By Kay Coulter

You need to learn the basics then grow by doing

Just starting out as an editor? Are you ready to dive in? The opportunity is there for you, so what’s holding you back? You always made high grades in English in high school or college—so that’s all you need to get started, right?

No, you need to get ready. There is a right frame of mind for doing this kind of work. There are tools you need in order to be a good editor. There are hurdles to overcome. There are skills to develop. In this post I want to share with you how to gain confidence when you’re just starting out.

When I first started offering editorial services, I was green as could be … except that I had written three books and had learned a lot about the editing process. This did give me confidence to at least get started. That does not mean that I didn’t have many confidence crises along the way. Questions came to my mind like:

Will I know all the grammar rules?

Will I recognize errors when I see them?

What if the client doesn’t like what I do? (I’m very sensitive.)

Can I generate an income?

I am sure you could add many more quandaries to this list, because being a freelance editor is a very personal thing. I was greatly encouraged by my friend who also happened to be the professional editor for my books. She had been in the business for four years already, plus she had a degree in English and knew grammar like nobody else I knew. I used to call her the Grammar Police!

So I called her about every other day asking her about grammar mistakes and what certain things were called, etc. I was so grateful for her help and for the patience of my first clients, because I’m sure I did not measure up just yet. I had much to learn from my mentor.

It was on-the-job training for sure. I had great incentive to make my work look professional, but I did need some outside help, which led me to take an editing course to be certified as a copyeditor. That was a big boost for my confidence. I recommend you take advantage of learning opportunities that are plentiful on the Internet. You will learn answers to some of life’s mysteries—like “What on earth is a dangling modifier?”

You need to learn the basics then grow by doing.  An editor is required to communicate. Your clients want to know what’s wrong with their manuscripts and how they can be improved. They’re paying you to tell them. In addition to developing editing skills, you need to develop communication skills as you relate to clients.

In relating to clients, there two very important qualities you need to have in giving service: 1) teachability, and 2) humility. You see, if you are teachable, you will be willing to do whatever it takes to learn the business and learn your clients’ needs. I have a motto for my business: “If in doubt, check it out!” No one knows everything there is to know about editing. That’s why we have resources like The Chicago Manual of Style, The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, APA Publication Manual, and Merriam-Webster. Do not just bluff your way through a manuscript. It only takes a couple of minutes to look up something. This is a wonderful way to build confidence because your work is backed up by the foremost authorities in editing. So, if in doubt, check it out! Teachability and humility are both encompassed in this action. Also, humility means you admit when you make mistakes and you are willing to change. This will speak volumes about your character.

So how do you build confidence? Remember these points.

  1. Pair Up with a Mentor (or join a network like PEN)
  2. Take a Certification Course Today
  3. Develop Your Skills – Be Teachable
  4. Access the Tools of Your Trade
  5. Learn Your Personality Type (more on this in my next blog)



Kay pic 2015 - website

Having been in ministry for 25 years, B. Kay Coulter served as a vocalist, conference speaker, book editor, and the author of Proverbs for Personalities, Victim/Victor: It’s Your Choice, and Free to Be.   Kay is a freelance editor with Crews and Coulter Editorial Services ( She is a wife, mother, and grandmother and lives in Temple, Texas.