New authors writing fiction can build up their experience through trial and error by writing several short stories over time cost-effectively as they hone their craft. By using low-cost or no-cost self-publishing services like Kindle Direct Publishing or Lulu to design and publish those early trial books, they can become seasoned writers without suffering any reputational loss.
The world of nonfiction, however, is not quite as forgiving. When you publish your first nonfiction book, you’ll be automatically deemed to be an expert in your field, right along with those who might be on their fifth or sixth books. After all, why would a non-expert bother writing a nonfiction book?
So from the get-go you’ll have to ally yourself with (and budget for) professional editors who will take your manuscript writing and structure to the next level, allowing your book to bring about your subject-matter expertise in a compelling and engaging way.
Before you hire any editing resources, let me help you get familiar with the different types of editors required to make your nonfiction manuscript truly shine.
Types of Nonfiction Editors
There are four main types of nonfiction editors you can hire, depending on your unique circumstances and budget:
• Developmental Editor (sometimes called a Conceptual Editor)
• Content Editor (sometimes called a Substantive Editor)
• Line Editor (sometimes called a Stylistic Editor)
• Copy Editor (sometimes called a Proofreader)
Sometimes an individual editor will combine two of these editing levels into a single service, so it’s always good to discuss beforehand exactly what level of editing you’re looking for, and what they intend to provide.
Let’s now look at the distinct functions each one performs:
The first type of professional editing that your nonfiction book will require is developmental editing. This type of editor will look at the overall structure of your book to assess if it’s adequate to support your main thesis.
As the author, you’re simply too close to your book to be able to have an unbiased opinion, and your developmental editor will help you gain the necessary perspective to help you “see the forest for the trees” and make objective decisions.
In short, the developmental editor is like a coach who’ll lay out the overall strategy you need to follow for your book to achieve its full potential. They’ll do so by using the following two mechanisms.
The Editor’s Letter
Through this letter, they’ll tackle the biggest structural issues in your book by making suggestions so that you can take the necessary corrective action.
This might entail re-writing certain chapters, swapping them around, perhaps writing new ones and eliminating sections of the book that don’t support your thesis and don’t add any value to your readers.
Once you’ve completed this major initial revision, your manuscript will have a much more solid foundation, strong enough to begin the second phase of developmental editing: page-by-page commenting.
Here, your developmental editor will go through every page of your manuscript and leave you notes in the margin. These notes won’t be related to spelling, grammar and punctuation errors but to the actual content of the text.
For example, they may point out that an idea you’re exploring is out of place with the other ideas in that chapter and should be moved elsewhere. Or they might show how the subject of one chapter is an outlier compared to the rest of the book and question whether it should be included at all (or re-worked to fit the rest of the book).
The content editor will pick up from where the developmental editor left off and move down to the chapter and sub-chapter level. Their main job is to ensure that your message is delivered with clarity to meet the needs of your target audience. They’ll ensure that your ideas flow naturally from one to the next and that you haven’t included any ideas that aren’t relevant to your main thesis.
For example, they’ll make sure that all chapters have the right structure (at its most basic: a beginning that introduces the main idea, a middle that expands on it, and an end that summarizes it). They’ll also suggest rearranging ideas within a chapter if doing so will improve clarity and flow.
A line editor goes deeper still, right down to the paragraph and word level. They’ll check your manuscript for readability and style, and make suggestions to improve clarity. They’ll do so by rewriting those phrases that are clunky and hard to read, adjust paragraphs that are unclear, shorten run-on sentences and so on.
Finally, they’ll suggest the right placement for any illustrations, images, tables, or any other type of graphical element in relation with the text and the flow of ideas.
Copy editors are not concerned with idea flow or paragraph clarity: their job is to ensure that your book’s content is correct and its facts are accurate.
They will catch spelling, punctuation, grammatical, syntax, capitalization and hyphenation errors. They’ll ideally correct any fact in your book that is inaccurate, from wrong dates to wrong places to wrong names.
They’ll flag any potential legal infringement issues, check for major formatting inconsistencies, check for proper word usage and check for any type of anomalies in your text.
Before you publish, you want to be certain that your nonfiction book is devoid of errors, omissions, typos and inaccuracies.
Your copy editor will make sure that your book is free from:
• Punctuation, spelling, grammatical and syntax errors
• Formatting inconsistencies
• Incorrect references
• Inaccurate facts and figures
• Erroneous captions
Unlike most of us, copy editors have the uncanny ability to laser focus on the language of your text without getting distracted by the art.
In other words, the reason we mere mortals can’t seem to detect as many typos as they do is that since we’re so focused on the narrative of the story, our brains will happily skip these minor speed bumps for the sake of our reading enjoyment.
Congratulations, now that the copy editing stage is completed, your book is ready to go to the printer!
What Rates do Nonfiction Editors Charge?
Rates differ with experience, but here are some general guidelines so you know what to expect:
Developmental Editing can charge two separate fees, depending on the nature of your book — a per-word or per-page rate for the textual component of your book, and a per-hour rate for books that are research-intensive (e.g. highly academic, scientific or specialized).
Per-word rates range from 8 cents to12 cents depending on the level of difficulty of your text (or $20-$30 per page). Per-hour rates are typically around $60/hour for non-editing research activity.
Content editors charge a lower rate than developmental editors, which is typically based on dollars per 1,000 words.
For books with standard text – that is, non-specialized, non-scientific or non-academic text – the content editing rates will range between $40 and $50 per 1,000 words. For difficult text (specialized, scientific or academic) the range goes up to $50-$70 per 1,000 words.
Line editors charge between $30 and $40 per 1,000 words for standard text and anywhere between $40-$60 for difficult text.
Finally, copy editors charge between $25-$35 per 1,000 words for standard text and between $35-$45 per 1,000 words for difficult text.
When it comes to editing cost, always keep in mind that the quality of your book will be directly related to your credibility and your professional reputation, so cutting corners in editing isn’t recommended.
On the flip side, consider that a high-quality book will result in more business later on, since your book will act as powerful calling card to promote your professional services. At the end of the day, your editing investment will be return to you multiple times.
Also, as a nonfiction writer, you’ll need the help of top-notch editors to be able to produce a book that can compete with all the bestsellers in your niche, which are guaranteed to be professionally edited.
When it comes to finding the right people for the job, many book editors will specialize in a particular stage, but occasionally you may find a super-editor that can do two stages. Some may even be able to do three, but it’s always good to get at least one more set of professional eyes on a manuscript before publication, especially for copy editing, so I always recommend using two different editors for the different stages.
So, be prepared to hire multiple editors, keeping in mind that the total editing cost may not change that much with fewer editors because all four stages still need to be implemented for your nonfiction book to be competitive in the marketplace.
Now, once your manuscript reaches an advanced stage of editing, it’s time to begin lining up professional layout and book cover designers. Here are a couple of articles to guide you in the right direction: 10 Nonfiction Book Layout Tips That Will Glue Your Audience to the Page and 5 Book Cover Design Principles for Nonfiction Books.
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.