Changing Careers: Making the Transition to Editing

by Sharon Cozens

Man sits at a computer, gazing out the window.
Photo by Yasmina H on Unsplash

So you’ve decided to transition from your current career to an editing one. Making a change, especially after many years in one career, can be scary, but with time, patience, and some careful planning, you can improve your chances of success and make the process less stressful. 

First of all, if you haven’t already, you should educate yourself about editors and editing. You’ll want to be confident that an editing career really is the right choice for you. There are plenty of useful resources online, and So You Want to Be an Editor: Information about a career in editing (on the Editors Canada website) is a great place to start your research. You can also find important information about what editors earnhow many hours a week they work, and what opportunities exist in the field.

Having tentatively confirmed your decision of editing as your new career, it’s important to take the time to make a list of your current skills. This list will help you identify which of your skills are transferable and what new skills you should learn and develop. You’ll be surprised how many editing-related skills you already have, even if you were previously in a seemingly unrelated field. For example, I took early retirement after 28 years as a financial aid advisor at a major Canadian college. A large part of my job involved helping students apply for and navigate the Ontario Student Assistance Program (financial support for post-secondary students, offered by the Ontario government). I initially thought that very few of the skills I had learned in this position related to the world of editing. However, I soon realized that the tact, diplomacy, and discretion I had learned during my time in that role would come in very handy when dealing with my editing clients. The more I thought about it, the more I recognized many of my other skills were also transferable. 

You may even find that your current career points you toward a particular editing niche. Do you work in information technology? If so, you may be able to leverage the skills you’ve learned into editing computer or other technical manuals. I know a lifelong science fiction fan who recently turned that interest, as well as his copy editing and writing experience, into a career as editor-in-chief of a major American science fiction magazine.

Remember, though, that regardless of your background, you’ll most likely need at least some formal training to ensure your knowledge of the publishing industry and your editing skills are up to date. This will give you more credibility as an editor. You’ll find there are several college and university editing programs to choose from in Canada. If you need to brush up on your grammar before starting any professional development, there are many courses available for that. 

Looking over old and current posts on editing and editing-related Facebook groups such as Editors CanadaEditors’ Association of EarthCopyeditors, and Editing Community will give you a long list of books to read and perhaps purchase for reference material. Those same groups, along with many educational videos on YouTube, can provide a lot of useful information on everything from how to improve your grammar to how to deal with clients, or any number of other topics that an editor needs to know. When you’re ready, you should also research the various types of editing so you can focus on your area of interest when you’re choosing your training.

Ideally, you should keep your current job until you’re ready to make a permanent change. That way you’ll be able to keep earning a steady paycheque until you’ve prepared yourself to transition to your new career. Also, spread the word about your new career to as many people as possible, including family and friends. You never know where your first clients will come from.

If the process of changing careers after such a long time in your current career seems daunting at times, remind yourself why you’re making the transition. In the end, you should find that all the hard work is worth it once you’re able to use your excellent communication skills and your passion for the English language in your new and rewarding career.

Sharon Cozens is a Toronto-based copy editor and writer who enjoys working in a variety of genres. She believes that clear, plain, and mindful language can be a powerful tool for bringing people together. She is the secretary of Editors Toronto.

This article was copy edited by Margaux Yiu.

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