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5 Questions to Ask a Nonfiction Editor Before Hiring Them for Your Manuscript

How do you know if an editor is the right one for your book? Here are five questions you can ask them and the answers you should look for.

working with a nonfiction editor

You've finally finished your book and are ready for the next step: editing.

And if you're planning to go the self-publishing route, you may wonder how to find someone to edit your book.This step can be intimidating for several reasons. For starters, there are many ways to find an editor (sites like Upwork, Google searches, word of mouth, agencies, and LinkedIn, just to name a few).And once you've finally narrowed down the candidates, how do you know the editor will be the right fit?

Other than pricing, you need to make sure that the editor themself is a good match for you as an author and for your precious manuscript.

Let's take a look at five questions to ask your prospective editor (and what to look for in their answers) so that you can make sure you're picking the right professional for you.

1. Can you provide examples of your previous editing work?

This question can be a bit tricky, as often editors and proofreaders (myself included) have to sign NDAs for the books they work on. This could mean that the editor has quite a small portfolio or maybe none at all.

The way around this? Ask for testimonials. Check that the authors of these testimonials write within your same genre and have positive things to say about the editor.

Sometimes, editors worked for larger companies/agencies before striking out on their own. So although they are experienced, they have a limited portfolio and few testimonials. If this is the case, you can request a small sample edit from them to see if you like their work.

I offer many clients a sample edit (usually several pages to a chapter) and let them know ahead of time how much that sample will cost. If they choose to hire me, I waive the fee for the sample edit.

2. What type of nonfiction editing do you do? Does it include proofreading?

Proofreading and editing are two totally different beasts. And there are different types of editing as well.

Typically, you start big (developmental editing; i.e., the bigger picture and the meat of your writing) and then go small (line editing; i.e., sentence-by-sentence editing to make sure clarity and tone are maintained and things flow well).

Proofreading should be done last (after the manuscript is near perfection) and focuses on the nitty-gritty errors that are often overlooked during the writing and editing processes – embarrassing and distracting typos, for example.

Some editors do one type, some editors do all, and some "editors" only proofread. Make sure you ask your editor what they do and what is included in their pricing.

You don't want to hire a proofreader when you are still making big changes to the content of your book, and you don't want to hire a developmental editor thinking that they'll also be checking for things like proper punctuation, only to find out later that they don't actually do that.

nonfiction editor working with an author

3. How do you approach editing a manuscript, and how do you collaborate with an author?

When the editor answers this question, they should mention things like improving the text's readability, coherence, clarity, and consistency.

They should also understand the importance of maintaining your unique writing style and voice. The last thing you need is an editor going in and destroying everything about the piece that makes it yours.

The editor should also talk about how they collaborate with authors. They should emphasize open dialogue, teamwork, and a thorough comprehension of your objectives and preferences.

I have clients who want a hands-off approach. They want to give me the book, have me pick it apart, leave them notes, and then give it back. I also have clients who want a clear back-and-forth chapter by chapter, with discussions over zoom calls or emails about the direction of the book. Talk with your editor about how available they are for intense collaboration – if that is what you are looking for – and make sure that you are available for their questions as well. For the hands-off clients, I simply send a track changes version of the manuscript with comments for areas where clarification is needed, and the author and I go back and forth like this until the book is polished.

4. How do you resolve disputes with authors over alterations or updates to their work?

Personally, I've never had a dispute with a client. Why? Before and during the editing process I communicate extensively with the author.

Before I even start, we have a meeting to discuss their goals for their writing and make sure that we are on the same page about expectations.

As I said before, I leave comments if I have questions about the author's intent or if I think a major change needs to be made. That all being said, you want to find an editor who knows how to strike a balance between giving you what you want and doing what's best for the book.

Hopefully, they are enough of an expert in their industry to know what works best for a piece of writing and what doesn't belong or needs to be changed.

You are hiring an editor to elevate your writing, so you need to trust the editor that the changes they are making are in the best interest of your work.

5. What is your availability and turnaround time for editing a manuscript of my length?

Sometimes you have a flexible timeframe, and sometimes you don't. You may need your book edited quickly and want to know if the editor can meet your expected time frame.However, you need to be reasonable with this. I've seen posts on Upwork where clients are asking for 200-page books to be edited within a week. If an editor tells you they can do that "no problem", don't hire them. Maybe they can do it, but the quality of their edits will be poor.

Here is a great post that breaks down what you can expect from an editor in terms of types of editing and how long it can take them.

If you really do need a rush job (within reason) understand that you will likely pay a premium rate, as the editor will need to take time off from other paying clients to focus solely on your project. Hey, editors need to pay the bills too.

When it comes to locking down a time frame, the editor should be able to estimate this after taking a look at your writing (better yet, after doing that sample edit).

Don't just hire any nonfiction editor.

It took a lot of work for you to write your manuscript, and it deserves to be edited by someone who fits your needs and offers a valuable service.

Take your time, ask these five questions, and find someone you will feel comfortable collaborating with long-term.Most of us editors do this because we love it, and we want to see you succeed!

So sometimes you may have a nonfiction editor tell you that they aren't the right person for you. That's a good thing! Hopefully, if they aren't a good fit for you, they can direct you to someone who is.


Looking to have your manuscript edited? Reach out to me via email

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