Many folks reach out to ACES to share their interest in learning to be a copy editor. We’re happy to help by answering burning questions, sharing resources, offering training, and more.
But the reality is that a career in copy editing isn’t right for everyone — any more than one spent performing brain surgery or walking a tightrope with Cirque du Soleil. And copy editing often seems to require the same flexibility and precision as these two professions combined.
So how do you know if copy editing is for you? The late Amy Einsohn, author of “The Copyeditor’s Handbook,” discussed just this issue in a 2011 article for the University of California Press.
In the article, Einsohn raises some important points that wannabe editors need to hear, such as the fact that “I love to read” does not equal “I’ll love to edit.”
Einsohn also has strong opinions on the qualifications a candidate must have — before they begin learning to edit:
“Before grabbing a pencil or a mouse, the teachable novice has already acquired, over a period of many years, the following skills and aptitudes,” Einsohn writes:
Equally important, but often harder to identify in a novice editor, says Einsohn, is a certain attitude. Being a copy editor means taking a backseat to writers, production managers, and of course, the dictates of style guides. Editors with inflated egos — or those who crave creative control — may be frustrated to find they often must defer to others.
How do you know whether you’re experiencing new-editor growing pains, or whether you’re just not cut out for the craft? In her article, Einsohn identifies a few common rookie editors’ mistakes — and their remedies.
Before you diagnose yourself with an incurable case of “overedititis,” keep in mind that the best way to find out whether editing is a good fit is to simply give it a try. A rough start doesn’t mean you’ll never reach award-worthy editor status.
According to Einsohn, another must-have trait for editors is a “desire for perfection, tempered by an understanding that … other exigencies preclude perfection.” That goes for the copy you edit as well as your approach to your work.
So pick up that pencil. When you get stuck, your fellow copy editors are here to help.
Samantha Enslen is on the ACES Executive Board. She runs Dragonfly Editorial.