The training required to become a copy editor can be different depending on the type of media being edited, but demonstrated skills in language, writing, and grammar are always essential. Most manuscript copy editors come from literature backgrounds. To become a copy editor of books, it is usually best to study literary trends and patterns, then look for work in a publishing house. If you are looking to become a copy editor on a newspaper or for a broadcast news show, however, you will likely need a background in communications or journalism. Copy editors must have expertise in the subject matter of the material they are editing.
One thing that all copy editors should have in common is a love for language, an eye for grammar, and an ability to interact with writers to improve an original piece of work. Copy editors work with virtually all written products. Books, newspapers, scripts, and even websites require copy editing services. The very first thing you need to do to become a copy editor is to determine what kind of editing it is that you want to do.
It is not usually possible to get a copy editing degree. Some schools will offer editing skills workshops or lectures, but there is not usually enough information to cover in order to make an entire course. The essential skills of a copy editor are usually honed over time, and are born of an expertise with the underlying subject matter.
Most copy editors who work with book manuscripts have university degrees in a language, such as English. Studying literature and reading books in an academic setting will give you an eye for strong writing. This background will enable you to help writers shape and craft their own manuscripts.
Copy editing jobs are widely available at most publishing houses. Many of these positions are designed for editors with very little experience, which means that you can start applying as soon as you have a degree. Entry-level copy editor jobs in publishing houses are usually not very glamorous, but there is almost always a great deal of advancement potential.
Things work a bit differently in the news media sector. Newspaper copy editors usually have journalism or communications degrees, and many have several years' worth of experience working as reporters or writers. News copy editors usually work on much tighter deadlines than do manuscript copy editors. As such, they must be fast, accurate, and intimately familiar with the jargon and style of media reporting. They must be able to quickly identify holes in news stories, and often must do research to fill in gaps on their own.
Many news bureaus offer student internships to journalism and communications students interested in pursuing careers as either news writers or copy editors. Check with your school's career center to see if any of your local newspapers have internships available. The newspapers also usually advertise internship and entry-level jobs on their websites.
Newspaper copy editors are increasingly editing web content as well as print content. Web content editors must typically be able to demonstrate at least some expertise with web coding and webpage layout in addition to whatever subject matter expertise they possess. Any experience you can get working with web content will help your application to become a copy editor in the new media sector.
Nearly all printing and publishing outlets employ full-time staffs of writers and copy editors, but copy editing positions are frequently offered on a freelance basis, as well. This is particularly true for web-based editing. It is often cheaper for companies to hire copy editors for temporary projects and small batches of work on a freelance basis. For the editor, this often has the advantage of a flexible schedule and even a work-from-home arrangement, but often lacks the benefits and other perks of full-time employment. Nevertheless, starting out as a freelance copy editor can give you the experience and demonstrated skills you will need to advance to a more permanent position.