Everyone needs an editor.
If you want your book to do anything positive for you, it has to come across as professional—not just in the way it looks, but in the way it reads, and editors are critical to making that happen.
If the only editor you use is yourself, you’re a fool, and your book will suffer. But if you take the time to find and hire a good editor, your book will be much better for it.
There is a right and wrong way to approach editing your book, and this step-by-step guide walks you through the process of hiring a book editor: from identifying the kind of editing you need, to choosing the perfect editor for your book, we cover it all.
Types of Book Editing Services
There are 6 stages of editing throughout the writing process, and they are all important if you want to publish a great nonfiction book.
I will summarize them here, but if you want to know even more about each one, I’ve written an entire post dedicated to the different types of editing.
Stage 1. Developmental editing
Also known as conceptual editing or manuscript appraisal, developmental editing starts your book off on the right foot by organizing the outline and the high-level chapter content. The earlier you get a developmental editor involved, the better.
In fact, a developmental editor will often get started when you have just an idea for a book and a rough outline.
This editor’s job is to help you target your idea and hone your chapters so your book will grab readers from the beginning and keep them reading to the end. The editor makes sure every concept in the book is:
This saves you countless hours of writing and rewriting huge sections of your book, only to see them get edited out later. It’s not about whether those chapters were good. It’s about whether they fit the book’s intent.
Developmental editing also makes sure you aren’t forgetting any important content.
Stage 2. Evaluation editing
Evaluation editing is also known as a manuscript critique or a structural edit. The primary difference between developmental editing and evaluation editing is that the latter happens after the manuscript is finished.
If the book’s outline went through solid developmental editing, evaluation editing makes sure the book stayed on track through the writing process. It’s still high-level editing, but now it’s applied to the finished manuscript to make sure:
- the overall flow is good
- nothing important is missing
- all the content feels relevant and useful
If developmental editing never happened, or if it wasn’t done by a professional, evaluation editing can still help your book get back on track.
But if a book skips both developmental and evaluation editing and heads into the next stage, there’s a very real chance you’ll realize farther down the line that you need to go back to square one.
Stage 3. Content editing
Also known as substantive editing or full editing, content editing starts to dive into individual sections and paragraphs. It’s a bit like evaluation editing but at a chapter-by-chapter level. By this point, all the chapters should be in the right place, and each chapter should have a clear intent of its own.
The content editor makes sure each chapter lives up to its purpose.
Content editors pay attention to:
- tone and voice
- incomplete chapter sections
- missing chapter sections
- smoothing the concept flow within each chapter
Stage 4. Line editing
Line editing, also called stylistic or comprehensive editing, pays even more attention to tone and voice, making sure your writing style is on point and has the right impact.
Line editors look for things like:
- overuse of acronyms and jargon
- long-winded phrasing
- unclear wording
Editors, like all professionals, are specialists. Some editors might offer line editing, copyediting, and proofreading services, but each of these is different.
Editing is highly focused work.
It is virtually impossible to focus on writing style while looking for punctuation errors, and vice versa. Line editing happens first because there’s no point in fixing a typo that might get edited out of the book anyway.
Once you’ve addressed your line editor’s comments, self-edit your book for typos and punctuation errors as best you can before heading into the next stage.
Stage 5. Copyediting
Copyediting is what people most often think of when someone mentions book editing. This is the gritty process of searching out:
- spelling errors
- missing words
- grammatical mistakes
- punctuation issues
Book copy editors use a style guide, most commonly the Chicago Manual of Style, making sure the book’s copy conforms to the guide’s rules.
Stage 6. Proofreading
The final stage of editing is the only stage to happen after the manuscript has been formatted into the final layout of the actual book pages.
The book is printed as a “proof,” and the proofreader (thus, the name) pores over the entire book one last time before sending the book to print.
The proofreader is looking for anything that needs to change before the book goes to press:
- typos that snuck through
- misnumbered pages
- incorrect margin widths
- bad line breaks and page breaks
- skewed table placement or labels
- inconsistent headings
How to Find the Right Book Editor for You
Step 1. Run your work through Grammarly
No matter what kind of editor you need, even if all you have is a rough outline, run your work through editing software like Grammarly before you send it to an editor. Everything you send to your editor should be as clean as possible, in order to:
- make a professional first impression
- interest more experienced editors in your project
- lower your editing costs
It might seem counterintuitive to edit your work before sending it to an editor, but making the right first impression is critical to being taken seriously as an Author and a prospective client.
Step 2. Decide what kind of editing you need
Now that you know which editors do what, you’ll know what kind of editor you need. The process of looking for an editor is similar across the different types, but the specifics change a bit depending on the kind of editor you’re looking for.
Make sure you are clear what exactly you need from an editor. It will save you a lot of time and effort.
Step 3. Search for professional book editors
For the first three stages of book editing especially (developmental, evaluation, and content editing), the key is to find an editor with a LOT of professional editing experience. This means they were paid money by established companies or reputable Authors to edit their work.
The main problem with most people who advertise themselves as “editors” is they have no special experience. They like writing and want money, so they say they are editors. Yet, if you dive into their experience, they honestly have little to none.
If you dig into the “experience” of most people who sell editing, it’s not even as good as your high school English teacher.
One way around this is to hire an editing company and trust them to vet your editor properly.
As an example, we have a large editing team at Scribe, and we thoroughly vet and test our editors before working with them. All of them have decades of experience in a professional writing setting, ranging from editing at a Big 5 publishing house to winning Pulitzer prizes and Emmy awards.
Working with an established firm makes the decision easy.
If that’s not what you need, there are plenty of places to look for freelance editors, though, again, you need to vet them on your own:
- Freelance sites like Upwork, Fiverr, or Reedsy
- Business-oriented social media sites like LinkedIn (I would be VERY hesitant to hire an editor here without checking references)
- Professional job posting sites like Indeed
The problem isn’t finding editors. The problem is finding good professional ones and then narrowing your options to find the right one for your book.
Step 4. Narrow your choices
The best editors all have several things in common:
- years of experience (often decades)
- fantastic customer testimonials
- a professional book editing portfolio
From there, you’ll have to narrow your options based on what your book needs:
- subject-matter expertise
- audience expertise
- experience in the right stage of editing
- experience with style guides and dialects, as needed
Remember, don’t take an editor’s freelance listing for granted. Look at their portfolio and browse their books. An editorial expert in adult self-help books should display a long list of self-help books, not young adult fiction or short story collections.
If you’re impressed by an editor’s list of titles, check out those books on Amazon and try to verify that the editor actually worked on them. Unfortunately, this can be hard to do.
Indie authors don’t always credit editors, especially early-stage editors, and even if the editor worked in the publishing industry for a big New York house, that doesn’t mean you’ll find their name in the finished book.
When in doubt, ask the editor for a list of verifiable references. A reputable editor will be able to provide them.
You can also reach out to the Authors of the books that the editor lists in their portfolio. I know I will happily vouch for any editor I actually worked with.
As a final note, do not hire an editor who guarantees they will get you a literary agent or turn your first book into a New York Times bestseller. They can’t do that for you, and no reputable editor would ever promise it.
Step 5. Ask for a price quote & availability
Once you have a shortlist of editors you’re interested in, ask each one for a price quote as well as their upcoming availability.
In the later editing stages, most freelance editors charge by word count or page count rather than by the hour. If a content editor, line editor, or copyeditor charges by page count, make sure your manuscript is formatted in Microsoft Word to the following specs to avoid confusion:
- US copy paper (8 1/2″ x 11″)
- portrait, not landscape
- one-sided printing
- 1-inch margins
- Times New Roman, 12-point font
- double spaced
Proofreading is different. A proofreader should be reading your fully formatted book. If a proofreader wants manuscript pages, that’s a clear red flag. Move on.
Step 6. Ask your top 2 or 3 choices for a sample edit
Self-publishing a book is a tremendous undertaking. Your editor (at any stage) won’t necessarily become a friend, but you need to work well together. The best way to find that out before you spend a lot of money is to ask for a sample edit.
This looks different at each stage of editing. For line editing, copyediting, or proofreading, most editors will be willing to edit a limited sample of your writing. For developmental, evaluation, or content editors, ask them how they like to introduce prospective clients to their editing process.
Editing is an art as well as a science. Never hire an editor you don’t like, but don’t base the decision on personality either.
What you are looking for here is the editor whose sample best captures your vision for your book. That’s the editor who can best help your project become the book you want it to be.
In many cases, this is the editor that digs in, takes an axe to your book, asks the hard questions, pushes you to improve sloppy wording and thinking, and really displays a respect for the reader.
The mistake would be to hire the one who makes you feel good. That’s not the goal of an editor. You almost want to resent your editor—but in a good way. I like it when I feel almost mad at my editor because they pointed out a flaw that I had not seen.
That is the editor who will make your book better, and that is the one you want to hire.