Becoming an editor: An insider’s guide

February 15, 2018Hels

When I’m not blogging or parenting, my 9-5 job is as an editor for a property website, and I also work as a freelance writer…

The title of ‘Editor’ was something I always aspired to have, and I thought I’d share my experiences, what I’ve done and how I got to this point. I have also worked as a freelance writer, so I’ve included some info about that too. It’s a pretty long read (maybe grab a tea) but hopefully it will be helpful and interesting!

Starting out

When I was at university, I got lucky. I got chatting to a guy in one of my gym classes, and he worked in the finance department at Hearst, the publishing company. He gave me a couple of his contacts, and I sent off CVs, cover letters and pleas for work experience. I was contacted by someone who worked at Harper’s Bazaar online. This was back in 2011, and so the online world was not as dominant as it is today, the print magazine was still very much the focus. I spent four weeks working at Harper’s Bazaar, and it was honestly one of the best experiences of my life. I wrote pieces for the website (which they actually published!) learned to build galleries and discovered all about how social media can be used.


I studied English at The University of Greenwich, which I absolutely loved. After I finished, I had a years break from education, and then went to Birkbeck to work for my MA in Journalism. Birkbeck is an evening university, so I worked during the days, then went to lectures 6pm-9pm and on the weekends, and the course was a year. Much of this course had a focus on print and traditional journalism, but we had a module on online journalism and blogging.

My MA dissertation was titled Exploring fashion, media and the new public message: How the voice of authority in fashion journalism is changing with regards to blogging, social media and user-generated content. I was awarded a Merit for my research and writing. I also did an Advanced Writing for the Web course through London College of Media and Journalism.

Internships and work experience

Once I graduated from Greenwich, I had my work experience from Harper’s Bazaar under my belt, and my degree. At this point, I was working as a before/after school nanny, and so I spent my days sending on CVs, pitches and examples of my writing.

I contacted literally every publication I could – once you’ve done work experience at Hearst, you aren’t allowed to do any more work experience there for 12 months – and I was contacted about an internship at a price comparison website. I spent a few months here, and then I found a paid internship at a course search website. This was a three-month placement – I had learnt very quickly that I just had to persevere through internships and work experience and get used to rejection and not hearing back from people.

Freelance writing

Sam works for a large digital media agency, and he mentioned that they sometimes use freelancers for writing copy for brands. I got in touch with the content editor, and they sent me a couple of trial pieces. Fortunately, they liked my writing, and they started sending me more briefs. I wrote content for brands like BMW, Heinz, Monarch Airlines, Cosmos Holidays and The Body Shop. I also did a huge project for Matalan, where they wanted the product descriptions on their website totally rewritten.

In 2015 I spent some time freelancing at a fashion brand. I’m not going to mention its name here, as it was one of the worst working experiences of my life, and I don’t want to dwell on it, but at least it I can put it on my CV, and I can add it to my portfolio.

I also currently freelance for a couple of parenting websites. Usually they send me a brief, or at least a title of a piece they want, but I often pitch ideas and suggestions to them.

Full-time positions

While I was doing my MA, I got an interview for a job at ASOS. After two interviews and a trial afternoon, I was successful, and became a full-time copywriter. This involved writing product descriptions for the website and brand blurbs. We worked on a target basis so we usually wrote around 100 descriptions a day. I also took on managing the ASOS Eco Edit Twitter account which promoted the ethical edit of clothing that ASOS has.

I spent almost two years at ASOS, before applying for a job at Camden Market which I spotted on LinkedIn. They were launching a new e-commerce site, and I was given the job of content co-ordinator. This still involved product descriptions, similar to my work at ASOS, but I was able to write more creatively as well, interviewing people that worked at the market, reviewing shops and restaurants in the area. I was there for six months, but as time went on, the role changed considerably and it was time to move on.

I got an interview for my current role as online editor, I applied for the role through Indeed. It was completely different to anything I’d ever done – property, not fashion, and I welcomed the change.

A day in the life

My job is pretty varied. As I said, I work in property, so I sometimes get to visit some pretty incredible show homes and new developments, but much of my day is spent writing. I write about new homes in different regions, and about housebuilders and mortgages and schemes to help first-time buyers. We often use freelancers, and I manage them; I brief them and sub the work they send over. I also source images for the articles I write, and upload them and schedule them on our system. Once a week I put together all our weekly stories for a newsletter and I write intros for each article.

Finding work

It’s been a real mix over the years. LinkedIn has been pretty helpful, I also signed up to Gorkana and Indeed. I found very quickly, especially in the fashion copywriting world, that making and keeping contacts is invaluable. If I read a website or publication and think that I have a good idea for them, I will find a PR or editorial contact and email them. You have nothing to lose by doing this!

The money issue

A few people asked about what I charge for freelance work etc. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. I have a day rate that I charge, which is based on whether I’m working from home or need to travel, and of course the work that is involved. I usually go in with a rate higher than what I would do it for, and expect to accept something a bit lower, but you never know, depending on the company they may well have the budget and accept your price.

For individual pieces, I charge per word, anything between 6-12p, again, depending on the brand, the length of the piece and the research involved. Many brands have a budget in mind, and if I know I’ll be getting regular work from them, then I don’t mind charging less than I would for a one-off piece.

What advice would I give to someone wanting to work as a writer or editor?

Experience is key. I know how hard it can be to find experience – you end up going round in circles, a job wants experience but you can’t get experience, but persevere. I have offered to initially write a piece for free for some publications to show off my writing. If you have a blog, send this over (if it is relevant) to demonstrate your style and your dedication. I also set up an online portfolio which I have found so helpful, it’s an easy way to share your work with potential clients or employers.

Tailor your CV to include any writing experience you’ve had. Make contacts and use them – if you know someone who works in content or editorial, let them know you’re looking, maybe they know of some work or have contacts they can put you in touch with.

I asked on Twitter if anyone had any questions about this, some I’ve answered above, but I’ll try and answer the rest of them here!

It’s a cliché answer, but it’s all about time management. When I was working entirely from home, I made myself get up, get dressed, sit at a desk every day. If I sat down on the sofa I would struggle, I think having a good work space is so important. For keeping motivated, when I was solely freelancing, money was my motivation. If I didn’t work, I didn’t get the money. I’d also set myself little targets and take regular short breaks, either for a quick walk round the block, or a cup of tea. I found freelancing quite lonely at times, so I wanted to make sure I got out a little.

I literally sent out CVs, cover letters to everywhere I wanted to work. I will say however, when I first started, it was 2012, and while it was still very competitive, it wasn’t quite as much as it is today.

For balancing projects, I would always organise them based on deadlines. I tend to work better to tighter deadlines, so I would set my own deadlines to encourage myself to finish them in advance, then I could revisit it before submitting it. Many companies have different house styles and tone of voice, so I make sure to have their website open to make sure I was keeping things as consistent as possible.

When I’ve written/rewritten something and need to edit it, sometimes I’ll get Sam or someone to read it, a fresh pair of eyes helps to make sure it reads okay, otherwise I’ll give it a break for a few hours then come back to it. I wish I had a great tip for writer’s block! I think just having a break and coming back to something, I read other topical articles for inspiration, it depends what the subject is really, but I would never force it. If I’m working to a tight deadline and I’m really struggling, then I’ll ask other people for advice – never be afraid to do this, sometimes the inspiration is right in front of you!

As an editor, I’m happy when I get a piece of writing that is grammatically correct, uses the correct house style (for example, our website uses ‘%’ but we have a freelancer that insists on writing ‘per cent’ – it sounds like a silly little thing but it takes time changing it!) and keeps me interested until the end. I don’t mind if a piece is a little longer, but it has to hold the readers attention!

I hope this was interesting and helpful (and if you made it to the end, thank you!) If you have any other questions, let me know in the comments! 

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