A copy editor is part of the editorial team that prepares a book manuscript for production, copy for newpapers and magazines, and web content for the Internet. Some editors are employed by book publishing companies, some by newspapers and magazines, and some by web publishers. Other copy editors work consistently for one company, but as an outside consultant, or for a variety of clients. If this is the type of job arrangement you seek, then you want to become a freelance copy editor.
Like copy editors who are employed full-time, copy editors who work as freelancers need to have an excellent grasp of the language or languages they work in. This includes grammar, mechanics, spelling, and a feel for the different registers of language, so that they can readily recognize, for example, academic versus colloquial style. To become a freelance copy editor, you need a solid grasp of these aspects of language, and you may additionally need to be acquainted with one or more particular style manuals used as standards in the areas of publishing in which you wish to work.
You should also own or have easy access to a variety of dictionaries, to meet the needs of different projects or clients, or simply the house dictionary if you work for one company with a designated dictionary. A good and recent atlas, a geographical dictionary, a thesaurus, and a biographical dictionary may also prove to be good investments. Some of these resources may be efficiently accessed online. If you have or can obtain access to a college or university library website, you may find the wealth of reference materials very worthwhile.
Some copy editors become familiar with the standards of the business by reading the style manuals. You can also learn the field by interning with a publisher or taking courses in copy editing. In some cases, it is not sufficient to just know where you can find information but essential to actually know it because often to become a freelance copy editor you will have to take a copy editing test, and in some cases, it may be timed.
It may help you to become a freelance copy editor if you join a professional organization for editorial freelancers. Such an organization can provide fellowship, advice, job leads, and insurance, as well as suggesting appropriate pay scales. Your membership in such an organization may also raise clients’ estimations of your professional competence.