Writing a Great Nonfiction Book, One Page at a Time

I Need Professional Help: Writing Coach vs. Developmental Editor vs. Ghostwriter

Even for those of us in the biz, the nuances between different editorial and writing roles are subtle. It’s no wonder authors are often stumped when trying to find the right kind of professional help. “So wait . . . How are you going to help me?” Before I answer this question, I have to remind myself what role I’m playing with that particular author—developmental editor, writing coach, or ghostwriter. The boundaries can get blurry. If you are working on a book and are looking for professional help, here are some tips on choosing the right kind:

Writing Coach: Do you have writing experience but lack book writing experience? If you enjoy writing and believe you have strong skills, you might consider hiring a coach—or you could just read this blog (promotion alert). There are different kinds of coaches, but if you are writing nonfiction, your coach should help you brainstorm and test your core concept and potential reader interest, advise you on creating a strong outline, and offer feedback on content development and coverage, voice, style, balance of story-telling with expository content, and so on. A writing coach can also help you break down the daunting task of writing 70,000 words into manageable assignments . . . say 40 writing prompts. Note that some people call this role developmental editor or author’s editor.

Developmental Editor: Have you already written a draft of the manuscript and now you need help refining it? Have you been told by an agent that you need help with focus, structure, or connecting with your core audience? A developmental editor can help. He or she will coach you on fixing the biggest issues (like holes in your content) and will dive in and help you fix issues of structure, flow, and focus. Some developmental editors will work through the manuscript and fix the problems for you, while others will work through the manuscript and offer advice for how you can fix the problems. Consider how you would like to work with an editor, and then talk to different editors about approach.

Ghostwriter: Do you like to write? Are you a good writer? You may be a content expert, but you may not be the best person to write your book. You’ll need to put your ego aside and consider the type of writing experience you have and the feedback you’ve received. If you write often or have been published and have the time in your schedule to write an entire book, it’s unlikely that you’ll need a ghostwriter. If you don’t enjoy writing, don’t do it often, and have never been praised for your glorious prose, you might consider finding somebody who can help you get your ideas onto the page. There’s no shame in admitting that you have information that people want but not the writing skill to share it. I’ll post more information about ghostwriting soon.

In future posts, I’ll share tips on how to hire the right person. Blatant foreshadowing: Don’t hire your neighbor’s 20-year-old English-major daughter for any of these roles.

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