Six Tips on How to Choose an Editor for Your Nonfiction Manuscript

1. Most important, choose an editor you feel comfortable with, even if you’ve never met. Thanks to the Internet, you don’t have to get together. Everything can be done via e-mail. Once a few messages about your project have gone back and forth, and you’ve received that all-important sample (see below), you’ll know whether you and a prospective editor are compatible.

2. Choose an editor who has editing experience – but not necessarily in your field. Obviously you want someone who is interested in your subject and who may have some understanding of it. But it can be an advantage if the editor is not an expert – because then she will see what you’ve written as your readers will, and she will be in a better position to know if things need to be explained more clearly or in more detail. For example, I recently edited a book about literary law written by two attorneys. It’s for readers who are not lawyers. If I were an expert in literary law, it would have been harder for me to detect legalese and to know if the language was clear enough.

3. Choose an editor who will give you a contract with a firm quote for the whole project, so you know exactly what work will be done and what it’s going to cost before you start. The contract should contain a rights clause stipulating that the editing will be performed on a work-made-for-hire basis, with all rights retained by you.

4. Ask for a sample edit of your own manuscript. Most editors will edit about four pages (1000 words) of your manuscript electronically as a sample, tracking the changes in MS Word and inserting comments or queries. If you don’t know how to work with Track Changes and inserted comments, ask the editor to send you instructions.

5. If you’re going to publish independently, and especially if you’re new to publishing, it’s a good idea to choose an editor who has publishing experience. She will help you prepare the copyright page correctly. And she will ensure that your book has the proper parts in the proper order and labeled correctly. For example, many people are confused about the differences between the foreword, the preface, and the introduction. A foreword is written by someone else important in your field, telling why your book should be read. In a preface, you tell why you wrote the book and describe any pertinent experiences you had along the way. You also write the introduction; it contains material about your subject matter and leads into the book. The acknowledgments page is where you thank those who helped you with the book. Testimonials or blurbs are accolades written by others praising your book.

6. And finally, choose an editor who can perform all levels of editing, including structural or developmental editing, substantive editing, copyediting, and proofreading. If you’re going to publish independently, you may also want someone who can perform production editing.

Lisa A. Smith offers editing services to help you turn your manuscript into a marketable book. An award-winning writer with years of nonfiction editing experience, Smith has recently published “Business E-Mail: How to Make It Professional and Effective.” You can
contact her through her Web site: