Contrary to what you may have heard, books do not write themselves.
Maybe one in ten million authors can dash out the bulk of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book over the course of a long weekend.
But for the rest of us, writing a book involves a lot of thought, preparation, and just plain hard work. And often, we need a little help.
Fortunately, there are several people that authors can turn to for help, including ghostwriters, rewriters, developmental editors, line editors, copy editors, proofreaders, and book coaches. Let’s take a look at each.
The Ghostwriter: 360 Degree Help – Of all the helpers, the ghostwriter gives you, the author/client, the greatest amount of assistance by conceptualizing, structuring, researching, and writing the book for you.
Before writing, the ghostwriter will develop the book’s theme and structure. As he writes, he’ll send you drafts of materials for review and comment. Once you provide comments, he’ll rewrite the material and, at the end, present you with a polished manuscript that’s ready to enter the publication process.
You can put the entire burden on the ghostwriter, involving yourself as little as possible. You might want to do nothing more than say, for example, “I want a book on Union strategy during the Civil War,” then read and approve the final draft of the manuscript.
If you want to be more involved, you can present your ghost with a stack of materials you’ve already gathered, work with him to develop your theme and structure, and monitor the drafts carefully, offering helpful suggestions throughout the writing process. But you’ll still rely on the ghostwriter to do much (if not all) of the conceptualizing, all the writing, and possibly a great deal of research.
I’ve worked with author/clients who were heavily involved, meeting with me two days a week over the course of several months. I’ve also worked with authors I only spoke to a few times and never met in person, as well as authors who were somewhere in the middle.
The Rewriter: Intensive Clean-Up/Revision Help – The rewriter will lend you plenty of assistance, but she arrives on the scene after you’ve written the first draft of your manuscript.
The rewriter, then, is not involved in the initial development of the book’s theme and structure. She didn’t participate in the original round of research and isn’t expected to conduct significant amounts of new research. In other words, the rewriter picks up where you left off and perfects what you’ve written.
She may completely rewrite your draft, leaving very little of your original work, sharpening your theme, and strengthening your structure. Or she may use a fair amount of your material, which she reorganizes and clarifies, then only lightly rewrites the rest.
Either way, the rewriter works from your existing draft of the manuscript, improving what you’ve already written. She is not expected to completely reconceptualize the book or conduct major new research.
While the ghostwriter is like an architect who designs and builds your beautiful house from scratch, the rewriter is like a contractor who takes an existing ramshackle house and makes it as beautiful and functional as possible.
The Developmental Editor: Critical Help – The developmental editor helps you achieve your book-writing goals by indicating which passages, sections, or chapters should be eliminated, moved, or combined; which need to be rewritten to clarify matters; which areas should be strengthened and which should be dialed down. He will also offer suggestions on language and tone.
Unlike the ghostwriter or rewriter, the developmental editor does not write for you. He may write a few sample passages to explain a suggestion, but the writing will be up to you.
You can think of the developmental editor as a home decorator who analyzes your house inside and out, then says, “I think you should change the blue paint in the kitchen to pale yellow, convert the extra bedroom into an office, get rid of half the furniture in the den, and change the carpet to hardwood planks made from maple.”
Once you’ve received the developmental editor’s advice, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to implement it.
The Line Editor & Copy Editor: Word-Choice Help – The line and copy editors focus on your words in your manuscript.
Both begin with the assumption that you have approved of your book’s theme, organization, structure, and content. They take it a step further by going through your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that your words “work.”
The line editor focuses on your writing style and language. Are the words you’ve chosen the best ones to use in the situation? Are they precise? Do they convey the necessary tone and emotions? Is each word the proper choice for its particular passage/idea/character/argument?
The copy editor checks your finished manuscript for spelling and grammar errors, as well as redundancies and omissions, and ensures that the writing style is consistent throughout.
Having good line and copy editors will ensure that the words you have chosen are informative, evocative, and appropriate and that the reading experience is enjoyable and seamless.
Although I’ve described the jobs of the line editor and copy editor separately, they are often performed simultaneously by one person.
The Proofreader: Pinpoint Help – I’ve listed the proofreader as one of the last helpers, but she is most certainly not the least.
You may be able to skip all the others and handle the conceptualizing, structuring, and writing by yourself. But you should never overlook the proofreader. Not only are you too close to the writing, which makes you unable to see little errors that are present in every manuscript, you probably don’t know all the nitpicking grammar rules that must be carefully adhered to—or, if they are broken as part of your book’s style, are broken deliberately and consistently.
The proofreader searches for typos, grammar mistakes, spelling errors, and wrong word choices in the final manuscript, making sure they don’t end up in the finished work. The proofreader also looks for uniformity in font, type size, and heading styles, and checks to see that the captions match their diagrams or photographs.
The Book Coach: Bird’s Eye View Help – The book coach doesn’t write a single word of your manuscript or make any changes. Instead, he offers ideas and advice. He can provide crucial direction on topics that range from focusing your book idea to positioning the book in the marketplace; from choosing among potential outlines to producing clear and easy-to-read copy; from finding an agent to wending your way through the publication process.
You might work with a book coach right from the start, developing ideas for your book’s theme, structure, writing style, and so on. Or you might wait until you’ve set these issues in stone and are ready to begin writing.
No matter when you begin working with a book coach, he will act as a consultant, reading your material and offering ideas and advice for improvement. Then it’s up to you whether or not you want to utilize his ideas and/or suggestions.
Although I’ve described the book writing helpers as distinct individuals doing jobs that have sharp boundaries, in reality, their tasks can and do overlap.
For example, I’ve had some rewriting jobs that turned into ghostwriting assignments because the original material wasn’t strong enough to create good books. Some developmental editors wind up doing a fair amount of writing, and many proofreaders also provide line and copy editing.
So while in reality the jobs of the writing helpers often overlap, it’s important to understand the essence of each. When you do, you’ll be in a much better position to hire the right helpers—whether they do a combination of jobs or act as stand-alone entities.
IF YOU’D LIKE HELP WRITING YOUR BOOK…
We’re Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor, professional ghostwriters and authors with a long list of satisfied clients and editors at major publishing houses.
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