How a Developmental Editor or a Ghostwriter Can Grease Your Writing Wheels

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Once you have a great idea for a new book, there’s a fair bit of work involved in expanding it into the beginnings of a manuscript. An author who can sit down and produce a full-length book from start to finish in one sitting is a rare bird indeed (if they exist at all). Writing is an involved process that takes time, energy, and dedication, not just to start a book but also finish it. In fact, many aspiring writers give up before they reach the end of their draft, but those who are determined will persevere despite the difficulties.

Whether you’re a writer of fiction or nonfiction, setting yourself up for success early on involves coming up with the big ideas about your plot or subject, determining how those ideas fit together, outlining chapters and the overall narrative, and deciding on the finer points of voice and tone. Ideally, all of this is done before you start typing the first page. Very few writers can dive into a book without having a good idea of where it’s going. Arguably, the outlining and planning stages will take longer than writing the book itself. The early stages of crafting a manuscript can be physically and mentally demanding. Therefore, we suggest that authors get all the help they can from the beginning to make the writing process as seamless as possible.  

Major publishing houses have teams of professionals who help writers during these critical early stages, but what if you’re working independently or going the self-publishing route?

Fortunately, there are many options available online for indie writers. It’s simply a matter of choosing the right one

Your partner for the long haul: the developmental editor

If you have an original idea that you’re passionate about but aren’t sure how to turn it into a full manuscript, a developmental editor might be what you need. 

Most people associate editing with checking spelling, correcting grammatical errors, and rewriting clunky sentences (which is true of copy editing and, to some extent, proofreading), but developmental editing is concerned with the big picture. Often called structural or substantive editors, developmental editors work closely with authors to provide detailed feedback on overall plot structure, narrative voice, and character development, among other things. 

Developmental editors help authors see their story in a new light, offering valuable insights that will strengthen the book. For instance, a developmental editor can honestly tell an author which subplots work and which don’t; by doing so, they are helping streamline the book, and the finished product will be all the better for it. Developmental editors will make sure the book is well-paced and offer suggestions to ensure that the plot is as tight as it can be.

To use a gardening analogy, if the proofreader’s job is to search through the beds for weeds to pull out, the developmental editor’s job is to make sure the overall garden layout makes sense. For example, if the protagonist does something seemingly inconsistent with their character progression, a developmental editor can point that out.

For fiction writers . . .

Fiction authors often start working with a developmental editor early in the writing process, though it’s also common to bring one in later, perhaps after completing a first draft. As a rule, earlier is better. A skilled developmental editor can spot inconsistencies in characters’ behavior, events happening out of order, or abrupt shifts in the narrative perspective (such as an inadvertent switch between a first-person and third-person point of view). If you get stuck or veer off on a tangent, a developmental editor can offer suggestions to steer you back onto the path. Developmental editors are there to help their authors, and their feedback can turn a good book into a great one.

For nonfiction writers . . .

In nonfiction, developmental editing is tailored to your specific subject, and editors often bring specialized knowledge to the table. For this reason, working with a developmental editor early on is more critical in nonfiction than in fiction.

At the beginning of the writing process, a developmental editor can help the nonfiction writer determine the main focus of their work, identify the target audience, and clarify the book’s main objectives. At a more structural level, a developmental editor can assist the author in creating a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline and establishing a roadmap to follow. Such early collaboration can be immensely helpful to the author in terms of time and effort saved. Developmental editors improve efficiency and help writers stay organized.

Still struggling? Consider a ghostwriter

Once you’ve done all the preliminary work to assemble the components of your book, it’s time to put it all together and get writing. At least that’s the idea, but what if you still can’t seem to get moving? That’s where a ghostwriter can help.

Ghostwriting is a pretty common practice in the literary world, especially in nonfiction. There are many talented, knowledgeable people who have the raw material for a book in their minds— maybe they’ve written articles, essays, or other short-form pieces—but who lack the time, experience, or literary chops to turn that raw material into a full-length book. For such people, a ghostwriter is an invaluable partner. Think of the most recent self-help, personal finance, or DIY book you read that was authored by a well-known expert. There’s a good chance it was at least partially ghostwritten. 

(Side note: While some ghosts do work in fiction, it isn’t common. Fiction writers tend to have a specific voice and narrative style, and the storytelling aspect of their craft is kind of the whole point of doing it. In such cases, outsourcing would be like an artist hiring someone to paint their masterpiece.) 

As with a developmental editor, a ghostwriter’s services can come into play at any stage. Maybe you have a subject in mind and plenty of notes and research material ready, but you don’t know how to put that first foot forward. Perhaps you’ve already worked with a developmental editor to create an outline, but you’re not sure how to pull everything together into a cohesive narrative. 

In both of these scenarios, a ghostwriter can add value. Contrary to what some people might think, a ghostwriter doesn’t simply take on 100% of the writing and then defer credit to the listed author. Ghostwriting is a collaboration between you and your ghost with the aim of generating content in your authentic voice and style. A ghostwriter will likely spend a fair bit of time learning about you, not just your book idea, so that your voice comes through in the finished product. The more collaboration there is between you and your ghost, the better your book will be.

Does my ghost get credit for their work?

A common question is whether a ghostwriter should receive partial credit for the finished work. It’s helpful here to think of a ghostwriter as the executive assistant who produces the company memos for their boss: The assistant may do the grunt work, but it’s the boss’s signature that appears on the document.

For an experienced ghostwriter, such anonymity is a normal (and expected) part of the job as the content derives from the knowledge, experience, and credibility of the author. The ghost is helping you make your book a reality, but you are the creative force behind it.

Should my ghost double as my developmental editor?

As you’ve probably realized, there’s a fair bit of overlap between the role of a developmental editor and that of a ghostwriter since they both provide the critical nuts-and-bolts assistance an author can use to get to publication. Given the similarities, it might be tempting to hire a ghostwriter to do it all, from helping refine the overall structure of the book to actually writing it. 

Keep in mind, however, that editing and writing are separate trades, each with its specific skill set, and not every ghostwriter has the experience or expertise to take on the editor’s role. While a skilled carpenter might have the proficiency to work from a detailed set of blueprints, that doesn’t mean they can tackle the job of an architect (for that matter, how many architects do you see framing up houses?). Thus, it’s a good idea to hire a developmental editor and a ghostwriter separately. Also, by having different people look over your work, you will receive feedback from two sources, which can help make your book even stronger.

Collaboration is part of the process

Writing a book can seem like a Herculean task, but you don’t have to do it alone. As with other creative pursuits, collaborating with a trusted partner can save you a lot of time and effort. You just need to know where to look. 

Whether you want feedback on the first draft of your manuscript or you’re stuck on page one and need a hand getting started, we can help. Work with our developmental editors to polish your plot and characters, or collaborate with our ghostwriters to pen an informative book in your field. 

We offer many other services, too. Drop us a line and tell us how we can help.

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