A former student emailed me recently for help with the vicious circle of newbies: You can’t get hired without experience but you can’t get experience without getting hired. Although he finished a copyediting certificate program, he didn’t feel qualified for the job postings he was seeing.
How could he get started?
Take on Simpler Jobs
Copyediting is a craft that takes a lot of practice and feedback to build the necessary skills. Still, if you’ve completed a training program, you should be ready to tackle simple paid projects. Look for opportunities that require no more than five years of experience. The manuscripts may have fewer complexities, be shorter, or require only light editing. Such projects should be within your abilities and will help you build confidence and experience.
Work for Someone Who Will Coach You
Editing agencies sometimes offer coaching and feedback as part of the job. You may be paid less than more experienced editors, but the tradeoff can be invaluable.
Some agencies specialize in the editing they take on. Dragonfly Editorial specializes in IT, healthcare, and other complex subjects. My own Right Touch Editing specializes in business and marketing copy. Others, like Cambridge Editors, take on a broader range of work. Do your homework to ensure you’re a good match.
Work for Publishing Services
Self-publishing companies, such as Lulu, include editing in their services. Turnaround time is usually short and you may not receive feedback. They don’t pay as well, either, but you’ll get a lot of work experience quickly.
Bidding agencies, such as Reedsy, are another option. These agencies act as a go-between for editors and authors, but note that they otherwise take no responsibility for your work. Again, the pay tends to be low and there likely won’t be any feedback or coaching, but you can gain experience quickly.
Volunteer Your Services
You can build your experience (and courage) by volunteering to edit for a cause or nonprofit you care about. You likely won’t receive feedback and you won’t receive pay, but you will get to practice your craft and help a cause you care about.
Not sure who might need help? Embark Editorial Agency matches editors with volunteer organizations.
Get a Mentor
Mentors can be helpful at any stage of your career, but especially in the beginning when you haven’t built a large network. A mentor can help you brainstorm potential employers and clients, advise you on what skills you may need to improve before you’re ready for paid work, and identify other obstacles to getting started.
To get the most out of mentoring, be clear about what you want from sessions. The clearer you are about your goals for mentoring, the better the results.
Organizations like American Copy Editors Society offer mentoring to members (dependent on volunteer mentor, of course). Copyediting offers mentoring groups for a fee: We put together groups of editors who want the same thing from mentoring and pair them with a mentor. You attend biweekly meetings and participate in a discussion forum.
You might even approach a senior editor you admire and ask them to mentor you. Be aware, though, that not everyone has the time or skillset to be a mentor.
As frustrating as the newbie vicious circle is, you can break out of it. Gather your courage and get to know the editing landscape, and you’ll soon find a way to break in.
How else can new editors break into the field? Log in and share your thoughts in the comments!