How to find the right nonfiction editor for you

Nonfiction editor

With publishing houses overwhelmed and the resulting explosion of self-publishing taking place, some authors may need to find a freelance nonfiction editor before sending their manuscript in to publishing houses or self-publishing their book themselves. This blog will give you tips on how to find the right nonfiction editor for you.

Role of a nonfiction editor

The role of a nonfiction editor is currently evolving. In the past, a freelance nonfiction editor would pretty much fix your typos, note any glaring errors, and send you on your way. The publishing house would then have in-house editors who would fact-check and fine-tune, generally with lots of back-and-forth communication between the author and the editor.

Nowadays, it’s hard to catch the attention of a publishing house, and there’s no shame in self-publishing. However, without that final in-house editor meticulously checking every detail of your book, you’ll need to find someone to do it on your own.

Define the type of editing you need

The type of editing you’ll need depends on your writing and your goal. As stated in this blog on “If you’re unclear about your book’s structure, or unsure if your argument really lands, you’re probably best off getting a developmental edit. On the other hand, if you’re confident in the overall organization and direction of your book but feel like your language could use some fine-tuning, then you’ll be looking at a copy edit instead.”

If your goal is to submit your manuscript to a publishing house, you’ll probably want a book proposal as well, or at the very least, a query letter, author bio, and synopsis to send in with the first few chapters of your manuscript.

What to ask before hiring them

In a nutshell, @FirstEditing posted a tweet listing ten questions to ask a potential editor. While these questions aren’t specifically directed toward nonfiction editors, the questions are valid just the same. They include asking about the editor’s experience, qualifications, and references, as well as their communication style and if they offer a free sample edit.

Additionally, there are some issues you as a writer need to be clear about before hiring an editor. From the blog mentioned in the tweet above comes this sage advice.

Before you reach out to a professional editor, you can consider some introspective questions first. These are not necessary but they can definitely assist with preparing for professional editing.

Ask yourself:

  • What is your goal for your book & how does editing support this?
    • Define your genre, sub-genre, and style of writing
    • Write your blurb which serves as your
      • Promise to your readers
      • Guideline for your editor
    • Know your audience –
      • What are their expectations from this genre?
      • What are their expectations from your blurb?
  • What do you need from your editor?
    • Style guides, submission guidelines, agent requirements, etc.
    • Editing service and support services
  • What do you want?
    • Different levels of editing
    • Different depths of service
    • DIY vs DFY
  • What can you afford?
    • How important is your reputation
    • Editing is an investment

Filter out editors

When you’ve narrowed your search down to an editorial service or individual freelance nonfiction editors, you can start the process of elimination to help you decide with whom to place your trust. Some of the 6 Rules to Filter Out Bad Candidates from Bennett R. Coles may be a bit controversial. For example, “Rule #1: If the editor has an extensive list of genres on their website, then they are positioning themselves as a jack of all trades, which won’t be a good fit for you.” In reality, that editor may have been doing a great job for his or her many clients over a number of years, even decades, thus truly building an extensive list of genres.

Ask for sample edits and check references

Shikha Pandey is a creative, content and script writer based in Mumbai, India. She has this advice for writers looking for a nonfiction editor. “I would recommend you go with the editor you can trust. You can choose the right editor by giving them a sample and getting a free edit done. A lot of experienced and professional editors often agree for a free edit as it lets them see your manuscript and lets you get a sense of how they work. You can also go through their credentials and testimonials provided by previous clients to gauge their quality of work. The onus is on you for doing the research because you know the stage your manuscript is at and the amount of help required to complete, polish and ready it.

Ensure communication flow

Many online editing services (and freelancers on sites like and offer a one-and-done type of edit. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s merely the style of the editor/company, and works for many writers.

However, the blog entitled 7 Little-Known Ways to Finding the Right Book Editor on makes a great point; some types of editing require more communication between author and editor.

Substantive editing is useful for authors who need expert guidance on plot, characterization, and core concept, in addition to in-depth line editing for the technical aspects. This service helps authors make their material more cohesive and interesting for their target audience, without altering the author’s voice. The editor will provide comments about

  • Plot and pacing (for fiction) and narrative coherence (for nonfiction)
  • Core concept (for nonfiction)
  • Characterization
  • Dialogue
  • Tonal shifts
  • Title

Given the depth and scope of the editor’s involvement in a substantive edit, this service calls for greater collaboration between the author and editor, and might involve multiple rounds of editing until all the issues are satisfactorily addressed.”

This is precisely why recently added the Book Coaching option to their nonfiction clients. The manuscript will get a substantive edit, with feedback in the margin for improvement and impressions from a reader’s perspective, then a subsequent copy edit after the writer has accepted/rejected the changes and incorporated any of the suggestions given by the editor. This is not a constant barrage of communication, just one back and forth, allowing the writer to write and the editor to edit.

If you’re looking for a freelance editor on, say, or, they will usually note in their gig offer how many revisions are allowed per order (usually none or one). They may also note if a Skype or Zoom or phone call of some length is included.

In conclusion, the Nonfiction Authors Association notes: “In the end, a good editor will act as a co-creator. While you, as the writer, may have the expertise on the subject-matter, an editor is the expert in providing the knowledgeable critiques, suggestions, and directions required to make your book the best it can be.”

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