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I spend a great deal more time than other graduate school students identifying and figuring out how to fix mistakes in published papers and specialized books. Time and time again an author's careless error has sent me down a rabbit hole. In fact, finding the mistake and fixing it is often more interesting to me than the research itself. It dawned on me that I might be able to make a career out of editing working papers and books in advance of publication. However, I am not quite sure how to find such a job.

I am not seeking to publish my own research; I prefer revise and improve others' work. It seems like a useful thing to do: Author's mistakes becomes my personal headache, so that a dozen or more readers down the line do not have to independently run into the same issues (after publication). It is better to fix this sort of problem at compile time rather than run-time.

However, Most peer-reviews are unpaid and done by collegiate professors. I am not seeking a professorship; I don't even have a Ph.D. The highest degree under my belt is a baccalaureate (It is in mathematics at the very least).

When I took the GRE, I was in the 98th percentile for verbal reasoning. This and other indicators seem to show that I might be a good copy editor. However, I really would like to review papers in mathematics and/or computer science. Although editing at The New York Times, or at Tor Books™ might be someone else's dream job, I very much love math. I would like to focus at least as much time on the rigor and correctness of the mathematics done, as time spent on English grammar.

I am very good with logic (the formal kind), comfortable writing proofs, and unperturbed by mathematical symbols equations which make the general populace groan. I am better with graph theory and theory of computation than writing code; my math skills are strong. I have no previous job experience as an editor (other than a pitiful stint at my high school newspaper) and I am not sure where to start looking. I spend a great deal more time than my peers (in graduate school) identifying and figuring out how to fix mistakes in published papers and specialized books. Time and time again an author's careless error has sent me down a rabbit hole. In fact, finding the mistake and fixing it is often more interesting to me, than the research itself. It dawned on me that I might be able to make a career out of editing working papers and books in advance of publication. However, I am not quite sure how to find such a job. A penny for your thoughts?

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    I took the liberty to edit out duplicate paragraphs. Please double check if I made any mistake. – scaaahu Dec 31 '18 at 3:53
  • I might be a good copy editor. That sounds like you answered your own question. – Thomas Dec 31 '18 at 4:04
  • There are still some duplicate paragraphs/sentences. – Morgan Rodgers Dec 31 '18 at 19:22
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    Major textbook publishers do employ copy editors. It isn't a very high level position and I doubt that it pays especially well. OTOH, you might be able to do it without having to go to an office, or move to NYC. They can greatly improve the accuracy of the writing. You are unlikely to meet any of the people whose work you edit, nor have many responsibilities than accuracy. – Buffy Dec 31 '18 at 21:18
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The kind of thing you're looking to do can be fun, but does not pay. That's because your progress will be painfully slow. For example, say I have a 300-page mathematics monograph. How much do you think is fair to charge for your content editing? Don't forget the total revenue of that book is likely to be less than $10,000 in total. Further, how many more copies of the book is one likely to sell if they engage you? In the best-case scenario, you'll catch every error, and the reviews will be glowing ... but translating that into books-that-are-sold-that-would-not-otherwise-be-sold, I'd estimate that to be ~5-10 books. From there, we could say that the publisher might be willing to pay you $100. For a 300-page monograph, it's just really hard to see it as worth it.

You could make more money by handling the entirety of the publication process. You'd need to do copyediting (i.e. English editing, not just content editing), send proofs to authors, liaise with the typesetters & printers, and so on. Publishers have people whose job scope is to do this ("editors"). Unfortunately, you still won't be able to do the kind of content editing you want to do. I used to work in academic publishing, and when I did this, I handled 8-9 projects at the same time. There's just no way you can treat each manuscript in the detail you want to.

Having said that, one part of the job scope of editors is to acquire more projects. If you do a good job with editing, you can impress authors who might in turn either write more books or refer their friends & colleagues to you. This will be good for your career. If the project you're handling is aimed at the general public, or at undergraduate level, you have more of a chance to offer content critiques, but you won't have time to understand deep mathematics.

If you still want to do this, then you can find such jobs the same way you find other such jobs: by reading job advertisements and writing to employers (in this case academic publishers). You can also put up your own advertisements to do this kind of checking, in which case you'd use message boards that mathematicians or computer scientists look at.

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A possible occupation is suggested by these searches: "test editor" + mathematics AND "mathematics editor" + test. See also this web page, although to be frank, they vastly overstate the desire of employers to want math majors, and the part about a graduate background in abstract algebra, real analysis, etc. giving you "an advantage over other candidates" is especially naive. I say this as someone --- 9 years full-time college teaching and 4 years full-time high school teaching and Ph.D. in math --- who has worked in this field for the past 13.5 years, 12 of which was for a very well known company, from which I was laid off 1.5 years ago and I have since had great difficulty in even finding part-time contract positions.

  • I think they did the analysis of "is it worth hiring someone with a PhD instead of someone with a BS who'll accept a much lower salary?" and decided it wasn't worth it. Sad, but unfortunate fact of life. There are things one can do with a PhD that others cannot, but in my experience, they're heavily acquisitions-based. – Allure Jan 1 at 2:57

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