5 minute read

Copy Editor Job Description, Career as a Copy Editor, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College

Salary: Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook: Varies—see profile

Definition and Nature of the Work

Editors strive to make the text of newspaper articles, magazine features, and books error free. Copy editors edit for mistakes in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. They also check a manuscript for form, length, and completeness.

All publications have what is called a "house style." House style is the publisher's set of rules concerning spelling, punctuation, grammar, and many other elements of style. The most important part of any house style is consistency. A copy editor must make sure that any given house style is observed without fail. For example, if the word "theater" appears on page 15 of a book manuscript, the copy editor must notice that it is spelled "theatre" on page 134 and fix the error. A copy editor also makes sure that other style elements in a publication such as the headings and captions are consistent.

A copy editor often acts as a fact checker and must be familiar with the reference works and information sources of the trade. On many publications, the copy editor is responsible for seeing that the names of people, places, and organizations have been spelled correctly. A copy editor may also ensure that data or addresses are up to date or that any questionable facts or details have been rechecked. Since all this work must be done quickly to meet deadlines, a copy editor must be both accurate and fast.

Most copy editors are employed by publishers of magazines, newspapers, books, and other printed materials. Others work for full-service production houses, which provide complete editorial and production services. Many copy editors are freelancers and work on a job-by-job basis. The publishing industry is not the only employer of copy editors. Many businesses, government agencies, and universities—wherever print materials are issued—also need the services of copy editors.

Education and Training Requirements

In high school and college, interested students should work on the yearbook or newspaper and take courses in writing and journalism. A college degree is essential for a copy editor.

A thorough knowledge of English grammar and spelling is also important. Knowledge of another language or field, such as medicine or engineering, may also be useful on a specialized publication. Teachers sometimes move into textbook publishing in their subject area or grade level. Some schools teach copy-editing for those who want to enter publishing. Many schools offer courses in proofreading and magazine and book editing as well. To advance, copy editors need on-the-job training. In publishing, employees learn by doing.

Getting the Job

Interested individuals usually start out as editorial secretaries, editorial assistants, or researchers. These positions require reading, proofreading, and keying manuscripts and will give prospective copy editors a picture of how publishing really works.

Candidates with experience in or special knowledge of another field may be able to start with freelance assignments in that field. Two helpful tools in finding publishers in various fields—the Literary Market Place (LMP) and the Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media—can be found at most medium- to large-sized public libraries. The publications departments of universities and foundations and some commercial firms also hire copy editors, even though publishing is not their chief business. Any organization that issues catalogs, reports, or newsletters will need copy editors from time to time. The newspaper's classified section and job sites on the Internet list opportunities for copy editors.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

How far an editor goes in publishing depends largely on their talent and their place of employment. Small book and magazine publishers and local newspapers offer faster advancement than larger publishers. Good copy editors in small companies may be given more responsibility in working with manuscripts and may even begin to take part in planning the direction of the publication.

On the other hand, large publishing houses are slow to promote employees, including copy editors. Copy editors who work for large publishers may remain in their jobs long after becoming qualified for a promotion. They sometimes need to take jobs at other houses in order to advance.

There are always more qualified editors than editing jobs, and the publishing field reflects the ups and downs of the economy. In addition, the competition is especially stiff for jobs on popular magazines and newspapers and with large book publishers. The best opportunities will be for those capable of editing technical, business, and trade publications. Also, new opportunities will arise from the Internet, as more companies are publishing material on Web sites and in online publications. Advertising and public relations agencies will also offer opportunities for new jobs.

Working Conditions

Working under great stress is common in every media organization. Copy editors work long hours and have constant deadline pressure. Copyediting also requires painstaking attention to detail and demands double and triple checking. Frequently, copy editors must work late at night, especially on the night before a publication goes to the printer. At many newspapers and magazines, a copy editor is the last person to work on a piece of copy before it goes to production, which increases the pressure.

Where to Go for More Information

American Copy Editors Society
c/o Carol DeMasters
38309 Genesee Lake Rd.
Oconomowoc, WI 53066

Editorial Freelancers Association
71 W. 23rd St., Ste. 1910
New York, NY 10010-4181
(866) 929-5400

Newspaper Association of America
1921 Gallows Rd., Ste. 600
Vienna, VA 22182
(703) 902-1600

The Newspaper Guild
501 Third St. NW, Ste. 250
Washington, DC 20001

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary widely, depending on the individual's experience, responsibilities, and place of work. Freelancers work on a project-by-project basis, and their income will vary from year to year. According to the Editorial Freelancers Association, median hourly wages for freelance copy editors range from $20 to $35. Salaried copy editors' earnings range from $28,000 to $45,000 per year. Book publishers generally offer lower salaries than magazines and newspapers. Copy editors on newspapers may reach an annual salary of $65,000 per year. Full-time employees receive health insurance and paid vacations. Part-time workers or freelancers must provide their own benefits.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCommunication and the Arts