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How to Hire a Nonfiction Editor

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Whether you need a copyeditor for your nonfiction book a content editor for your business’s whitepapers and sales copy, hiring an editor is one of the most important things you can do to invest in the success of your project. So why is it that the process is so daunting?

There are more and more freelancers and independent workers all the time, which means you’ve got plenty of editors to choose from—but it also means you have be more on guard than ever before against shady and inexperienced editors, and more laser-focused on finding the right editor for your project.

From romance novels to business blogs to whitepapers to everything in between, there’s a nonfiction editor out there who can fill your needs and meet your budget. Here’s how to find and hire that person.

1. Ask Around

Here's a secret: “Becoming a freelancer” is as simple as setting up a website and calling yourself a freelancer. There are very few steps between concept and business, and unless you’re looking at a company-vetted pool of editors, there’s no one checking qualifications at the door. One of the easiest way to keep from getting hosed is to work with someone who’s worked well for someone you know.

Start with colleagues in your industry, then try your general social media contacts—it’s likely that someone has hired an editor before, and if they can’t give you the contact info of someone they can recommend, perhaps they can give you a few general pointers on how to hire a nonfiction editor.

2. Check Trade Publications

A lot of editors’ websites proclaim to offer “any type of editing,” but it’s harder to fake an industry specialty; editors who have chosen a particular niche or type of writing have usually done so after years of honing their general skills and letting their passions (and client base) guide them in their specialization.

Look around your industry. Instead of running broad Google searches, try looking for a list of editors with professional organizations you may be in (or otherwise qualified for), niche trade magazines, even the front matter of well-written books you’ve enjoyed. Who’s already working in your field that others have been happy with?

3. Look for a Portfolio

The best way to protect yourself from an inexperienced editor is to check for a portfolio or list of works edited. Try looking on their website; you might also find them on the various publisher marketplaces available, whether free (like Pronoun) or paid (like Reedsy).

A few caveats here: If an editor lists a book, you can ordinarily expect to find a mention of that editor in the front matter of that book—but not always. Unless the editor specifically included the mention in his or her contract, it’s entirely up to the author whether to add this information or not; in some situations, an author may not even know their copyeditor’s name. 

How to tell? If you’re seeing a lot of books without editorial credit, check the imprint; if they’re all the same—or if there are one or two you’re seeing a lot of—it’s possible the editor works for the publishing company, not the author. (Is there a testimonial of someone at that company?)

4. Look for Testimonials

Freelancers know the power of social proof, and any respectable editor who’s been in the game longer than a few clients knows to start building a list of testimonials as early as possible. Portfolios list jobs the editor has been a part of; testimonials give first-person accounts of how that work was received.

It doesn’t hurt to run a quick Google search on a few of the testimonial writers, either. A solid collection of authors willing to write testimonials is impressive, but if one turns out to be the editor’s mom and two others turn out to be close colleagues or friends through other avenues, how might that change things for you?

5. Just Ask

Curious about something your editor of choice hasn’t posted on her website? Wondering whether your type of book counts as something she’d be interested in? Just ask!

Editing is rarely as cut-and-dried a process as it seems: authors frequently ask for copyediting only to quickly realize that what they really need is a developmental edit; revisions end up taking longer and often spiral out in new directions, requiring more time to address; countless other things can add delays and complicate the project.

When authors have questions, it doesn’t do the editor any favors to keep those questions a secret. A successful author-editor relationship is based on mutual expectation; it’s when assumptions are made that expectations can go awry and sour an otherwise fruitful professional relationship.

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