by Rebecca Florence Miller

When I began my first halting steps into the world of freelance editing in 2011, I had a good grasp of grammar, punctuation, and spelling, but not a lot of the professional skills I needed to develop a thriving business. In those early days, I was able to move to a new level in my career in part because of established editors who shared their expertise (especially in the Christian PEN community).

In this post and the one next week, I want to pay it forward by sharing with you some of the advice I now give when people ask me about establishing an editing business.

First, adjust your expectations. Don’t quit your day job just yet, and do not expect this to be an instant business opportunity. You are probably not going to make a livable income at it for some years. It will be a side gig for a while. If you stick with it and apply yourself, there is a lot of opportunity to be had. As the years go by, you will grow your network, grow your experience, and grow your authority.

Second, educate yourself on your craft. Buy or subscribe to the main stylebooks and study them earnestly. Initially, pick up the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.), Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.), and the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style (4th ed.). In addition, the Christian PEN offers some great courses that have helped me a lot in learning professional editing. You can also join the Christian PEN and receive access to a message board of experienced editors and fellow newbies—a very helpful place to ask questions you can’t resolve on your own. And if you can, attend writing and editing conferences, where you’ll be exposed to current trends in the publishing industry.

Third, work on zeroing in on a specialty genre (and related genres) that you can learn inside and out. This might require experimentation to find the intersection between what people need done and what you know how to do. You will want a specialty that is broad enough to allow for a variety of clients. You shouldn’t specialize in everything; clients want someone who knows the rules of their specific genre. But you also don’t want to specialize too particularly and thus close off your options. If you can, think of related genres to try out.

I did some blog editing, business editing, website editing. I edited a theologically rich novel. But I slowly found my way to specializing in religious and academic works. I drew on my seminary and ministry background, which led to several years of thesis editing. I discovered that one opportunity began to lead to another, particularly as I worked on networking. In my post next week, I will share more about how doors began to open.

Rebecca Florence Miller is the content editor for Ministry Pass and edits for many clients, including Redemption Press, Baker/Brazos, InterVarsity Press, and Truth for Life radio.