The 4 Types of Editing Required to Create a Nonfiction Bestseller

by Bennett R. Coles

Types of Editing

There are four distinct types of editing that are required to turn your nonfiction book into a highly competitive product in the marketplace. Your aim is to level the playing field with professional publishers by taking advantage of the same editing treatment they give to their best titles.

The 4 Types of Nonfiction Editing

For your self-published nonfiction book to aspire to the bestseller list, having great content isn’t enough – your content also needs to be subjected to the thorough editing afforded to top traditionally published nonfiction books.

For your nonfiction book to succeed it needs to connect deeply with your target audience, it needs to be clear, it needs to be factually accurate and it needs to be free of errors and typos.

The following four types of editors specialize in each of these areas:

Type 1: Developmental Editors

Developmental editors perform the highest level of nonfiction editing as they take a bird’s eye view of your manuscript. Their job is to assess your book structure for fit with your main idea or thesis.

Based on knowledge of your target audience, they’ll also check that your flow of ideas satisfies the audience’s needs in the best possible way.

If your nonfiction book has great content but it’s written in a way that doesn’t resonate with your audience, it simply won’t be successful.

This type of editor is the best proxy for your audience and will give you advice on what works for them as well as what doesn’t work. They’ll help you notice things that you might not be able to notice on your own.

As the author you’re just too close to your writing to have an unbiased opinion. Your developmental editor will help you gain perspective so you can make the necessary changes to better connect with your audience.

Developmental editors will give you feedback in two different passes – going from an overall view to detailed suggestions.

1) The Editor’s Letter

First, your developmental editor will read your manuscript once or twice, putting themselves in the shoes of a reader from your target audience, and then share with you their thoughts about your biggest structural issues.

For example, they may recommend that you change the order of some of your chapters, or even write a new one if they feel it’s necessary to improve the overall flow.

They may also recommend that you eliminate some sections that they feel are either redundant or simply outside the scope of your thesis.

Your job then is to take this information and implement it in your manuscript before they’re ready for the second editing pass.

2) Page-by-Page Commenting

Once they receive your revised manuscript, they’ll re-read it while making notes on the margins of each page. These will be high-level notes related to the structure of your ideas without focusing on low-level editing tasks such as spelling, grammar or punctuation.

Their job in this second pass is to let you know paragraph by paragraph if your information appears to be out of place, or if you’re covering too many ideas in a single paragraph, causing confusion to your readers.

They’ll also suggest swapping sections within a chapter, or perhaps moving a section to a different chapter if it belongs there better.

Once your higher-level edits are completed, it’s time to go one level deeper into the mechanics of the text.

Type 2: Content Editors

Content editors don’t work on your content’s structure but on the content itself. Instead of focusing on your flow of ideas, they’ll focus on how those ideas are executed.

Their goal is to ensure that your author’s voice, the quality and style of your content is consistent throughout your manuscript.

More specifically, they’ll focus on readability, clarity and word choice, among other things. For example, they’ll be looking out for:

  • Run-on sentences
  • Word repetition
  • Sentence length
  • Misuse of words
  • Poor style (amateurish writing)
  • Excessive use of adjectives and adverbs
  • Use of language that isn’t a good fit for your audience
  • Confusing text

In addition, content editors will help you place your graphic elements, such as tables, charges, images, photographs, etc., in the optimal place in relation to the text in your manuscript to best support your ideas.

Once your content editing pass is completed, it’s time to take your manuscript to the deepest level of editing: language rules.

Type 3: Copy Editors

Your copyeditor is trained to zero in on one thing and one thing only: to ensure that you follow the proper rules of grammar, syntax, punctuation, capitalization, hyphenation, and style.

They know the accepted rules of style in the English language (which are quite numerous and can be complex) like the palm of their hands.

Most copyeditors either follow the Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Stylebook, and competent copyeditors usually know both equally well. They know the differences and when to use one stylebook vs. the other.

The main focus at this level of editing is language accuracy. Here are some examples of the problem areas that they’ll be looking out for:

  • Grammar rules
  • Syntax rules
  • Capitalization rules
  • Punctuation rules
  • Hyphenation rules
  • Spelling
  • Incorrect use of numerals
  • Accuracy of quoted facts or data
  • Accuracy of internal and external references

Type 4: Proofreaders

Once your developmental, content and copyediting passes are completed, there’s one final editing pass to ensure the highest possible level of quality before going to print: proofreading.

This final stage is the “sieve that catches all the impurities” before your book is published – a fine-tooth-comb pass of your entire manuscript to catch any straggling typos or other errors that were missed out on all previous passes.

Professional proofreaders are trained to read manuscripts at the word level without becoming involved in the writing. To do their job right, they have to remain at arm’s length from your content.

This allows them to catch things that you missed even after reading your manuscript numerous times. They’ll catch the typos that spellcheck doesn’t, misplaced punctuation signs, mislabeled images, misnumbered headings, etc.

Proofreaders are the last line of defense before you publish your book, before any copies are printed and before it’s widely distributed.

Before your book is made available publicly, you want to ensure that it’s free of typos, factual errors, omissions and inaccuracies.

For example, proofreaders will be on the lookout for:

  • Spelling, syntax, grammatical, punctuation and hyphenation errors
  • Formatting inconsistencies (e.g. misnumbered images or tables)
  • Caption errors
  • Misnumbered lists
  • Inaccurate facts and figures
  • Misplaced or incorrect graphical elements

Once your proofreading pass is completed and all errors have been corrected, this is when your manuscript is “frozen” with no more changes allowed. At this point, your manuscript is ready to be laid out and sent to the printing house.

Editing Rates

Below are the market rates that you should expect to pay for each of the four editing stages:

1) Developmental Editing

Developmental editors typically charge by the word or by the hour, depending on the complexity of your nonfiction book.

For example, text-based manuscripts will mainly be quoted by the word, with most rates falling between 8-12 cents per word.

Highly complex, scientific or academic books with a lot of specialized information, facts and figures will draw a per-hour rate for research work in addition to the per-word rate quoted above, typically around $60/hr.

2) Content Editing

Content editing rates are usually charged per 1,000 words. Typical rates for standard text-based manuscripts (non-specialized, non-scientific and non-academic) are in the $40-$50 range per 1,000 words.

Rates for complex text (specialized, scientific or academic) fall in the range of $50-$70 per 1,000 words.

3) Copy Editing

For books with standard text, copyeditors will charge between $30 and $40 per 1,000 words. For complex text this range goes up to $40-$60.

4) Proofreading

For books with standard text, proofreaders will charge between $25-$35 per 1,000 words. For complex text this range goes up to $35-$45.

Wrapping Up

Even though these multiple editing passes will increase your overall publishing costs, keep in mind that you’re not just publishing a book: you’re creating a professional legacy.

Due to the ubiquity of low-cost global book distribution channels, your nonfiction book will be available for the world to see the minute it’s published.

A product that’s well put together will stand out from the crowd (note: most self-published nonfiction books are poorly edited) and open new markets for your business or your career.

This investment in your editing staff is an investment in your reputation, your credibility, and ultimately your future growth.

Next Steps

Once your nonfiction book is properly edited, you’ll need to start thinking about book layout and design. Here’s an article to prepare you for what comes next: “10 Nonfiction Book Layout Tips That Will Glue Your Audience to the Page.”

Good luck!

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 just to generate additional leads for their businesses.

Here are some related posts I highly recommend:

The 10 Must-Have Writing Skills for Nonfiction Authors

The 7 Key Rules for Writers of Outstanding Nonfiction Books

Learn 10 Powerful Writing Habits to Fast Track 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.

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    Great info! Thank you!

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