How to Find a Great Nonfiction Book Editor and Filter Out the Bad Ones

by Bennett R. Coles

If you’re writing a book to grow your business you need to find a book editor that specializes in nonfiction. You need the type of editor who will not just provide creative feedback, address developmental issues and correct grammatical errors, but who also knows how to communicate strategies that persuade readers to act.

A Good Editor Isn’t the Same as the Right Editor

For this reason, a good “generalist” book editor, whether working freelance or for an editing or publishing service, will likely not be adequate for your book.

Now, a good editor will still do a competent job at face value, but that may give you a false sense of security because a well-edited manuscript always reads much better than an original work (whether the author is you or Malcolm Gladwell). Chances are, you’ll always be delighted whenever you get your manuscript back from a professional editor, regardless of their specialty.

But that doesn’t mean that you know how your readers will react to your edited manuscript. What a good nonfiction-book editor who works with business owners knows, which most average editors may not, is the very specific psychology of readers who buy those types of problem-solving books.

Your book readers…

…won’t buy your book to be entertained

They do, however, expect your writing to be engaging (better yet: captivating).

…have a clear agenda

They need your book to help them solve a specific problem in their lives or in their business. Your book must always satisfy that need.

…demand results from the actions your book is recommending

Your strategies and tactics need to be communicated in a crystal clear way.

How Do You Find a Good Editor for Your Book?

You’ll probably begin by doing an Internet search. But here lies the paradox – the Internet can be the best and the worst place to find a qualified editor for your book.

When you do the search, you’ll find hundreds of websites advertising book editing services. Unfortunately, editing is one of those areas where anyone who’s trained as a writer can advertise their services as an “editor” in order to make money or pay their bills.

Don’t Shop for Editing Services as a Commodity

As such, many of these services will offer very low rates – but as the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.” The thing is, when it comes to editing a book to enhance the reach of your business there’s just too much riding on your writing to justify going for a low-cost solution – after all, you’re putting your professional reputation on the line and your audience will likely be very discriminating, especially when targeting decision makers.

So, you need not focus on cost per word (this is a secondary consideration) and instead focus on knowledge of your space, experience and fit.

Something else to keep in mind is that many reputable editorial services or freelance editors with a good track record will list nonfiction books as a genre, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have experience with nonfiction books created for businesses. Instead, they may only have experience with creative and historical nonfiction.

To make your search for the perfect nonfiction editor for your book easier, follow the six rules below and you’ll avoid a lot of disappointment:

6 Rules to Filter Out Bad Candidates

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.

Rule #2:

If the editor demands payment in advance in order to analyze your manuscript (the equivalent of paid diagnostics with your car mechanic), then take a pass.

Rule #3:

A professional editor will offer to provide you with a sample edit free of charge, say some paragraphs or a full page of text, so you can gain an early sense of the quality of their work. Editing is a significant investment of time and money and you cannot afford to have buyer’s remorse. If the editor is unwilling to supply you with a sample edit, then take a pass.

Rule #4:

If the editor is unwilling to provide you with a business author reference or two that you can talk to, then take a pass. Unfortunately, book editing is an unregulated industry that invites a lot of predatory behavior.

Rule #5:

If the editor is unwilling to provide you with a list of qualifications, or if the list is too thin (i.e. they are fairly new in the industry), then take a pass. There’s nothing wrong with helping out new talent, especially if you are writing a first book of fiction without much riding on it in order to develop your writing chops. However, your entire professional reputation will be riding on the quality of this edit so you can’t afford to be magnanimous here.

Rule #6:

Last but not least, ensure there’s a good connection between you and your editor. The writer-editor relationship is very close in nature.

As such, you need to work not only with a talented editor but also with an editor you can connect with, because the most impactful writing (i.e. the writing that “moves the needle”) must be true and authentic, and in order to be true and authentic when you write you have to be willing to be vulnerable. The last thing you want is for an editor to take advantage of your vulnerability because of some hidden agenda.

What Questions Should You Ask Prior to Hiring an Editor?

In order to make sure you hire the right editor, there are two sets of questions you need to ask.

The first set is meant for the initial interview and the second set is for after the editor has gone through your manuscript in order to give you an estimate of the total cost.

How to Prepare for Your Initial Interview

Ask Questions to Assess Their Experience:

  1. Do you specialize in nonfiction-books written by business owners or practitioners?
  2. What editing training do you have?
  3. What’s your experience with nonfiction books for businesses or consulting practices; how many have you edited?
  4. Could I see a sample of your work?
  5. Could you provide me with one or two references that I can talk to?

Ask Questions to Assess How They Work:

  1. Do you provide a free or paid manuscript assessment?
  2. What’s your editing timeline for my project, based on your current workload?
  3. What editing tools do you use?
  4. What’s your editorial style?
  5. Do you provide written notes with explanations and recommendations in addition to textual edits?
  6. Do you provide time for ad-hoc questions and discussions with the author?
  7. How do you communicate with authors (email only or phone and email)?
  8. How do you exchange edits with authors?

Ask Questions to Clarity How They’ll Charge You:

  1. What are your fees and your terms? How will I be billed?
  2. Do you provide a written contract outlining your services, fees and terms?

Questions for Your Follow-Up Meeting (After the Manuscript Review)

  1. What level of editing will my book require (developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, or proofreading)?
  2. How many rounds of editing do you think my manuscript will need?
  3. How long will it take to edit this book and ready it for publication?

Next Steps

Now you have enough background information to begin your search for the perfect business editor for your nonfiction book.

What to Look Out For

Take your time and ask as many questions as possible. A professional editor will be able to answer with ease each and every one of the questions listed above.

An inexperienced editor will have weak answers for some of the key questions, such as the experience question (No. 3), the sample question (No. 4) and the references question (No. 5).

In all cases tread carefully since this will be a significant investment on your part. In addition to taking all the answers into consideration, make sure to also listen to your intuition – only proceed if you feel that you can truly connect with the editor.

If you feel like you have to “walk on eggshells” whenever you talk to someone, move on to the next person down the list. When you find the right editor, you’ll just “know it” in your gut.

Best of luck on your search!

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.

Here are some related articles I highly recommend:

How to Come Up With Killer Book Titles for Your Nonfiction Book

How to Write a Compelling Book Introduction that Will Move the Needle

10 Layout Tips That Will Glue Your Readers to the Page

5 Tips to Hire the Best Professional Writer for Your Nonfiction Book

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.

One response to “How to Find a Great Nonfiction Book Editor and Filter Out the Bad Ones”

  1. Avatar
    Roy E Terry

    Hi Bennett, I have a question on finding my best possible developmental editor (nonfiction). I’ve contacted and exchanged goals, and status with several candidate editors who seem capable with numerous books in their portfolio. Thing is, when I go read sample material from all those book on Amazon I find them depressingly pedestrian and dull in their prose. This makes me question the value of the editor. Am I wrong in wanting an editor who will not let me settle for bland prose? Especially in the introduction! Would love any guidance for finding an editor under $10k who is most likely help me excel. I know I can write snappy prose but I do need someone to help organize and modulate the efforts.

    Hope this makes some sense! Bottom line, how can I find an editor who’ll coach me to create superior material and not the usual pablum?


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