I believe there exist editors who can edit any topic, product, or subject, but I’m sceptical of most such claims. I can’t help wondering if those people are like I was when I started out: I knew everything.
Specializing is profitable because I know the conventions and standards, and facts, so I can work quickly and efficiently at high quality. Learning to edit in a new field would take a lot of work. I haven’t found a field that pays enough to be worth the effort; though I do have my eye on financial markets…
Specialists can demand higher fees, in any profession.
Subject matter specialties are a good way to break in — into editing itself or into a new market —and an easy way to brand yourself. I’ve often credited my comfort with chemistry as getting me a foot in the door with publishers. There are not a lot of wordsmiths who are comfortable with that topic. History, however, and fiction, are fields rife with competition.
If you’ve got a special area of expertise, work that to your advantage. You might have a degree backing that up, or maybe you’re an “independent scholar”; even an avid hobby can help set you apart from your peers.
Now that I am a Sr editor, I KNOW I am very good at a couple roles, in a few subject areas, for a handful of products. You might be surprised by the volume of work I think is NOT a good fit for me.
I’m even more surprised when someone with a religious themed historical novel asks me — a science and education specialist — to edit for them. SO not the right editor for that job!
Case(s) in point: I once made far too many queries re lingo and analogies in a business textbook. I didn’t know those awful word choices and cliches were stock & trade. (You also shouldn’t have an editor who calls your writing awful. Clearly not suited to your project.)
On the other side of the desk, I’ve stetted far too many changes by those who didn’t appreciate the principles on which a textbook was formed, or who didn’t understand that though their word change “sounded” better, it made the science wrong or was not appropriate to the reader’s level.
Lastly, I know enough to never try to edit anything to do with food. Not a recipe, not a menu, not a restaurant review. I love food, so I know I don’t have a clue. Or big-league sports; not one iota of interest.
So, what’s your favourite kind of editing? What subject specialty could you leverage?