be hired without experience if you can pass the copyediting tests.

If you haven't been hired for a full-time job, or if you'd rather work as a freelancer, look for companies that need freelance copy editors. Who gets these jobs is often determined by the results of a copyediting test, which might work to your advantage if you don't have any experience but you're able to do the work.

If you still haven't succeeded in getting a copyediting job, consider applying for a job as an editorial assistant. These are typically entry-level jobs that require you to do a lot of clerical work, but they can get your foot in the door if nothing else is working.

Read, read, read. The more you read, the better equipped you will be to make good editorial judgments.

Tip

If you have an area of expertise other than editing - perhaps you speak Spanish, understand quantum mechanics or once attended cooking school - look for publishers that specialize in that field. That gives the publisher an added incentive to hire you, even if you aren't the most experienced copy editor applying. Many employers and clients will prefer copy editors with some tangible experience. Fortunately, there are a variety of websites and online communities which can provide you with an opportunity to establish a portfolio of copyediting credits.

Warning

If you're a frustrated writer who would rather be writing your first novel, copyediting is probably not for you. Copyediting requires that you keep your own writing instincts in check and respect the style of the author who wrote the manuscript. Copyediting is not a particularly well-paid profession. People who are successful at it typically do it for the love of working with words rather than for the love of money.

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