Recap of A Discussion on the Business of Editing

by Anna Patricia Cairns

five women of colour sitting around boardroom table, talking
Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

The November 26, 2019, Editors Toronto meeting was unlike any of the other meetings I’d attended. The room was set up with an open circle of chairs to allow attendees to participate as mentors or mentees in an informal, face-to-face discussion. A second, inner circle of chairs was added as more people arrived.

We started with an outline of the evening’s activities: a business meeting, then a question-and-answer discussion period, followed by socializing.

The twenty-minute business meeting was professional, yet brief. We were told different formats were being discussed for future monthly meetings, such as partnering with other organizations, more panel discussions, and day-long learning events.

The meeting started with introductions all around. Approximately 50 people were present. Some were seasoned editors, but most were students.

The seasoned editors were experienced in a range of areas: fiction, non-fiction, medical, scientific, scholarly, insurance, finance, magazines and journals. Students hailed from Centennial College, George Brown College, Humber College, Queen’s University, and Ryerson University.

With so many students present, the discussions centred on starting out in the business of editing. Here are the most in-depth conversations that took place:

When can I call myself a professional editor?

This question came with a dose of imposter syndrome that is common for many new professionals. It was met by the immediate and emphatic response from around the room: “When you get paid!” This response was followed by “But we don’t have any experience.”

We students were reminded that quality education provides a solid base of knowledge, and experience can be gained a number of ways, such as interning or volunteering. Editors Toronto and Editors Canada often have opportunities for volunteer editing. Also worth remembering is that any free editing service students provide for family and friends counts as experience too.

How do I know what to charge?

This question yielded many thoughts on the subject. Here’s the “Reader’s Digest” version, boiled down to five main points:

  1. Do not undervalue yourself. (This was unanimous advice.) We all need to remember that quality editing is the product of a specialized education, whether from a post-secondary program or through editorial work experience.
  2. Decide on the type of editing you would like to do and the industries you are interested in. Once this has been established, check industry standard rates. Then, provide a sliding scale or range of rates for services. A fair range of professional rates can be found on the Editorial Freelancers Association website. Additional information on setting rates can be found on the Editors Canada website.
  3. Provide a sample edit to showcase your skills. Decide what constitutes a sample: three paragraphs or three pages. To have a better sense of the work involved, it’s best to take a sample from the middle or latter part of a document. The beginning of the text is often the most polished section of the work; it will not provide the most realistic indication of the editing that will be required.
  4. Beware of the flat rate service. There are pros and cons to this approach. Major considerations include the nature of the edit (heavy, medium, light) and whether you are a fast or slow editor. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, and most importantly, don’t forget point 1.
  5. Insist on a contract. Standard contracts can be found on the Editors Canada website. No matter how friendly we are with our clients, terms need to be in writing in order to avoid any misunderstandings.

Where can I find clients?

Tell everyone you are an editor because you don’t know who will engage your services. Make a list of potential clients and send your résumé to them. Go to writers conferences. Use social media: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Consider certification, as more and more clients are requesting it. Blog or vlog about editing.

Be creative. Have a compelling website that offers a loss-leader editing service, such as a partial manuscript evaluation, or a one-time offer of a partial free edit with any contract to edit a manuscript of 80,000 words or more. Engage with literary agents and provide services such as slush reading, which in turn can evolve into editing services. Join a writers group or many writers groups. Be imaginative and open-minded in your pursuits. Remember: If it’s in writing, you can edit it.

A final tip offered by participants was to obtain a good program for logging time. There are several excellent apps available online; one such app is OfficeTime. But with so many programs available, you’ll want to do your due diligence to determine what fulfills your needs.

The night’s enlightening session concluded with everyone adjourning to the next room to socialize and network. The casual atmosphere was a perfect ending to an informative meeting.


Anna Patricia Cairns is a writer and freelance editor, a member of the Canadian Authors Association, and a student affiliate of Editors Canada.

This article was copy edited by Alicja Minda.

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