Freelance writers who are considering other services to offer clients often glance at copy editing and proofreading with contempt. Copy editing does not focus on improving the author’s own writing style and voice that make his article unique. Rather, copy editing encompasses the technical side of writing; this includes:
1) carefully analyzing the fundamentals of proper writing and grammar; and
2) verifying facts and meanings of words (especially technical, medical, or foreign words).
Copy editing does not stem from freelance writing as a whole, but stands by itself as a genuine career—and an enjoyable one as well.
To enjoy success as a copy editor, you must learn how to work with different house styles and popular style guides. With a few exclusions, editors of tabloids, newspapers, trade journals, magazines, and digital media expect you to proof and edit in a uniform style, both to correct writers with careless spelling and word use and to verify uniform language. (This is essential with print publications like newspapers and news-style websites: the names
and titles of international politicians, businesses, and other foreign-vernacular are sometimes derived by alternative spellings.)
Popular Style Guides for Copy Editors
The foremost widely-used style guides consist of: APA Style (American Psychological Association), AP Style (Associated Press), MLA Style (Modern Language Association), and Chicago Manual of Style (sometimes referred to as Chicago/Turabian Style). Any aspiring independent copy editor should own an updated edition of each these guides, and fully familiarize themselves with style usage prior to apply for any copy editing jobs. Potential hiring managers will not employ copy editors whose understanding of style guides is absent.
Verifying facts is yet another key skill to hone, because it protects a publication against allegations of defamation or falsification. Checking and verifying the accuracy of facts is a straightforward process: contact the writer of the article, request his or her primary and secondary sources, and, if justified, contact the sources directly to verify quoted dialogue or fact-driven data. Different publications may have varied methods for verifying facts. The employer should clarify how to check sources from outside writers when you accept a job. Sometimes the publisher will have its own staff of fact-checkers, eliminating the need for copy editors to check facts.
The key skills to succeed as a copy editor is possessing an acute awareness to awkward terminology and wording, sentence structure, spelling and punctuation—as well as an awareness to an author’s individual writing style and voice. Many rookie copy editors approach their work too vigorously, effectually reworking the writer’s article to match style guides, and sometimes imparting their own recommendations about what stipulates as high-quality writing. This isn’t the purpose of a copy editor. Indeed, clearness, correct grammar, and fixing other writing blunders are all critical, but a writer’s reputation is valuable too. Editing another writer’s piece of work too stringently can distance a publisher’s staff of writers, and eventually, develop universal hostility.
Because reworking someone’s write-up leads to extra work, it makes no sense to do it. Instead, aim to attain adequate clearness while restricting yourself to rework and rewrite completely the original article. If you think any sizeable area of text suppresses clarity or shows extreme technical errors, then speak with the writer personally prior to correcting and tweaking changes. Indeed, it’s an added measure, but one that guarantees mutual respect between you and the writer.
Types of Copy Editing Jobs
While many copy editors do on-going copy editing projects for publications, you do not have to go this route. You can apply to other average-paying jobs for organizations, corporations, ad agencies, website publishers and private individuals and entrepreneurs. Academic journals always hire competent copy editors; and book publishers, direct mail catalogs, and literary journals frequently employ freelance copy editors. You can uncover a variety of jobs by browsing classified ads (both online and offline), or by directly contacting the company, a temp. agency, or an ad agency. You will clash with competing copy editors for these jobs, so knowing how to sell yourself during an interview and having a portfolio of “before” and
“after” samples are necessary for obtaining work. With some completed copy editing jobs in your portfolio, you may desire to apply to higher-paying jobs with corporate copy editing, as it can offer a steady revenue stream.
Applying to Copy Editing Gigs
Applying to copy editing gigs provided by individuals are another alternative; it can supply you with a more diverse portfolio of work. Copy editing for individuals lets you approach a project with a more laid-back mindset toward style manuals and layout concerns. But this alternative bears some serious cautions.
Typically, copy editing for individuals may involve ghostwriting without proper pay, and pay rates can be questionable as well, varying from low to nothing (with a pledge of “future jobs,” possibly.) When work is steady, low pay may not be an issue, since individuals can seldom ensure an adequate amount of work. Before you agree to any copy editing assignments, figure out how much money the client must pay you for you to earn a profit. Also estimate the number of hours you might need to complete the assignment. Refuse less than your hourly rate. You might receive less jobs with this strategy,
but clients won’t swindle you either.
Editing copy for individuals and companies is an excellent, in-demand writing job. You can triumph in this discipline if you fully understand style guides, and firmly grasp the “know-how” of sentence structure, spelling, and correct style usage.