A thorough knowledge of spelling and grammar is essential in the world of publishing as is the ability to work to tight deadlines

As a copy-editor or proofreader you'll ensure that material is clear, consistent, complete and credible, and that text is well written, grammatically correct and accessible. You'll take the initial material, or the copy, and prepare it for the next or final stage before publication.

You'll work on a range of publications, including:

  • books
  • journals
  • newspapers
  • websites
  • other electronic resources.

You'll be required to check content, use consistent styles and reword or rewrite (copy-editing), and correct spelling, grammar and layout (proofreading). This depends on the project, the employer or the client and your own specialist experience. Many copy-editors/proofreaders perform both functions in tandem.

You may be employed by publishers, businesses and public bodies but mostly on a freelance basis, so it's common to have several clients at the same time. Many people retrain for editorial work as a second or third career.


Activities depend on experience and whether you work in-house or freelance. In general as a copy-editor/proofreader, you'll need to:

  • correct spelling mistakes and grammatical errors
  • sub-edit text written by a number of authors to ensure consistent house style
  • work with IT-based publishing systems and databases, as well as via the internet or from paper manuscripts
  • liaise regularly with authors and publishers by phone and email
  • check that authors have provided all the required materials and paperwork
  • resolve queries directly with the author, such as style and text inconsistencies
  • code manuscripts for design features, such as hierarchy of headings, to instruct the production team
  • ensure that illustrations are correctly captioned and referred to in the text
  • produce or work to a style checklist to ensure consistency in hyphenation, capitalisation, formatting of references, etc
  • maintain awareness of new words or phrases coming into popular usage with a view to ensuring they're appropriate for the readership
  • discuss and resolve any potentially libellous sections or problematic language with the commissioning editor and author
  • prepare preliminary pages for the title, contents and preface of a publication
  • ensure that publications are prepared on budget and to schedule
  • manage marketing and business activities (for those who are self-employed).

Some freelance editors may also carry out typesetting work, or design layouts although this isn’t as common as the above tasks.


Salaries vary widely according to the nature of the work and the employer or client. Larger corporate publishers generally pay higher rates than traditional publishers.

  • The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading publishes suggested minimum hourly rates every year. The rates for 2023 were £28.65 an hour for proofreading, £33.30 for copy-editing.
  • Substantial editing or rewriting pays around £38.30 an hour.
  • Rates for the project management of the entire process of editing from first manuscripts through to production are usually much higher than for copy-editing, at over £40 per hour.

Some clients pay freelancers a flat rate per piece of work.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours vary. Copy-editors based in-house generally work normal office hours but may need to work longer hours in busy periods. Deadlines are very tight due to the nature of the work.

Freelancers enjoy greater flexibility, as long as deadlines are met, although night-time work may be required if dealing with overseas clients.

What to expect

  • Publishers are based in towns and cities throughout the UK, although there are higher numbers in London, the South East and Edinburgh. Geographical proximity to publishers is not always relevant. Freelancers, for example, can receive work from all over the UK and overseas.
  • Getting freelance work can be challenging, particularly at the start of your career. Freelancers who progress from working in-house for publishers to independent work may find the transition easier, having built up useful contacts and gained support from more experienced colleagues. As a freelancer, you may also need to familiarise yourself with self-employment and running your own business.
  • Working from home on a freelance basis in a job where most contact with others is by phone or email can leave you feeling isolated. On the flip side, benefits of working from home include a high level of control over your environment and greater flexibility in working hours. Some freelancers work in cooperatives or for agencies to increase their personal support network.
  • Some freelancers report that finding work has become more challenging in recent years, as clients may use generative AI instead of paying for a professional service.
  • Absence from home overnight and overseas work or travel is rare.


Although this area of work is open to all graduates, a degree in the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • media or electronic media
  • publishing or publishing studies.

However, copy-editors and proofreaders often draw on their own knowledge from academic study. Graduates with a technical or science-based degree may find it easier to obtain freelance work for specialist publishers and society journals, particularly in the early stages of their career.

Entry with an HND or foundation degree only is unlikely, unless you can demonstrate an aptitude for the work or some highly relevant experience.

A relevant postgraduate qualification in publishing can increase your chances. There is a range of publishing qualifications available and it's important to choose one that is relevant to your interests and career plans. To see what's on offer, search for postgraduate courses in publishing.

Competition in the publishing industry is fierce, and graduates hoping to enter this career may find it difficult to gain an in-house role immediately. It may, however, be possible to start as an editorial assistant and to get involved in proofreading and working on editing texts, in order to progress to copy-editing after one or two years.

Identify smaller and perhaps less well-known publishers to begin with who may be more likely, or able, to offer work. This can help develop a network of contacts and will enable you to build up a strong portfolio when making applications to larger companies later on.

Generally, the way to get freelance work is by sending a CV and speculative application directly to potential employers. Take a look in appropriate directories, for example the CIEP directory, to make and maintain contacts. Attend trade fairs, read trade publications and get to know the key players in the field. Also, try to focus on a particular specialist area, as this will help you identify companies and publishers to target.

It's also advisable to get involved with relevant professional organisations such as:


You'll need to show evidence of the following:

  • a thorough knowledge of the English language (or the language the publication is written in)
  • a methodical working style
  • concentration, accuracy and great attention to detail
  • the ability to multitask
  • tact and diplomacy for negotiating changes with authors
  • the ability to work to tight deadlines
  • self-motivation
  • IT skills.

If you are working on a self-employed basis, you will be running your own business, so business skills in areas such as tax, marketing and cash flow are vital.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience is advisable, preferably within a publishing environment. Gaining experience directly in an editorial role may be difficult.

Try to find work on university magazines, websites or publications or spend some time working in a bookshop or library. Think of creative ways to gain the relevant experience of editing and proofreading as early as possible.


The vast majority of copy-editors and proofreaders are self-employed and work on a freelance basis. There is a limited number of in-house positions, particularly with very large publishers, and competition can be fierce.

Employers within the book publishing sector include companies that produce general or consumer books. These include best-selling fiction and non-fiction. However, it's more difficult to obtain editing work in fiction. Other areas are more likely to provide work, such as:

  • children's books
  • educational publications
  • reference works
  • scientific, medical and technical publications
  • academic publications.

The market in corporate publishing is developing. Large, commercial organisations produce their own staff magazines, newsletters and publicity materials and may employ freelancers for all, or part, of the production process.

Look for job vacancies at:

You can also look to the national press, such as Guardian Jobs, for opportunities.

Specialist recruitment agencies tend to advertise senior-level vacancies. For example, see:

Professional development

If based in-house you're likely to undergo some basic training while working, which usually includes shadowing and receiving support from more experienced colleagues.

A variety of training courses are provided by professional organisations, such as:

Technical skills are a key part of this career and need to be updated on an ongoing basis, particularly in response to developments in technology. These organisations provide a range of technical courses, available on a seminar or distance-learning basis, covering areas such as:

  • copy-editing and on-screen editing skills
  • grammar
  • editing an in-house production.

CIEP also provides courses on developing a successful career as a freelancer and offers several levels of membership: entry-level, intermediate, professional and advanced professional.

There are a variety of courses so it is important to be selective and strategic in your choice.

Career prospects

You'll generally begin by editing text at a fairly basic level before progressing to more complex editing and restructuring, which is more highly paid.

With experience, freelance copy-editors and proofreaders begin to focus on a preferred area of work and on a particular subject area, such as science, medicine or food writing.

It's also possible to move into a project management role if you're working freelance or a managing/desk editor role if you're based in-house. These roles involve managing a publication over a longer period of time and subcontracting or allocating work to copy-editors and indexers. Within the largest publishing houses this can be a natural progression, though it is not always the chosen route. Other experienced copy-editors have progressed into offering a complete package of editing, typesetting and on-screen layout.

If working in-house as a copy-editor you'll move between jobs frequently during the early years of your career to develop the widest range of experience and contacts. This is especially important for those considering freelance work in the future.

Whichever route you take, it's advisable to join either CIEP or SYP. Membership offers support and opportunities for professional networking in what can often be an isolated role, such as CIEP's local groups which meet up regularly.

Making and maintaining contacts in the industry is vital for developing a successful career as a copy-editor or proofreader. While well-targeted speculative applications may lead to work, being known to editors and commissioning editors within publishing companies is an equally common way of securing work and moving up the career ladder.

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