Becoming an editor

A love of reading across a wide range of genres, an excellent grasp of English grammar, punctuation and spelling, plus strong written and verbal communication skills are all necessary assets if you want to become an editor. You’ll also need a degree, usually in an arts-related area; and some kind of post-graduate qualification with an editing or publishing component can also be an advantage. Most editors start out as publishing or editorial assistants, then progress to a trainee editor’s position, followed by editor, senior editor, and then possibly managing editor or commissioning editor depending on where their interests lie. Commissioning editors and publishers are sometimes appointed from outside the editorial/publishing department (e.g. from a sales and marketing, journalism or bookseller background), but it’s very difficult to get a job as an editor in a publishing company without having worked your way up to that level in-house.

Freelance editors work out of house and are engaged by publishing companies on a book-by-book basis. If you want to work as a freelance editor, you’ll need to have a network of contacts who know your abilities and are willing to outsource editing projects to you. It’s unusual for publishers to outsource to a freelancer they haven’t worked with before or who hasn’t been recommended to them by another publisher or editor. (See Janet Mackenzie’s The Editor’s Companion, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, 2004, for useful advice on setting up a freelance editing business.)

Thorpe-Bowker produces Books & Publishing, a weekly subscription-based industry newsletter that advertises jobs in book publishing and other editing-related areas.


Editing and publishing courses

There is no guarantee that completing an editing or publishing course is going to get you a job with a publishing company, but it can be an advantage. Some courses offer an internship program, which is an excellent way of getting work experience and making connections with people in the industry.

These are some of the postgraduate courses available in Australia:

Macquarie University (Sydney): Graduate Certificate of Editing and Electronic Publishing

Sydney University: Master of Publishing (covers book, magazine and digital publishing)

University of Technology Sydney: Graduate Certificate in Editing and Publishing

RMIT (Melbourne): Master of Writing and Publishing

University of Melbourne: Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and EditingMaster of Publishing and Communications

University of Southern Queensland: Master of Arts (Editing and Publishing)Graduate Certificate of Editing and Publishing

University of Queensland: Master of Writing, Editing and PublishingGraduate Certificate in Writing, Editing and Publishing

Macleay College (Sydney): Book Editing and Publishing (12-week course)


Professional development and training

Societies of Editors

State-based, non-profit, membership-based organisations that meet regularly, produce newsletters for their members and provide training opportunities. Most societies also produce a directory of members that lists the types of services offered and contact details. In 2016 the societies voted to become part of the Institute of Professional Editors (IPED), but each state will still run its own training program.

Editors NSW

Editors Victoria

Editors Queensland

Society of Editors (SA)

Editors WA

Society of Editors (Tasmania)

Canberra Society of Editors


Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd)

National organisation that brings together Australian states and territories’ societies of editors. Exists to advance the profession of editing and to support and promote Australian editors. Developed the Australian Standards for Editing Practice; and administers the national accreditation scheme. IPED also offers a mentoring program to its members.


Residential Editorial Program

Biennial training program for mid-career editors to enhance their literary editing skills. During a week-long residency, participants work with a highly experienced and respected editor/mentor on a selected manuscript to develop their structural editing skills. The program also includes seminars on a wide range of editing and publishing topics presented by industry professionals and high-profile authors. Previous mentors have included Judith Lukin-Amundsen, Jo Jarrah, Jacqui Kent, Sophie Cunningham, Bruce Sims, Meredith Rose, Jane Gleeson-White and Linda Funnell.


Beatrice Davis Editorial Fellowship

Biennial fellowship that offers a mid-career Australian editor the opportunity to undertake a research project attached to the editorial department of a US publishing house/s for up to 10 weeks. The idea is that the editor will garner knowledge and expertise from the largest book publishing market in the English-speaking world, and then share this knowledge on their return to Australia through talks, mentoring, writing and other areas of training or development.


Structural Editing for Editors

This is my online fiction structural editing course, running for the first time in 2017 from 24 February to 12 May (includes two-week break for Easter). The course offers a small group of editors the opportunity to work on a real manuscript under the guidance of an experienced fiction editor. You can work at your own pace in the convenience of your home, while having access to an online discussion group where you can talk about the manuscript with your fellow editors. For more information, please go to Structural Editing for Editors.


Useful books for editors


George Davidson, How to Punctuate, Penguin Writers’ Guides series (Penguin, 2005)

Amy Einsohn, The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications (2nd edition, University of California Press, 2006)

Elizabeth Flann & Beryl Hill, The Australian Editing Handbook (2nd edition, John Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd, 2004)

HW Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (Oxford University Press)

Jack Lynch’s Guide to Grammar and Style

Janet Mackenzie, The Editor’s Companion (Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, 2004)

Eric Partridge, Usage & Abusage: A Guide to Good English (Popular Penguin edition, Penguin, Camberwell, 2008)

Pam Peters, Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage (2nd edition, Cambridge University Press, 2007)

William Strunk Jr & E. B. White, The Elements of Style (4th edition, Longman, 2000)

Mark Tredinnick, The Little Green Grammar Book (UNSW Press, Sydney, 2008)

Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves (Profile Books, 2003)


Interesting books, articles and blog posts

Diana Athill, Stet: An Editor’s Life (Granta Books, London, 2000)

A Scott Berg, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (Pocket Books, New York, 1978)

Gardner Botsford, A Life of Privilege, Mostly (Granta Books, London, 2007)

Renni Browne & Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print (HarperPerennial, New York, 1994)

Susannah Clapp, With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer (Jonathan Cape, London, 1997) – particularly the chapter ‘Editing In Patagonia

Jennie Erdal, Ghosting (Canongate, 2006)

Jane Gleeson-White: Overland blog post: ‘The love that dare not speak its name: we need to talk about editing’ about the secrecy that surrounds the editing process; written in response to James Ley’s article ‘Carved Up, or Kindly Cut?’ in the Australian’s Literary Review, and James Bradley’s response on his City of Tongues blog

Gerald Gross (ed), Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do (3rd edition, Grove Press, New York, 1993) – contains some fantastic essays on the craft of editing and different editorial approaches, as well as information about commissioning, marketing, promotion, etc. Interesting to see how line editing and copy editing are two different stages in US publishing, carried out by different people.

Bill Henderson (ed), The Art of Literary Publishing: Editors on their Craft (Pushcart Press, New York, 1995)

Jacqueline Kent, A Certain Style: Beatrice Davis a Literary Life (Viking, Melbourne, 2001) – biography of Australia’s first editor, along with a fascinating history of Australian literature and publishing from the 1930s through to the 1980s. Jacqui Kent is an editor as well as a writer, which, for me, gives the book extra depth.

Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers (Riverhead Books, New York, 2000) – the chapters ‘What an Editor Wants’ and ‘What an Author Wants’ are particularly interesting for editors.

Hilary McPhee, Other People’s Words (Picador, Sydney, 2001) – Hilary McPhee set up McPhee Gribble in 1975 with Diana Gribble, which published authors like Tim Winton, Helen Garner and Drusilla Modjeska for the first time. There’s some interesting material on McPhee Gribble’s editorial approach (as well as a depressing postscript on McPhee’s opinion of the decline of editorial standards), but this book is particularly valuable for its insight into how Australia established itself as a separate copyright territory and market from the UK – essential reading for all those arguing for the abolition of territorial copyright!

John Mullan, How Novels Work (Oxford University Press, 2006) – based on Mullan’s weekly column for the Guardian (UK), ‘Elements of Fiction’, this is an examination of various novelistic techniques that draws on examples from the classics and works by contemporary writers such as Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood, Nick Hornby and Zadie Smith.

James Wood, How Fiction Works (Picador, 2008) – analysis of the main elements of novel writing, with chapters on Character, Detail, Sympathy and Complexity, Language and Dialogue.