When soliciting advice from editors themselves regarding what to look for in an editor, you might be surprised by how much their feedback can resemble the question of what to look for in a partner; “honesty,” “good communication,” “teamwork,” “common interests” to name a few. And that’s because when you hire the right editor, they become married to your book’s success.

Read on for a breakdown of the different types of editors, the average costs of editing services, and, most importantly, what to look for in an editor to ensure a good working relationship and the best outcome for your book.

Different Levels of Editing

There are a number of different names and definitions for different types of editing. However, the following three are the main levels of editing that most nonfiction books will require.

Developmental editing

A development editor looks at the big picture of your manuscript (concept, thesis, organizational structure, etc.), but also provides a line-by-line analysis. Developmental editing is extensive and labour intensive — covering everything from single words to sentences to overall style, bearing in mind your target market and tailoring your manuscript to industry standards.

Developmental editing should come before copy editing and proofreading.

Copy editing

Copy editors ensure that the language in your manuscript is spotless. Given that nonfiction books are often written with the purpose of imparting specific information, typo-free, grammatically-correct, consistent copy is crucial to achieving a sense of legitimacy. You woudln’t trsut this articel if it was riddeld with erors, would you?


Proofreading should be the final step of the editing process. A proofreader won’t analyze your manuscripts thesis or over-arching structure, they will simply conduct a sharp examination of the mechanics of your book by hunting for typos, misspellings, punctuation and other formatting mistakes, leaving it gleaming and ready to hit the presses (or other publishing what-have-yous).

Working with a proofreader is important as they ensure that your book achieves a level of professionalism required in the competitive publishing world.

Average costs

Costs of editing services will vary, depending on the length of your book, the theme, format, your experience, and the editor’s experience. However, we know that price tags are important for indie writers who are generally covering the costs of publishing services (such as editing) themselves. In order to help authors determine realistic budgets, Reedsy has collected data from 15 months of freelance-author transactions on their marketplace to get an idea of the average costs of self-publishing a book. The data was extracted from 2,000 quotes sent on Reedsy by our professional editors and designers, and compiled into this infographic, which we hope will be a reference for publishing professionals.
For a standard-length book (60,000 words), for example, authors should budget at least $2,500 for editing (that includes developmental editing and copy editing).
Average editing costs

What to look for in a nonfiction editor

So what qualities should you look for in the person that is going to help get your book from simple manuscript to ready-to-publish masterpiece? When debating this question, we came to an obvious conclusion: let’s ask our editors. This is what they had to say!

Look for someone who will encourage you to be clear about your needs

“The author needs to be clear about what they want. If the work has references and a bibliography, make sure you let the editor know you want it included in the edit. Also let the editor know what referencing style is wanted — Harvard? Chicago? APA? Do you want the editor to check the URLs? If you don’t want them checked, let the editor know, it might save you some money.” — Dick Hill, Freelance Copy Editor

Look for a good listener

“In order to build a good author/editor relationship, it’s very important to listen to the author and their needs. Nonfiction books usually have some sort of purpose: to inform, to educate or to change, so it’s vital the editor understands that purpose, so that they can ensure the book closely aligns with it.” — Sophia Muthuraj, Former Editor at Running Press

Look for constructive criticism

“Be honest with yourself and have the courage to accept criticism. A good non-fiction editor should be able to deliver improvements to a manuscript in a sensitive but straightforward way.” — Julia Kellaway, former Senior Commissioning Editor at Random House UK

Always look for a sample edit

“The ideal terms to agree to before committing to collaborate would involve a preliminary five- to ten-page sample edit, with no obligation or cost. Then the author knows what the editor is fixing (in Track Changes) and how heavy the edit will be, and the editor knows what to expect in the rest of the manuscript and can calculate a project price.” — Sandra Wendel, Freelance Editor

Look for someone who knows book proposals

“Most nonfiction projects are sold on proposal (rather than the full manuscript), so you want to be certain you’re working with an editor who understands what makes a strong book proposal. I recommend seeking out an editor who has prior experience working for a publisher or literary agency, as they’ll have firsthand knowledge of what sells and what doesn’t. They will be familiar with how publishers think, so they can anticipate any objections and help you present your pitch and materials in the most compelling way possible.” — Elizabeth Evans, Freelance Editor

Look for a sense of trust

“Look for an editor who can create an atmosphere of openness and honest discussion, especially if you are new to publishing or don’t feel like you quite have a handle on the process. Make sure they are the kind of person you can ask questions of regardless how basic or small they may seem to you. While an editor’s expertise and foundation of knowledge on style and grammar is important, they should be willing to talk with you about finding your own vision for a finished manuscript.” — Daniel Johnson, Freelance Editor

Look for someone with vision

“Many non-fiction book authors have great stories, helpful content, and high-level expertise. But authors sometimes struggle to organize their ideas in ways that are logical, compelling, and elegant. So, a good editor needs to be able to see the “jigsaw puzzle” of a manuscript and envision what the whole picture looks like. Then, he or she needs to have the ability to rearrange the pieces so that the picture becomes clear to readers.” — Glenn McMahan, Freelance Editor

Look for someone who knows your audience

“Look at what type and level of books they’ve worked on in your area i.e. the audiences they are editing for. They might have spent their working lives editing books on psychology but if you are writing a professional book for psychologists and they have edited A-level texts on psychology then they might not be the right person for the job. They need to understand the requirements of the market you are writing for as much as the subject area.” — Sarah Busby, Freelance Commissioning Editor

Look for someone you can talk to

“Make sure your editor is someone you can talk to. After all, editors aren’t always right, so you shouldn’t just accept their edits blindly. A developmental edit should be the beginning of a discussion, a back-and-forth between the author, as the expert in the subject being written about, and the editor, as the expert in writing and publishing in general. I find this back-and-forth is crucial to creating the best outcome.” — Christa Bourg, Freelance Editor and Book Coach

Look for (surprise, surprise!) relevant experience

“Non-fiction editors have a wide range of skills and experience. Try to hone in on those that have specific relevant experience to your book — not all nonfiction is written in the same style or aimed at the same audience.” — Julia Kellaway, former Senior Commissioning Editor at Random House UK

Look for insight into the editing process

“I supply all authors who approach me for editing services with a document that details the traditional editorial process — including descriptions of and details about the content editing, copy editing, and proofreading processes. I think every good editor should, as most authors are new to the process and such a document is illustrative of both the need for a three-stage process, and the value it adds to the author’s manuscript. Where appropriate, I also provide samples of style sheets I have created for other books, so an author will know what to expect of the style sheet for his or her own book.” — Perrin Davis, Freelance Editor

Look for encouragement of self-reflection

“It’s important to check in with your own goals as a writer, and especially, to be honest with yourself about what you are willing to do to achieve your goals. I encourage authors to ask themselves what they have done, what they are doing, and what they are willing to do for their work. It’s a bold question, that involves self-honesty as much as anything else.” — Lucas Hunt, Director at Orchard Literacy

Look for someone who will help express your voice

“The best piece of advice I would offer is to find an editor who respects your voice, in whatever way you want to define that. For example, I work primarily in memoir and am based in the Midwest. Most of my clients are from the Midwest or the South, and they specifically want their story to still sound like their regional selves, not like a New York-based or California-based editor. That’s just one example, but I’ve found that it’s very powerful and important for writers, especially when writing their story.” — Elisabeth Chretien, former Editor at University of Iowa and University of Nebraska Presses
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.

Author Bio:

Emmanuel Nataf is the Founder and CEO of Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers and marketers. Emmanuel dedicates most of his time to building Reedsy’s product and is interested in how technology can transform cultural industries. He’s one of the main thinkers behind Reedsy’s Book Editor, which allows any author to produce a professionally typeset book in a matter of minutes.