We’ve spoken at great length about the differences between editing and proofreading, the different types of editing itself as well as the importance of it all.

Now to tackle yet another difference, let us take a look at why editing non-fiction is very different from editing a work of fiction. Most people tend to go to the same editor for anything from a story to a job application.

While editors do have a sound foundation in grammar and can proof your work to make it error-free, it takes a subject expert to edit non-fiction documents that require specialized knowledge. Non-fiction editing also requires coherence in the organization of information, as opposed to the simple chapters in fictional books.

So what exactly is it that sets these apart? We can critically evaluate the differences based on the five factors listed below.


1) Client Relationships

No two editor-client relationships are the same, and this holds true for non-fiction and fiction edits as well.

For authors looking to get published, they are almost always working in close contact with the editor. Additionally, the editing process is initiated very early in the writing stages of the book and is worked on starting there.

Non-fiction editing leads to a starkly different relationship since the level of contact could be minimal. Most services allow you to send in your editing and proofreading requirements alongside the document, so client interaction swings from minimal to non-existent.


2) Feedback

This is probably the most evident difference and a direct derivative of the above. When an editor is handling fiction, it is an ongoing process that requires a lot of time, dedication and modification. Therefore, the kind of feedback that is provided is also very content related and focuses on developing the plot and characters of the book.

However, when it comes to editing non-fiction work, your editor’s priority is to make sure the document is error-free as far as your grammar is concerned. The focus here is purely on the grammar and syntax, alongside overall document formatting.


3) Editing Styles

Taking an example of an academic document, the editor will have to take into consideration not just your personal requirements but also the style guide provided by your college/school. While editing a book, editors tend to keep in mind the target audience and are generally flexible to accommodate your requirements as well.

If an editor is working on a thesis, they will have to adhere to referencing styles as asked by your professor or mandated by your college. Fiction editing style could possibly change over the course of editing to allow new ideas or trends. Other changes include the crispness of editing – where non-fiction requires the editor to be clear and concise, fiction has space for metaphors and dramatic writing.


4) Getting facts right

Fiction editing focuses on characters, plot, dialogues and getting the general tonality of the manuscript right in order to appeal to the readers.

In non-fiction editing and proofreading, the content of the document is mostly technical objective material- so editors need to focus on ensuring the jargon isn’t misused, and all facts and references are right.


5) Overall editing structure

The process of editing is different for fiction and non-fiction work owing to the duration of editing as well.

Think of non-fiction editing as a visit to your doctor. It’s a clinical process that comes into effect only after the writing stage is done, and focuses on treating your illness (grammar errors) based on symptoms described by you (requirements).

Fiction editing is like visiting the pediatrician. Your editor cares about you and your book on a deeper level, and knows all your history and about your vision for the book. It’s a far more intrinsic level of developmental editing, and is a work in progress over a long time till the book is finished.