Black Editors, Book Coaches & Proofreaders

Getting Editing Experience as a Novice: Alternatives to Editing for Free

Are you an aspiring editor eager to embark on a fulfilling career shaping the written word? While the path to becoming a professional editor may seem daunting, it’s important to recognize the true value of your skills and the significance of fair compensation. In this post, we’ll delve into why aspiring editors should refrain from editing for free and explore alternative avenues to develop your editing prowess the right way. By taking a different approach, you can enhance your expertise, build a strong portfolio, and establish yourself as a respected editor in the industry.

Does this sound like you?

“I am not sure how else to gain experience in the editing industry. Along with that, because I don’t have experience yet, I feel uncomfortable asking authors (who might not have lots of money) to spend on my services. I figured as I edited more books I could change my financial strategy.”

This is a very common position. And I understand. Really, I do. I wrote a whole book about it.

But if you feel compelled to edit books for free, that means you don’t believe your editing skill is worth charging for—and it’s a sure sign that you know, no matter how deep down you try to push your insecurities, you’re not quite ready to be an editor. There’s nothing wrong with being inexperienced. We all were at one time. But there is a lot wrong with offering editing services—even free—and you leave or, worse, add errors. You’re doing them a disservice, not a favor.

If you don’t yet have the qualifications to edit books and are offering editing services as an untrained editor, that’s not only unethical but it can create more problems than it solves.

First and foremost is potential damage to the author’s work: Without proper training or qualifications, untrained editors may lack the necessary understanding of grammar, style, structure, and other key elements of effective editing. Authors invest significant time, effort, and emotions into their books. Entrusting an untrained editor with their work can be risky. Inaccurate or subpar editing may negatively impact the author’s writing, potentially introducing errors or altering the author’s intended voice and style. This can diminish the quality of the book and undermine the author’s vision.

Second, you risk your ability to build a credible reputation. People talk, especially about negative interactions. The last thing you need is for word to get around in these #writingcommunity circles that you’re doling out subpar editing. You’ll never be able to compete with established editors if you have a bad reputation.

Third, there’s a risk of legal issues. Editing involves working with copyrighted material, and untrained editors may not fully grasp the legal implications of their actions. Mishandling copyrighted content can result in legal repercussions for both the editor and the author. Professional editors understand the legal nuances and are equipped to navigate potential issues.

Instead of editing authors’ books for free, untrained editors should focus on investing in their own professional development to acquire the necessary skills and expertise. Pursuing training courses, workshops, or educational programs allows aspiring editors to gain the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in their craft. By dedicating time to learn and grow as an editor, they can offer high-quality editing services to authors in a responsible and ethical manner while maintaining professional standards.

But why can’t I edit for free to build my portfolio if I am trained?

Okay, let’s say you are trained and do possess the skill to put a manuscript through a proper review, but you simply lack experience. Here’s several key reasons skilled aspiring editors should also avoid editing for free.

  1. Value of your skills: Editing is a valuable skill that requires time, effort, and expertise to develop. By offering your services for free, you undermine the value of your skills and the editing profession as a whole. Clients may perceive editing as something that can be done without cost, making it harder for professional editors to earn a fair wage.

  2. Professionalism and credibility: When you work for free, it can be challenging to establish yourself as a professional editor. Potential clients may question your expertise and dedication if they perceive your services as lacking value. Charging a reasonable fee for your work demonstrates professionalism, commitment, and confidence in your abilities.

  3. Fair compensation: Editing is a legitimate service that deserves fair compensation. Editing projects require your time, attention to detail, and knowledge of language and grammar. By working for free, you are essentially giving away your time and expertise without receiving compensation for your efforts.

  4. Sustainability and growth: Working for free can hinder your ability to sustain yourself as a freelance editor. It’s important to build a sustainable business model that allows you to cover your expenses, invest in professional development, and grow your career. By working for free, you may struggle to generate income and establish a viable editing business.

  5. Establishing boundaries: Editing for free can lead to a slippery slope where clients may expect continuous free services or devalue the importance of editing altogether. It’s crucial to establish clear boundaries and communicate the value of your work by setting appropriate fees.

  6. Opportunities for exploitation: Offering free editing services can make you vulnerable to exploitation by individuals or organizations looking to take advantage of your skills without providing fair compensation. By valuing your work and setting appropriate fees, you protect yourself from potential exploitation.

How do Trained  Yet Inexperienced Editors Get Experience?

Since you don’t want to freelance for free, how do you go about getting hands-on experience as a novice editor?


Volunteering as an editor can offer great benefits to aspiring editors, particularly in terms of gaining hands-on experience and professional growth. Here are some advantages of volunteering as an editor:

  1. Practical experience: Volunteering allows aspiring editors to gain practical experience in a real-world editing environment. You can work on actual projects, interact with authors or content creators, and get a feel for the editing process from start to finish. This hands-on experience helps develop your skills and understanding of the editing profession.

  2. Mentorship and feedback: Volunteering often involves working alongside experienced professionals who can offer guidance and mentorship. They can provide valuable feedback on your editing work, share insights into the industry, and help you refine your skills. Learning from seasoned editors can significantly accelerate your growth as an editor.

  3. Building credibility: Volunteering for reputable organizations or working on meaningful projects can enhance your credibility as an editor. It demonstrates your commitment to the profession and your willingness to contribute your skills to worthy causes. This credibility can positively impact your reputation, making it easier to attract paying clients in the future.

  4. Learning new genres or styles: Volunteering can expose you to a variety of genres or writing styles that you may not have encountered otherwise. Editing diverse content allows you to expand your knowledge and experience, enabling you to become a more versatile editor. This versatility can be beneficial when pursuing paid opportunities, as clients often seek editors with experience in specific genres or styles.

  5. Networking and connections: Volunteering can help you establish valuable connections within the industry. You may collaborate with authors, writers, or organizations that can provide recommendations, referrals, or even future paid work. Networking opportunities can arise from volunteering, enabling you to expand your professional contacts and increase your chances of finding paid editing gigs.

  6. Building a portfolio: Volunteering provides opportunities to build a strong portfolio of edited work. A portfolio showcases your editing abilities and can be a powerful tool for attracting potential clients or employers. By volunteering, you can accumulate a diverse range of editing samples that demonstrate your expertise to future clients or when seeking paid editing opportunities.

Volunteering should be a deliberate choice to gain experience, contribute to meaningful causes, and build your professional network. Volunteer Match, Catch a Fire, and Indeed are full of listings from organizations that need your passion for editing and desire to be of service. And you won’t be jeopardizing your freelance reputation.

“But that’s not going to get me experience with literature. I want to edit fiction and nonfiction.”

To gain hands-on experience relating to fiction and nonfiction, aspiring editors can consider volunteering through the following avenues:

  1. Nonprofit organizations: Many nonprofit organizations, particularly those focused on literature, writing, or education, may welcome volunteer editors. Reach out to local libraries, literary organizations, or writing programs to inquire about volunteering opportunities. They may have projects such as proofreading manuscripts, editing educational materials, or assisting with literary publications.

  2. Literary magazines or journals: Volunteer with literary magazines or journals that accept submissions and require editorial assistance. These publications often rely on volunteers to review, edit, and provide feedback on submitted pieces. Contact them to express your interest in volunteering as an editor, and inquire about any current or upcoming opportunities.

  3. Mentorship programs: Seek mentorship programs or initiatives that connect aspiring editors with experienced professionals. Some mentorship programs involve collaborative editing projects where mentors guide and supervise the editing process. This provides valuable hands-on experience while receiving guidance from seasoned editors.

  4. Writing workshops or conferences: Volunteer as an editor for writing workshops or conferences where authors submit their work for review. These events often recruit editors to provide feedback or conduct editing sessions. Participating as a volunteer editor allows you to work closely with writers, gain experience in critiquing manuscripts, and refine your editing abilities.

  5. Writing communities: Join online writing communities or forums where authors share their work and seek feedback, such as Black Writers Collective. Offer your services voluntarily by engaging with writers and providing constructive critiques or suggestions for improvement. Avoid referring to your feedback as “editing” or your services as “editing services.” This allows you to practice your editing skills from a safe standpoint and build relationships with writers who may later require professional editing services. To volunteer with Black Writers Collective (, join at the Affiliate level and then join their Beta Readers group. If you’d like to offer feedback within a critique group to multiple authors with works in progress, email them via their contact form to express interest.
About Tia Ross
Tia Ross, Editor, Editor Coach, Author, Founder, Entrepreneur

Tia Ross is a highly experienced line editor and copyeditor, business coach, editor mentor and coach, author of So You Want to Be an Editor . . . But Can You Edit?, and the owner of WordWiser Ink LLC. She is also a certified yogi and the curator of Writeful Retreats group and solo writing and editing retreats. Tia began editing professionally in 1986 and started her freelance editing business in 1995. Tia has mentored and coached countless aspiring editors and writers and is passionate about empowering editorial entrepreneurs to build thriving businesses. Learn more about Tia’s editing services at

1 thought on “Getting Editing Experience as a Novice: Alternatives to Editing for Free”

  1. This post has so much information! As editor-in-training (EARLY in training), I thought it would be best to gain experience by offering free editing services. This post explains in high detail why that’s a terrible idea. I appreciate the time it took to educate us on this specific topic. Off to go volunteer ✨

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