How to Start Your Own Book-Editing Business

"Editing is like killing your story and then very slowly bringing it back to life." —Jean Oram

Starting your own editing business is an exciting experience full of hair-pulling and teeth-grinding—if you're starting all on your own with absolutely no advice from any professionals.

I've owned Curiouser Editing for over three years now and have been in the professional editing world for six years. I've learned a few things since owning an editing business, and I'd like to share them with you.

1. Decide why you want to edit books.

“For the money, duh!”

Um. Next, please.

I love editing and I love books. That's why I started Curiouser. I wanted to do this every day for the rest of my life. I can’t think of anything more fulfilling than walking an author through the publishing process, only to one day hold that book in your own hands.

If you’re just wanting to get into editing because you “want to be your own boss” and “work from home,” then I suggest a different career.

This job can be exhausting, but it’s so rewarding.

2. Pick a business name that you love.

When I decided on Curiouser Editing, no one in my family liked the name. Not one person. But I loved it because it showed off my personality, and I appreciate the irony that curiouser isn’t really a word, and it precedes editing.

I will caution you not to get too crazy with the name, because you need to think in terms of advertising. Is my name so long that I can’t get a Twitter handle? Is my URL available for purchase? Will it be too difficult for people to type out, resulting in a misspelled business name? Yes, I’ve had that happen with Curiouser, so I’m cautioning you here.

And if you’re not interested in the name game, just use your own name: Jane Doe Editing.

3. Apply for your business license.

Simply visit your secretary of state’s website and look under their business services. You’ll need a license to practice the law . . . of editing.

4. Write a catchy tagline.

I’m on my third tagline now, because we grow throughout this editing journey. It’s okay if the tagline changes—just make sure the mission never changes.

5. Start a website to showcase your services.

I started out with a free WordPress site until I could afford a Go Daddy website, and then I made the switch to Squarespace. If you have a budget, it’s okay to use a free hosting service.

Your website should have an about page, a services page, a contact page, and a blog if you’re so inclined.

6. Write your bio.

Your bio should showcase your talents as an editor, show off your unique personality, and most importantly, be beautifully edited. Was that last one too obvious?

Related: Does Your Bio Tell a Story?

7. Get a nice headshot.

If you can’t afford to pay for a photo of that pretty face, that’s fine. But start saving up because it’s worth it to show off your professionalism. For now, you can have a friend take one, but make sure that it’s high-resolution and free of any unnecessary “editing” (like blurring the photo to create a vignette, adding Word Art above your head, or graying out the whole photo minus a red rose in the center). 

8. Make a list of your services.

What kind of editing will you offer? Just copyediting, or will you offer developmental editing too? Make a list of your services and expound on them a bit so potential clients know what they’re getting.

For the most part, many authors have no idea what kind of editing they need. Some of them will simply call it proofreading, which is not synonymous with copyediting.

Also, are you a nonfiction editor? Fiction? Both? Only specific fiction genres? Make sure that's clear on your website.

9. Start up social media.

Word of mouth is still the best form of advertising, but it comes in a different shape now: through social media. Don’t feel like you have to be on every single platform, though. Choose the ones that you enjoy the most, and market yourself well.

10. Decide on pricing, but don’t starve yourself.

The worst mistake editors make is agreeing to work for free so they can get exposure. The second you head down this path, it’s difficult to leave it, as that’s the kind of word-of-mouth advertising that’ll be sent your way: "She edits books for free!" You don’t need to start your prices super high—but don’t starve yourself either.

I recommend reviewing the prices on EFA.

If you’re stuck in the mentality that you have to work for free to build up your clientele, then follow #11.

11. Find an editor to mentor you.

Aside from just being a major help to you as you enter the editing world, mentors can also shadow you—and pay you—on their own projects.

I find this to be way more helpful than figuring out the editing world on your own, or worse, just doing work for free to learn the game.  

12. Purchase a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style.

I have the hardback and the online versions. Use what works best for you. It’s probably safe to assume that you’ve already had experience in the copyediting world if you’re wanting to start your own business, so you’re probably familiar with CMOS. If not, then I suggest taking some editing classes while also being shadowed by an editor.

Learn this now: editors are not spell-checkers. We make books readable and salable. So just because you know how to punctuate well doesn’t mean that that’s all the book needs. It could need your expert opinion on sentence structure, plot holes, and voice. Be prepared for that.

13. Befriend other editors.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to be afraid of the competition. Did you know that many of my book projects have come from—gasp!—other editors?

There’s so much support from them too. In our Editor Alliance Facebook group, we’re constantly helping each other with hyphenation rules, apostrophe abuse, and grammar faux pas. You’ll need a community to help you.

Related: 11 Reasons to Befriend Your Competitors 

14. Get a contract.

Do not start one single project unless there’s a contract. What does your contract need?

  • The details of the project
  • A timeline of payment
  • The payment amount (and payment plan if there is one)
  • Interest that will be tacked on if they’re late paying
  • The word count (why? Because if you start a project at 45,000 words, and when the author sends it over, it’s 60,000 words, you will need to amend the price)

15. Be comfortable with firing your client.

Learn this now, editor friend: you will one day have to fire your client. Not because you’re a bad person, but because the project or author is a bad mix.

You have to decide what you're willing to deal with, so to speak. And if you don't want to deal with an unkind, unprofessional client, then it's okay to fire said client.

Related: 6 Reasons to Fire Your Client

16. Subscribe to Angela Hoy’s Writer’s Weekly.

Like clockwork, every Wednesday night, I’d go through Angela’s list of the latest freelance editing jobs and apply. Not only does she offer a list of the most recent editing and writing jobs, but she also has helpful articles on writing and publishing as well as news in the publishing world.

17. Put your name out there.

This means telling everyone you know that you’re now accepting editing clients. Notice how I didn’t say: “I’m an editor now! So if you know anyone who needs editing—”

Blerg.

Start out as a professional from the very beginning. Not years down the road when you have the hang of things. (Anyone picking up on the fact that I learned these hard lessons for you so you don’t have to learn them the same way I did?)

I don’t recommend Upwork, as the jobs take forever and a day to complete and the pay, if there is any, is abysmal.

If you want editing jobs, network, network, network. Join Facebook groups and talk to people. Update your LinkedIn account and reach out to authors. Go to writing conferences and introduce yourself. 

18. Set boundaries with your clients.

This may come as a surprise to you, but you do not have to answer your client’s email within 45 seconds. They’ll be all right. Nor do they need your cell number so they can text you at 10:00 p.m. asking, “Are you almost done with my edits?”

Answer in a timely manner, sure. But don’t make ole Bob think he’s your only client. Because when it’s time for you to juggle several clients at once, you need to already know that it’s okay to answer at a more convenient time.

19. Invest in yourself.

This means purchasing books that teach you and keep you up-to-date on writing. If there’s a course you’d like to take to help you brand yourself or teach you more about characterization so you can use that on your projects, do it.

Invest your time as well. Subscribe to only the influencers who will help you in your editing/publishing journey, and invest time in reading through those emails so you can learn. I suggest Jane Friedman, Joanna Penn, and Positive Writer.

20. Give yourself grace.

You won’t always be on your A-game. There might come a time when an author says, “My book is full of errors. What happened? Did you even edit it at all?”

Here’s what you need to know:

1.     Either you’re overworking and overextending yourself, and need to space out your clients and rest your weary brain/practice self-care, or

2.     You’re not quite where you need to be on a particular skill level, so it might be time to apply #19.

21. Learn about plagiarism.

“You mean, you’ve actually had to deal with clients who plagiarized?” More times than I’d like to admit. It happens, and you need to be prepared to handle it tactfully.

Here are a couple of tips to help you determine when someone is plagiarizing:

  • The font or font size suddenly changed. That’s a good giveaway that they copied/pasted. If you happen to notice that all the apostrophes went from smart apostrophes to straight, that’s a good indicator too.
  • The grammar and spelling is suddenly correct. If you’ve been editing like a mad person and suddenly, the content needs hardly any editing, might want to check for plagiarism.

You can use this resource to check or you can simply copy/paste their content into Google to see what it picks up.

What else would you like to know about starting your own book-editing business? Leave a question in the comments!

Recommended Reading:

Starting Your Career as a Freelance Editor

The Freelancer’s Bible

On Writing Well

The Elements of Style