Category Archives: Freelancing & Advice

What Do You Do? Editor vs. Copyeditor vs. Copywriter

{Image via Duke Yearlook}

No one really understands anyone else’s job completely, but I wanted to give a shot at explaining what’s the difference among three popular writing jobs: an editor, a copyeditor, and a copywriter. In short, one is writing, one is grammar, and one is selling. I’ve professionally held two of these three positions, but part of each job is performing a combination of all of these tasks. Here goes nothing…

Editor
As a magazine editor or newspaper editor, you’re not just editing other people’s work. You’re a writer first and foremost. As a newspaper editor, (in theory) you get to send out all of your reporters to do the dirty work like attending city council meetings or reporting on breaking news for your beat (the department you’re in charge of). But mostly, you have to do the work yourself. A reporter may write a story for you, but then you have to edit the article ruthlessly — and possibly re-write parts — when they turn it in. As a newspaper editor, you have to be good at interviewing people for great quotes, writing headlines, editing your work and other people’s work, and reporting all this information in the form of a coherent article on a short deadline.

At a magazine, an editor gets to be more creative. Interviewing and reporting are still important but there’s a lot more “editorial” writing going on. Magazines have a “voice” that you can emulate in your writing and you want to make the readers happy. In theory, magazine editors have freelance writers (or assistant editors if you’re lucky) working for their department, but again, it’s often easier and quicker to do the work yourself. If you are a really awesome magazine editor — like I was. Wink, wink. — you get to go to photo shoots and partake in the design elements of the magazine by working closely with photographers, designers, and stylists. You have to make sure the “editorial” side of the magazine is being voiced through the photos, illustrations, and styling of the models and props as well. And you have to be able to voice your opinions to these people. As a magazine editor, you have to be super creative, generate a ton of story ideas, put a new spin on topics that have been covered hundreds of times, and be a very visual person.

Copyeditor
This is all about grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Along with legal mumbo-jumbo, readability, consistency, and a bit of design — you don’t want “rivers” flowing through your copy or weird line breaks. Copyeditors are saints from the high heavens. They are SO important to any publication. After an editor writes something, it’s the copyeditor’s job to fix any errors (because, let’s be honest, not all magazine editors have perfect grammar). Copyeditors are the last eyes on the document before it goes to print, so they have the incredibly stressful job of making sure every word is perfect! (Honestly, the editors will see the copy a few more times, but the weight really lies on the copyeditor’s shoulders.) Copyeditors must make sure they don’t step on editors’ toes and suggest changes that may be completely opinion-based instead of solely grammar-based, although it occasionally happens. They also have to make sure all of the legal bases are covered — are the appropriate trademark signs used, are we allowed to say that in that way, is that company spelled correctly…it’s a LOT of policing.

Copywriter
Copywriters write words that sell. Think ad agencies like in Mad Men (although you can also work directly for a company when you’re a copywriter). These words are used for advertising or marketing, in retail or e-commerce stores, and in customer relationship management (CRM) materials like rewards programs, mailers, subscription renewal notices, etc. Copywriters get paid more money because it’s business-focused. Copywriting is creative like magazines but it’s also restricted by characters and information-filled like newspaper writing. The copy is often pretty short and sweet which is a big challenge. Plus there is always an ulterior motive — selling. If you’re a really good ad agency copywriter, you could become legendary while writing catchy jingles or penning memorable ad campaigns like “I’m loving it.” Copywriters can also write for an e-commerce website and punch out product descriptions all day. Or, they could write for a direct marketing company and draft lengthy four-page magazine renewal letters. To be a copywriter, it helps to stay on top of pop culture references, to be witty, and to work under tight deadlines. And also to be a copyeditor. Everyone’s going to ask you about grammar because you’re the copy person. It can be annoying.