Learn About Working as a Freelance Editor

Find out What Type of Editor and Editing Position Suits You

Want to work as a freelance editor? Yeah, you do. But guess what? You can't just go out there willy-nilly applying for freelance editor jobs. Yes, they'll know you're a newbie. Get some education, and make sure you know what kind of freelance editor job you're looking for. 

Kinds of Freelance Editor Jobs

There are many different kinds of freelance editor jobs, and many different roles an editor can take, Following is a list of different kinds of editors/editing along with some hints for freelancers who are pursuing ​freelance editing jobs. 

One caveat, many of these editorial roles inter-lap (overlap), or are simply in a state of flux. I've seen sources, publishers and authors call their project by one title, but the work described is a completely different thing. Since these kinds of edits are not completely cut and dry, ​freelance editors should always have specific duties fully described by their client, and then put into a freelance writing contract.

Acquistions Editor

Woman editing in office
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An acquisitions editor is the person responsible for accepting, rejecting and finding manuscripts to publish within a specific publishing house. These are likely book-length manuscripts, fiction or non-fiction.

This editor must know their market and target audience and make a call on what fits and what doesn't. In addition, this editor may be responsible for coordinating contracts and bringing authors on board.

Sometimes this editor "follows" the manuscript through their publishing house, keeping track of its progress and remaining the first contact for the author. Freelance editors don't generally have the opportunity to perform these types of duties, as they require a deep knowledge of the specific publishing house and are generally performed in-house. However, I did find this blog entry about a freelance acquisitions editor from 2008, so you never know. I've also noted that many jobs are posted as freelance when in truth they are not. Be careful, do your homework, and check out the below types of editing instead.

Coordinating Editor

Also called a managing editor, the coordinating editor is like a traffic cop. Since a manuscript (whether book or magazine) is often touched by several people- writers, graphic designers, proofreaders, editors, photographers, translators, it is helpful to have one person “coordinate” by always knowing where the manuscript is and where it is going next. This can cut down on mistakes and wasted time.

I know of several freelance editors who perform this job for magazines (although local publications seem to work best), getting manuscripts from writers to editors to graphics layouts as needed, and coordinating the entire collection of work for one issue on behalf of a publisher.

Copy editing/Copy editor

Copy editing is sometimes referred to as line editing, stylistic editing or mechanical editing. Copy editing focuses less on the content of a piece, and more on the mechanics, especially as they compare to the style guide in use. A copyedit checks things like spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and sometimes higher-level needs such as flow and consistency.

Copy editing is one of the most common editing roles for freelancers, as it is needed for almost every manuscript, from web content to magazine articles to books, and is simple to perform remotely.

Comprehensive Editing

Also called developmental or substantive editing, and rarely also referred to as "macro editing," this type of editorial process deals with higher-level issues than copy editing.

It specifically fixes the document at a content or structural level: paragraphs, pages, flow, organization, format, even as far as changing from the first person to second person, improving characters (in books), fixing style issues and adding and deleting material.

This editorial function can be performed by freelance editors, who often offer this service to authors and novelists, or self-published would-be authors, but it requires a good, proactive relationship with the author, as he/she is often heavily involved in this edit. If this can be established remotely, a freelance editor can perform well in this editorial role.

Editors who are writers themselves, who are avid readers, or who have knowledge of the publishing industry would do well in this role.

Developmental Editing/Editor

This kind of editing has also been called comprehensive editing and substantive editing. You can reference the definition above for comprehensive editing, or below for substantive editing.

In a nutshell, this editing involves further development of the composition in high-level ways. This might mean working on plot, structure, or themes.

Fact Checking

Fact checking involves researching facts in a document, and verifying that they are true. This can be done via phone, internet or library. Freelancers can certainly excel in this role, with the right relationship to the publisher.

Format Edit

This type of edit focuses almost exclusively on the layout of a piece, meaning graphics and font, etc. However, these same tasks are also dealt with by proofreaders. Freelancers can perform this edit easily.

Globalization/Translations Editing

This type of edit focuses on cultural/international issues that may be present in a document or manuscript.

For example, at times translations are correct, but meanings are lost. When translators talk about translating with a special nod to meaning, they often talk about transliteration. This type of edit also looks at specific cultural items that vary by population such as how dates are written, how genders are presented, and how place names are given. This means it can potentially be done by an editor that's not a translator. This is often called localization. Freelancers can perform this edit, and some specialize in certain languages or cultures.

Integrity Edit

An integrity edit focuses on the cross references that occur in large articles, such as journal pieces, and in non-fiction work. For example, if a manuscript notes "See table 3.1" the editor will verify that the table is present where it's supposed to be, and says what it's supposed to say. However, this edit is often performed by proofreaders, too. This edit is sometimes available to freelancers.

Line Edit

Line editing is undertaken to ensure that the document in its entirety has a true "flow." This means that we admit the author has likely written and rewritten (and/or already undergone a developmental edit). We also, therefore, acknowledge that these processes may cause flow issues, repetitions or choppy language. Perhaps the cadence of paragraphs is at odds because one was rewritten yesterday when another was done a year ago. A line edit fixes these issues, which often come down to style issues.

An interesting note, though is that the line edit has been compared to both a copyedit and a comprehensive or substantive edit. This plainly illustrates why it is so important to have good communication with your author. Freelance editors often offer and perform line edits.

Low-, Medium-, High-Level Edit

Because so many definitions overlap, and specifics of each editing job are not often agreed-upon across publications and between editors, some will simply refer to a low, medium or high edit. This refers to the level of changes that the editor/publisher is looking for, or that the author has agreed to. A lower level edit will focus more on rules and copy edit type problems, whereas a higher level edit will make more substantive or developmental changes.

Macro Editing

This kind of editing has also been called comprehensive editing, developmental editing, and substantive editing. See the definition above for comprehensive editing.

Managing Editor

See definition above for coordinating editor. The managing editor is often the "traffic cop;" i.e. he/she "directs" a composition through the editing process. 

Mechanical Editing

See copy editing above. Mechanical/copy editing ​is available to freelance writers. 

Manuscript Review

This project focuses on the quality of the content, usually of a book. The editor who performs a manuscript review will read the piece and give substantial feedback on its viability in the publishing industry. This is almost exclusively performed by freelancers who are published, authors themselves, or who have significant experience in the publishing industry.

Permissions Editor

The permissions editor must obtain the rights to reprint copyrighted material that appears in documents, such as song lyrics, photos, and poetry lines. This can be performed by a freelancer who has inside knowledge of the book industry. Managing copyrights is important, as infringing on them can be costly. 

Productions Editor

The production editor will coordinate the printing/publishing of a book near the end of its road. He/she works with vendors such as printers and typesetters to get the book out to market. This position is generally performed in-house.


Proofreading, also called copy proofing or just proofing, is performed on a manuscript that has already (hopefully) been edited once.

Proofreading generally means that one last look is done for low-level corrections, such as misspellings, repetitive words, and grammar mistakes. However, proofreading may also mean checking a clean, new document against an old, edited document to make sure every correction has been made.

Proofreaders may also be checking for format issues, such as the correct line up of subtitles and running heads, looking for bad breaks in lines, or for words that aren’t properly divided from one page to the next. This line of work is very available to freelance editors, and easy to perform working remotely.

Stylistic Editing

See copy editing above. These are similar pursuits and are generally available to freelancers. 

Substantive Editing

See comprehensive editing above, although sometimes substantive editing is referred to as line editing, too. Generally, you can tell that you're embarking on a substantive or comprehensive edit when ideas, themes, characters or plot lines are open to improvement.

Technical Editing

Technical editing is editing documents that are of a very specific (technical!) nature. However, the level of the edit/proofreading may vary, encompassing any of the above types of editing. This project is widely available to editors with specialized knowledge in tech areas.