*

Job Description: Copy Editor

Published

A copy editor makes sure that a text is readable, accurate and ready for publication.  

View People View Companies View Jobs

Job Description, Salaries and Benefits

A copy editor makes sure that a text is readable, accurate and ready for publication. They work on publications of all kinds, including books, newspapers and magazines.

They may:

  • check text to ensure it is well written and logically structured
  • correct grammar and spelling
  • ensure the text is in line with the publisher's 'house style'
  • check facts and raise queries with the author
  • look out for potential legal problems and discuss them with the publisher
  • check illustrations and captions are correct.

Copy editors on newspapers and magazines, who are usually called sub-editors, may also add headlines and introductory paragraphs to articles.

Many copy editors work freelance and have some flexibility over their working hours. Employed copy editors work normal office hours, but may need to work extra hours as print times approach. The work is desk-based. Freelancers often work from home.

Freelance copy editors negotiate their own fees. Salaries for employed staff range from around £16,000 to £60,000 a year.

Copy editors must have:

  • excellent written English, including good spelling and grammar
  • a meticulous approach to their work and an eye for detail
  • the ability to maintain high-quality work while meeting tight deadlines
  • a love of and feel for language.

Copy editors are employed by publishing firms, newspapers and magazines. Other major organisations, such as public relations and advertising agencies, retailers, government agencies and professional associations, also use copy editors on an in-house or freelance basis. Many copy editors are self-employed.

Most copy editors start off in a more junior role. For example, it may be possible to join a publishing firm as an editorial assistant and progress to copy editing. Sub-editors in newspapers and magazines often start off as general reporters. There are no set qualifications, but many copy editors have a degree, often in a related subject, such as English, publishing, media or journalism. A science-based degree may allow graduates to work in specialist technical publishing.

Once employed, copy editors learn from experienced colleagues. Various short courses are available, including some run by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

Copy editors may progress to more senior publishing roles, commissioning and managing publications. Freelance copy editors progress by building a track record. In newspapers, advancement is to chief sub-editor or production editor.

What is the work like?

They may work on a range of publications, including:

  • books - fictional and factual
  • trade, technical or academic journals
  • newspapers and magazines
  • business publications
  • websites and other online content.

The role includes:

  • checking text to ensure it is well written, logically structured and in the right style for the intended audience
  • correcting grammar and spelling
  • ensuring the text is in line with the publisher's 'house style' - for example, that hyphens, capital letters and optional spellings are used consistently
  • checking facts
  • raising queries with the author
  • being alert to any potential legal problems in the text, such as libellous statements or breach of copyright, and discussing them with the publisher
  • checking illustrations and captions are correct.

Copy editors are seldom expected to rewrite work completely. Rather, they aim to maintain the style of the author and publication.

On newspapers and magazines, copy editors are usually called sub-editors. As well as the tasks above, they may also:

  • compose headlines for each article
  • write 'standfirsts' - introductory paragraphs that sum up a story and draw the reader in
  • edit stories to fit a set word count
  • lay out stories to a set page design.

Copy editors often work on screen, using IT publishing systems, but they may also work with paper manuscripts.

Freelance copy editors often work alone, but they may need to liaise closely with authors, typesetters, printers and publishers. Newspaper and magazine sub-editors work with newsroom and production colleagues.

The role is often combined with proofreading. See Proofreader for more information.

Salaries for employed copy editors may start at around £16,000 a year.

Hours and Environment

Many copy editors work freelance and so have some flexibility over their working hours. However, they may be required to work long hours to meet project deadlines. The flow of work can be uneven. Part-time work is common.

Employed copy editors work normal office hours, but may need to work extra hours as print times approach.

Sub-editors' hours depend on the publication. They are busiest just before the publication is due to go to print, and this can be on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Sub-editors working on daily titles may work shifts, including some early starts and late nights.

The work is desk-based, usually working on screen. Freelance copy editors often work from home. There may be occasional travel for meetings.

Salary and Other Benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

Freelance copy editors negotiate their own fees. The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) recommends minimum rates of £20 an hour for copy editing on paper, and £21.50 an hour for on-screen work.

  • Salaries for employed copy editors may start at around £16,000.
  • With experience, salaries may rise to around £25,000.
  • Chief sub-editors on a national publication may earn up to £60,000 a year.

Skills and Personal Qualities

A copy editor must have:

  • excellent written English, including good spelling and grammar
  • a meticulous approach to their work and an eye for detail
  • the ability to maintain high-quality work while meeting tight deadlines
  • an inquisitive mind
  • good concentration, to focus on texts that may be lengthy or dull
  • judgement in applying house style
  • a tactful approach when dealing with authors
  • the ability to retain the author's 'voice' after editing.

Interests

It helps to have:

  • a love of and feel for language
  • specialist interests that might become fields of work - for example technology, health or finance.

Getting in

Copy editors are employed by publishing firms, newspapers and magazines. Other major organisations, such as public relations and advertising agencies, retailers, government agencies and professional associations, also use copy editors on an in-house or freelance basis.

Copy editors are based all over the UK, with a concentration of publishers in London and South East England.

Many copy editors are self-employed, and work for many different clients.

Competition can be keen. It is helpful to look for early work experience with a relevant employer. It can be particularly challenging to find freelance work - commissions depend on building a good track record and contacts.

Vacancies appear in national and trade newspapers, including The Bookseller and Publishing News. The Society of Young Publishers (SYP), a voluntary organisation open to anyone in publishing or hoping to be, lists vacancies on its website. Sub-editor vacancies appear in the Press Gazette and on websites such as www.journalism.co.uk and www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk.

Entry for young people

Most copy editors start off in a more junior role. For example, it may be possible to join a publishing firm as an editorial assistant and progress to copy editing.

Sub-editors in newspapers and magazines often start off as general reporters, having first completed a vocational course in journalism. For more information, see Journalist.

There are no set qualifications, but many copy editors have a degree. This may be in a related subject, such as English, publishing, media or journalism. A science-based degree may allow graduates to work in specialist technical publishing, and a degree in economics or business studies could provide a grounding for work in financial journalism.

The entry requirements for degrees are usually at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English or maths, or equivalent qualifications.

Some copy editors also have a postgraduate publishing qualification. Courses are listed on the website of the Publishers Association.

Entry for adults

It is common to start this work as an adult, as copy editing is often a second career.

Adults may be accepted onto degree courses without the usual qualifications, especially if they can show relevant experience. They may prepare for a degree by taking an Access course.

Training

Once employed, copy editors learn from experienced colleagues.

Various short courses are available. SfEP offers courses for freelancers and in-house staff, based in London and occasionally in Edinburgh, York and Bristol. It also offers networking and mentoring opportunities for members. Organisations such as the Publishing Training Centre offer copy editing courses by distance learning.

The NCTJ offers a preliminary sub-editing qualification alongside its standard reporting exam. Trainees who have passed this exam and gained 18 months' newspaper experience can sit for a National Certificate in Sub-editing.

Getting on

In-house copy editors may need to change jobs frequently to advance in their careers. After gaining experience, they may seek promotion to more complex editing jobs or to a desk editor role, commissioning and managing publications.

Freelance copy editors progress by building a track record. It is possible to advance through the SfEP membership tiers. They may choose to specialise in a particular field of publishing.

Experienced sub-editors may take on management responsibilities as chief sub-editor or production editor.

Further Information

Further Reading

  • Book and journal publishing - PTC
  • Butcher's Copy-editing - Cambridge University Press
  • Careers in Journalism - NUJ
  • Careers in Publishing - The Publishers Association
  • Inside Book Publishing - Routledge
  • Starting out: Setting up a small business - SfEP
  • Your future in magazines - PTC

Magazines

  • The Bookseller
  • Editing Matters - SfEP
  • Media Week
  • Press Gazette
  • Publishing News

View People View Companies View Jobs

Comments

ad:
ad:
ad:
ad:
ad: