Pro Tips from Your Favorite Editors

CaTyra Polland and Cynthia Williams

Editing is art and science. Two editors can look at the same copy and use very different approaches to get it in the best condition. Though a colleague often can’t tell us the “right” way to do an editing task, sometimes, we can benefit from seeing how other professionals work. Here, Editor Knows Best and Outside the Book have curated some tricks of the trade from your favorite word nerds.

Adrienne Michelle Horn
Editor, I A.M. Editing, Ink LLC
Years editing: 7
Specialty: Line editing, copyediting
Type of material: Articles, blogs, dissertations, manuscripts

Do: Always inform your client of what type of editing is needed and why.

Don’t: Never return a draft to a client without reviewing your changes at least once. We are all human and make mistakes.

Amber Riaz
Editor, A4 Editing
Years editing: 14
Specialty: Copyediting
Type of material: Academic manuscripts, web content

Do: Find an editorial niche that makes you happy, so you wake up every day actually looking forward to your workday.

Don’t: Treat grammar rules as immutable/unchanging. Language evolves constantly, so editors must keep themselves informed of new ways of using words and phrases. A prescriptivist attitude to editing suppresses creativity

Andrae D. Smith
Specialty: Primarily nonfiction
Type of material: Self-help and personal development books

Do: Know your reading and editing pace and plan accordingly. Check your availability and never be afraid to ask for a sample to see if you can reasonably take on a project.

Don’t: Rush or procrastinate. Take on more than you can handle. Overbook or book outside of your skill level, even if you need the money. The worst thing you can do for your reputation, your business, and your clients is take on so much that you’re rushing to get done and you do a bad job. Each project deserves your full attention.

Chris Obudho
Editor and proofreader, CJO Writing + Editing LLC
Years editing: 25
Specialty: Substantive editing
Type of material: Everything from digital ads to scientific journal articles

Do: Read everything you can. Of course, read books about the business, process, and art of editing and proofreading, to keep your skills sharp — but don’t neglect other forms of prose: cookbooks, catalogs, random websites, dictionaries, “junk” mail/sales letters, old textbooks, etc. These seemingly weird sources of information can give you great insight into how words are used and how sentences are formed. Reading broadly also helps hone your sense of curiosity, which can build knowledge. This knowledge base can then be used to help you better understand what you’re editing. The broader your knowledge about various topics (you don’t have to be an expert!), the more you’ll be able to help (1) your author express an idea and (2) your reader understand that idea.

Don’t: Never forget why you’re editing or proofreading a particular document. It’s not about your ability to redline a document so it looks like a crime scene. It’s not about showing how smart you are. It’s not about making the author’s work “better” by your standards. The editing or proofreading is about the reader.

Crystal Shelley
Editor and proofreader, Rabbit with a Red Pen
Years editing: 4
Specialty: Line editing, copyediting, proofreading, sensitivity reading
Type of material: Novels

Do: Don’t settle for the existing style guide. Style guides are meant to be a reference, to aid us in making decisions for consistency. Sometimes, following the style guide results in choices that don’t suit the circumstance. This is especially true given how quickly language evolves through the work of advocates and social justice movements. Style guides and dictionaries don’t always keep up with how to style terms related to social identities and human rights. If we come across a style guide that’s outdated, we can ask that it be updated to reflect current guidance.

Don’t: Never assume you know everything. The best editors are curious and recognize when they don’t know something or aren’t sure. We are trained to look things up so that the story or the copy is as accurate and clear as possible. If we have any doubt, it’s safer to double-check and be right than to assume and get it wrong.

Debbie Innes
Editor and proofreader, Debbie the Editor
Years editing: 10
Specialty: Copyediting, proofreading
Type of material: Annual reports, website content, corporate reports, nonfiction manuscripts, children’s books, newsletters, brochures, members’ magazines, university student handbooks, media advisories and news releases

Do: If you’re a freelance editor, don’t accept a project with a very low rate, if you can help it. Your skills and experience are worth more than that. Know your worth.

Don’t: Never stop learning. (Most editors know this, but I’m saying it anyway.)

Erica James
Editor, MasterPieces Writing and Editing LLC
Years editing: 6
Specialty: Book coaching (which includes developmental, line, and copyediting)
Type of material: Book manuscripts, academic papers, professional writing, business copy, social media content, website content, digital products

Do: Operate in your gifts both proudly and boldly. Regardless of how many other editors are making their mark on the literary world, no one is making their mark exactly the same. It’s important to know what you do best and to do it well, without fearing the outcome.

Don’t: Don’t take on projects without a clear game plan. To ensure your clients receive high- quality work, it’s best to implement a process that reduces stress and allows you to complete tasks within a reasonable time frame. Editing can be tedious at times; therefore, it’s crucial to know how much of your time and resources will be needed for each project and to plan accordingly. Also, be willing to say no if a project doesn’t align with your process.

Jessica LeeAnn
Editor, Chocolate Readings
Years editing: 14
Specialty: Developmental
Type of material: Fiction and nonfiction manuscripts

Do: Be honest.
Don’t: Discount your rates.

Kassel Pierre-Jean
Editor, Razorfish Health
Years editing: 15
Specialty: Copyediting
Type of material: Print/digital ads, direct mailers, websites, banner ads, conference panels, white papers

Do: Find an editor who is better than you and learn from them. They don’t necessarily need to be a mentor. Just someone you feel has mastered the skill and craft of editing — someone you respect.

Don’t: Don’t be a narcissist. Never act like you know it all. There’s always more to learn, and language and grammar are always changing. Be humble.

Lakeisha Bell Cadogan
Editor, Freelancer
Years editing: 3
Specialty: Substantive
Type of material: Fiction and nonfiction manuscripts

Do: Continuously strive to become a better editor. In the same way that writers should be consistently honing their craft, we, as editors, need to do the same. Taking courses is great, but there are other options too, like reading books and attending seminars (in -person or online). Also, join editing groups on social media. It’s a great way to make friends and learn from other people.

Don’t: A core principle in my business is: Do no harm. As editors, we should never remove the writer’s voice when editing their work. Yes, we can make changes, but that doesn’t mean we should impose our personal views on the writer’s work. The primary goal is to help the writer achieve their best work.

Lourdes Venard
Editor and instructor, University of California, San Diego’s Copyediting Program and Editorial Freelancers Association
Specialty: Copyediting
Type of material: Fiction and nonfiction manuscripts

Do: Read, read, read — especially in the genre or subject area in which you edit or hope to edit. The late Amy Einsohn, who wrote The Copyeditor’s Handbook, said the novice should have a “well-tuned ear.” But this ear can be difficult to develop if you aren’t reading widely. And if you are editing fiction, join a book club. It forces you to read books you might not pick up, and it also is an education to hear how other readers feel about a book and the writing.

Don’t: Don’t be inflexible. Yes, there are grammar and style rules to be followed, but some of these are not set in stone. And even those set in stone can be broken at times. Novice editors often get so hung up on the “rules” that they miss what the writer is trying to achieve. Language can be playful; we, as editors, should allow for that and be open to how language is always changing.

Lyric Dodson
Editor, Editing by Lyric
Years editing: 6
Specialty: Copyediting
Type of material: Blog posts, nonfiction books

Do: If you’re working as a freelancer, get everything in writing! It can seem intimidating to write up a contract that hits all the important points, but it’s absolutely imperative that you do so. You most likely won’t encounter troublesome clients too often as you work, but there is a chance you will — and you want to be prepared if anything happens.

Don’t: Never undersell yourself! Setting your prices is one of the most important things you’ll do, so it’s incredibly important that you charge what you’re worth, no matter how “outrageous” you think your prices are. Remember, you’re charging not only for your time and expertise, but also for the potential return on investment your client can expect to gain in the long run. Don’t price gouge for the sake of making a few extra dollars, but don’t undercut yourself either.

Renee’ D. Campbell
Editor and proofreader, MyPen Syl Writes
Years editing: 15+
Specialty: Substantive editing
Type of material: Résumés, books (fiction, comedy, sci-fi, poetry), white papers, research papers, marketing material, presentations, infographics, websites

Do: Attention to detail is key when editing. Take the role of editor seriously, as the author is entrusting their words to you.
Don’t: Do not promise what you cannot deliver! Deadlines are key!

Taiia Smart Young
Editor, Smart Girl Media
Years editing: 26
Specialty: Developmental editing
Type of material: Self-help, memoir, personal development, spirituality

Do: Edit work that you have some experience with or connection to.
Don’t: Never be afraid to turn down a client.

CaTyra Polland, MA, is the CEO of Love for Words, an editing boutique. She is also a published author and the hostess/creator of Editor Knows Best Podcast.

Cynthia Williams is a department manager at Dragonfly Editorial and interviews editors of color at

Amber Riaz

Years editing: 8
Job title: Owner of A4 Editing
Job description: Editor, subject matter expert on South Asian literature, translator (Urdu to English)
Location: British Columbia, Canada


How did you get your current job?
I worked part-time as a copyeditor and content creator for four years before launching my full-time freelance business. I have worked as an academic and an instructor of academic writing, research skills, study skills, and feminist literary theory. I have been editing academic manuscripts, memoirs, fiction, and children’s fiction since 2017.

A freelance editor relies very heavily on word-of-mouth referrals and industry contacts. Before launching my business, I enrolled in a seminar and learned how to write a business plan. I drafted a networking strategy that includes maintaining a social media presence on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter; researching and then attending networking events hosted by local chambers of commerce or other groups; volunteering with professional organizations (such as Editors Canada and ACES: The Society for Editing); and identifying opportunities to engage with editors, writers, and the general publishing community.

What copyediting training do you have, and what positions have you held?
I have completed professional development courses through Editors Canada and completed courses on editing, indexing, and copyediting through Simon Fraser University’s Continuing Studies Editing Certificate program. I also have a doctorate in English literature. 


Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
One of the most important skills a freelancer needs is an understanding of marketing and social media. Being a subject matter expert can also be important, especially when copyediting academic manuscripts.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I’m a huge fan of PerfectIt and have begun experimenting with macros. I don’t rely completely on PerfectIt, but it does make it much easier to check for consistency. I run it twice: before beginning the editing process (to get a sense of the errors and issues I will need to address) and again after completing my editing (to check if I’ve missed anything). 

When I’m working on content development or website editing, I use Word’s readability scale and the Hemingway App to address appropriateness of style and tone. The two scales differ, but a comparison of both — and a closer look at sentence length, and verb and adverb usage — can help fine-tune a document’s style so it’s appropriate for the target audience and maintains authorial voice and intention.


Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
Some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned have come through volunteering with Editors Canada and engaging in thoughtful conversations with fellow editors in online forums.

I am most active on Facebook, where I follow some private groups. Editors’ Association of Earth is a public group, with multiple affiliated private groups like Ad Space; a group for academic editors; and a group for funny errors, called Stickleback Corner. I also follow the Editors Canada members-only Facebook group and the organization’s LinkedIn group. The public group Binders has multiple affiliated “binders” for editors and writers that are good places to build community.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
Networking, participating in communities and events, and talking to people about what you do are key to establishing and maintaining a presence in the field. One of the hardest moments for me was when I had to start asking for work on social media. I agonized over the perfect “editorial ask” and still worry about how few people see my posts and attempts to get clients. 

But when I was struggling for clients, new ones were sent to me by editors who had worked with me on volunteer committees. My relationships yielded results.  

I have had to adopt an extroverted persona when I’m engaging with people at networking events. My instinct is to try to remain in the background, but that does not generate any business. So I’ve learned to ask questions and get other people to do the talking. Figuring out how to introduce myself without boring other people is another difficult process. It takes time, patience, and experience to get the script just right and to sound natural in an unnatural setting like a networking event. I’ve learned to be less critical of myself as well.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
First, it is important to recognize that we are only there to make something better. The work still belongs to the author. We may feel strongly about a specific issue, but our author could have a completely different point of view and may feel just as strongly. It is important to explore why we feel so strongly about a specific change and find a way to back up our suggestions with evidence from a dictionary or a style guide. If the author insists on rejecting all or most of the changes we have made, it is best to let the issue slide. 

Freelancers are lucky; we get to choose the clients we work with and we are usually hired by people who recognize us as experts. It’s a good idea to complete samples and to establish clear expectations and guidelines right from the beginning of the working relationship, so there are no nasty surprises later. 


Have you faced any hurdles in getting into/advancing in the copyediting profession because you are a person of color? Or have you observed such barriers for others? 
At networking events, one of the main difficulties for me as a woman of color is that I normally stand out like a sore thumb. I’m usually the only one — or one of two or three BIPOC attendees. This often means that people see me only as someone who edits niche work, and I have been infantilized on more than one occasion by senior editors. It’s often easier to just let the moment slide, but it does create barriers and difficulties when networking.

I have been a token voice and have been doing a lot of niche work because I am a woman of color and of faith. There are moments when I become the main voice for a minority just because I look like one, and I’ve been in situations where people have told me I’m a “diversity hire” (it’s an accusation and a clear microaggression). Moments like these are not big on their own, but over time, they begin to feel overwhelming. 

Systemic barriers have been the most significant for me. For example, I’ve been looking for a mentor — and am even willing to pay for one, because I need the stability of an in-house position (and I think mentorship will give me an advantage in applying for these positions). But I haven’t yet found one who would understand the complexities of being BIPOC and also navigating a system that relies almost exclusively on referrals and networking. One needs to know the right people in the right field at the right time — BIPOC don’t always make it through those hoops.

What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career?
I am still relatively close to the beginning of my editing career, but one lesson I wish I had learned earlier is that we need to take our freelancing businesses seriously. We need to focus our energies on establishing a good workspace, investing in technology and in resources that make the job easier, and setting aside money for emergencies. In my first year of filing taxes as a freelancer, I learned, to my chagrin, that I had to pay an income tax. Now that I know, I set aside 15-20% from each freelancing job so that I have the funds to pay my taxes in April. 

I have also invested in a second monitor; a high-quality ergonomic mouse; the best possible laptop, with high RAM and good processing speed; an ergonomic chair; a foot stool; and an orthopedic cushion for lower back pain. 

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
Diversity in editing is a complicated issue. Publishers tend to see their audience in terms of a majority (largely white, cis-gendered) and balance that with a minority that often groups multiple identities into one large mass. When diversity is brought up, there’s often this underlying notion of stereotypes and token voices that can be demotivating for many. 

We know now that getting a seat at the table is also not enough to bring any change in this system of discrimination, because the voices of BIPOC are clearly marginalized and ignored. Recognizing this systemic issue is the first step toward addressing the lack of diversity in publishing. Actively seeking input and then adjusting attitudes based on that input, without stereotyping and tokenizing, are helpful actions. 

Seeking out literary agents with real connections in diverse writing communities, training editors to work with diverse authors, and employing people with expertise in diverse and accessible marketing and sales strategies will also help.   


Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I have felt proud of each project I complete, because the editing process is clearly a collaborative one. The authors I’ve worked with have improved their writing styles and found their voices as a result of the editing and publishing processes. I am most proud of the projects in which the editing is so silent that it is almost invisible and the author is greeted with high praise for a well-written manuscript.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
I am an avid reader of fiction and am happiest when I have a good book to turn to at the end of a long day. My favorite genres are speculative and fantasy fiction, historical novels, and sci-fi by BIPOC authors. I just finished reading Binti, a trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor that I’m completely in love with!

I also love to knit stuffed toys, but rarely find time for it these days. TV shows have become an important escape this year, though I’ve always been an avid fan of TV and movies. 


What resources would you share with fellow editors?
Hard copies of style guides and dictionaries are an absolute must for editors. The Chicago Manual of Style and APA and MLA styles for academic editors are highly recommended. I also recommend a subscription to PerfectIt (it’s a lifesaver!) and a subscription to Adobe’s services (if you’re going to be proofreading more than 50% of the time). 

A workspace with a door that can be closed and an ergonomic desk and chair, if at all possible, will help you separate your work life from your home life. I recently invested in an Ikea Secretaire. It’s a desk that can be closed off once you’re done for the day. It has done wonders for my mental health. Once I close the flap, I’m done for the day, and I can relax without feeling any guilt.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or diversity in the profession?
Working with diverse voices, with people of color, or with people who are somehow pegged as different should not be about making room, or making space, or welcoming diversity. It should be about mutual respect, about understanding that a new way of looking at something is not necessarily a negation but an additional perspective. All professions, and languages, evolve with time, and embracing that evolution, that change, should be seen as growth and advancement, not just a rejection of the status quo.

Lyric Dodson

Years editing: 5
Job title: Freelance editor and proofreader for nonfiction self-publishing authors
Job description: Edits memoirs, self-help, personal development, and spirituality books
Location: Colorado


How did you get your current job?
I’ve found success in freelancing by putting myself out there on social media platforms. In the beginning of my freelancing journey, I reached out to many self-publishing authors on Instagram and LinkedIn to create relationships. Some of the projects I worked on in 2020 were from potential clients I reached out to several months prior; freelance marketing is often a long game. In addition, establishing relationships with small businesses and publishing companies has allowed me to fill the gaps in my schedule with consistent, quality work.

The only substantial hurdle I faced was with employers who wanted experienced editors — and the only way I could become experienced was to be hired by someone. I’ve since passed this stage (yay), but it’s an annoying part of the journey that I’m sure people in every industry deal with. I was able to overcome this hurdle by continuing to put myself out there. I didn’t let rejections get me down because editors are needed everywhere. I knew someone would take a chance on me, and they did!

What copyediting training have you had?
I received a B.A. in English from Northern Illinois University, and I’ve attended a few online editing workshops and webinars. Most of my training, though, has come from experience and constantly studying The Chicago Manual of Style and the AP style guide (exciting, I know).


Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
You have to be cordial, responsive, helpful, engaging, and professional. Marketing and social media skills can also be helpful, but if you plan on freelancing (as opposed to running an editorial business that caters to everyday people), those skills are not always required. For instance, if you want to freelance with a bunch of different publishing companies, you don’t really need to market your services on social media, but if you want a substantial roster of personal clients, social media marketing is pretty much mandatory, at least in the beginning. Above all, you absolutely have to know your worth and be diligent in providing excellent service. If you stay true to that, the clients will come.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
Nope. Some of my editor friends use software like Grammarly or PerfectIt as a final check, but when used on their own, these programs can be wildly inaccurate. They also cannot account for colloquialisms, slang, or stylistic writing. I use my eyeballs, style guides, and dictionaries, and I give each project I work on at least two passes in each round of edits. 


How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I’m a one-woman show, but I often consult with other editing colleagues if I’m having trouble with a sentence or need a second opinion on something.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I’m a part of several Facebook editing groups, editors’ associations, and editor Slack groups. Editors’ Association of Earth and Editor Alliance are two great groups on Facebook. We talk about our sometimes-exhausting workloads, share opportunities with one another, bounce ideas off of each other, and ask questions.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
It always helps to network. I’ve had several jobs and clients referred to me by fellow editors, and I’ve passed along jobs to others as well. However, you still have to produce great work. It doesn’t matter how many people you know — if you do a subpar job, no one will reach out with opportunities, or the clients who do come your way will go elsewhere. 


How diverse is your office? 
The editing community as a whole is becoming fairly diverse, though it’s still predominantly white. I’ve come across quite a few editors of color who have found great success either as freelancers or as the head of their own editorial businesses. I don’t know too much about what it’s like as an in-house editor, but freelancing or running their own business gives editors of color the opportunity to control exactly what projects, clients, and jobs they undertake. Everything is up to the individual.

Of course, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to the industry’s diversity, but I’ve been delighted to get to know so many black and brown editors. 

Have you faced any hurdles in getting into/advancing in the copyediting profession because you are a person of color? Or have you observed such barriers for others? 
Since I’m a remote freelancer, I’m not entirely sure if my skin color has had any impact on whether I’ve received a job or project, but knowing the social climate of the world, it would be ignorant of me to dismiss the idea altogether.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
Be more deliberate when searching for editors of color. We’re out here, and we’re not hard to find. Also, it’s not enough to hire black and brown freelancers to “diversify your pool.” You must also actively engage with those editors and reach out to them for projects and other opportunities. Otherwise, the hiring was just for show, and the very editors of color you’ve recruited will not feel valued enough to stick around or accept projects once they’re offered.


Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
Is saying “all of them” a cop-out? LOL! I seriously can’t choose just one. My clients are all amazing writers with incredible stories to tell and inspirational advice to share. I’m just happy I was trusted enough to be a part of their writing journey.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
I’m a true-crime junkie. I love shows like Snapped, Forensic Files, and Unsolved Mysteries. I’m also currently studying astrology, and I’ve been an avid bowler for about seven years now. 


What resources would you share with fellow editors?
Check out ACES: The Society for Editing and the Editorial Freelancers Association for more editing information than you will probably ever need. Louise Harnby and Denise Cowle host The Editing Podcast, which is mostly aimed at writers but could be helpful for editors, too, if they’re discussing the nuances of your niche. There are many Facebook groups for editors: Editor Alliance, EAE Ad Space (for those looking for editing work), and the Editors’ Association of Earth, to name a few.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession? 
Contrary to what some may think, there is enough room for all of us to thrive on this career path. Whether you’re into cookbooks, comic books, movie/TV scripts, or travel books, editors are needed in virtually every corner of the world. Don’t think you have to stick to only fiction books or only business books. There’s an entire world out there with millions of people who are ready to share their stories and expertise. It’s up to you to find them and wow them with your skills.