The Perfect Job for You?
Clearly, technical editing is not a job for everyone. Other than the obvious technical skills and expertise required, you must have self-discipline, a sense of duty, and a hawk's eye.
You must keep up with the pace of the team, because the author, development editor, and copyeditors need to review the manuscripts with your comments. If you fail to return manuscript on time, you'll become a bottleneck. Tech editing a 40-page chapter usually takes 12 whole days. Concentration and patience are the name of the game. If you have a daytime job, technical editing might not be suitable for you. The last thing you want after a quarrel with your boss and traffic jams on the way home is 10 more hours of code testing.
You should also be prepared to deal with fluctuating rates of work. Some weeks, you'll be swamped with four chapters that must be ready within days; other weeks, you won't have much work to do. Often, you'll have to review the manuscripts twice because the author has inserted new passages or rephrased some paragraphs based on your comments.
I know, I know. I've elegantly avoided the million-dollar question thus far. Sohow much can you get for this job? The usual fee is $2.50$3.00 per electronic page. Your plans for an early retirement may have to be shelved. For a typical book of 20 chapters, you can expect to get around $2,000 in total.
Skills, expertise, and desire for wealth not withstanding, you must love this job. Forget the illusions of fame and fortune; your reward will be the excitement of participating in a new creation.
For those of you who are eager to write your first tech book, technical editing might be a good opportunity to initiate contacts with influential people in this industry.
How do you get started? Well, it's very helpful to be visible, so acquisitions editors who are shopping for tech editors can find you. Get involved in supporting users and other tech folk (mailing lists and such). Be active in technical groups, particularly if your expertise is in open source. And be proactive if you're really interested in technical editing. Contact the acquisitions editors of the books you particularly use and like (at Sams, for example), and express your interest in technical editing. Acquisitions editors are always on the lookout for technical editorsnot least because good technical editors often end up doing writing projects almost immediately afterward, and then are lost to the tech editing realm.
Would I do it again? Definitely. (Nick, are you mulling a second edition, per chance?)