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Ghostwriter, Book Coach, Or Editor: Which Is For Me?

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There may be all sorts of reasons for wanting to tell a story. You may have had a fascinating life, want to share decisions taken, lessons learned, a business grown, theories on how to make the world a kinder place, a philosophy to share–and there may well be a readership out there that would like to know more.

You decide, therefore, to write a book.

There are a few ways to do this:

  1. Go it entirely alone. Write the book yourself.
  2. Hire a book coach to help navigate outlines, structures, and themes and manage your time.
  3. Hire an editor to work with you either chapter by chapter or after you’ve completed your rough draft.
  4. Hire a ghostwriter to write the book with you.

From our group’s collective experience, here’s an in-depth look at how to make the right decision for your needs and priorities. 

Going It Alone

If you have written before; if you know you can write prose in an engaging, immersive, and readable way; if you feel you can structure a coherent and flowing narrative that will captivate your reader; or if you have plenty of time and no deadline, then you may want to write your book yourself. This can be hugely enjoyable. And hugely frustrating. But as in many creative industries, you must follow your passion.

You always have the option of seeking professional help when your manuscript is completed.

Many ghostwriters encourage their clients to attempt to write a little themselves at the beginning of a project. At the very least, memories and ideas might start to flow in the most unexpected way.

Hiring a Book Coach

Sitting down and facing a blank Word document as you begin writing a book can seem daunting and overwhelming. Where do you start? At the beginning? Should you plot chapters first? How many words a day should you write? What happens if your enthusiasm wanes halfway through? This is where a book coach can step in. A decent coach can help you work out the basics, from using outlines to deciding on the best tone to managing your time so the book doesn’t take over your life (or at least you don’t give up so easily!).

This can be an important aid for an author who knows they can write well but may be intimidated by the idea of going it alone—and could use a coach’s expertise to help guide them.

Hiring an Editor

If you want to shoulder the writing work yourself but feel like you could benefit more from a hands-on collaborator than a coach, then hiring an editor makes sense.

Editors offer a range of services, from shaping thoughts, writing, and structure to injecting clarity and coherence—and maybe even that missing magical narrative thread, the essence that makes a book work.

Here is a breakdown of some of the specific roles an editor can play at different stages of the editorial journey. 

Developmental: This involves developing ideas to form a coherent and workable framework and individual chapter outlines. It is creating a blueprint for the author to stick to (hopefully!) as the narrative is formed.

Structural: After the initial development of an outline, an editor can work alongside an author as they write. This includes line editing each chapter, or the entire manuscript once it’s written. Working on each chapter or, say, every three chapters, can be a more rewarding way to revise, as doing so may feel less overwhelming than revising a complete manuscript to prepare it for submission or publication. However, stretching an engagement over the entire book-writing process rather than opting for a complete, one-time edit on a single draft typically takes up more of an editor’s time and energy, and therefore is likely to cost more. Authors should consider which editorial process will work best for them and their budget. 

Working with an editor can be hugely enjoyable, not to mention beneficial to your book. And whether it’s right from the start of the manuscript or after the book has already been written, using an editor helps make you feel supported and encouraged. The end result is a text that’s in the best shape it could possibly be.  

Hiring a Ghostwriter

So when is it best—or even necessary—to use a ghostwriter? In our experience, authors who use ghosts tend to be very busy people. They often hold down demanding jobs in life and don’t have the time or are even realistic enough to know they won’t be able to grant readers access to their life or ideas through well-tempered prose alone. They may also not have enough confidence in their writing to carry that primary burden themselves.

A ghostwriter chooses and shapes words, but at all times is respectful of the story being that of the author. Conveying the texture and richness of the life, sharing the thrilling biography, getting down and intimate with the reader, is the author’s job. Often, this is channeled through a series of interviews, and the sharing of notes and diaries. By our estimation, the typical book takes around 25 hours of interview time for a memoir reaching the average length of 70,000 words. Shaping those words, structuring, getting them down on the page in the voice of the author, is the job of the ghostwriter.

However, the ghostwriter can only go so far to capture the story in full. Authors need to be prepared–certainly for a memoir–to allow access to the nuances as well as the details. It’s no good wanting someone to bring life to the page if you are obscure or mysterious or overly modest in the telling. In order for the reader to fall in love with you or to place their emotional investment in your work, your philosophy, your outlook, or an aspect of your life, all that material needs to be given to the ghostwriter. As flexible as we are, ghostwriters can’t make it up, and 70,000 words aren’t going to write themselves. 

This is, after all, a creative collaboration, and in order to get the best possible book, there needs to be an investment of time and energy–both during the writing and later, as the book hits the shelves and the lives of its readers.

What a ghostwriter or editor cannot do is to guarantee you publication (though there are ways we can help, as we will cover later in the series). But we can definitely help you make your manuscript the best it can possibly be. And it can be a wonderful, rich experience that will go on to absorb and engage many others. 

Gillian Stern

Gillian Stern is a freelance ghost-writer of several Sunday Times bestsellers, mostly memoir. A former non-fiction commissioning editor, she happily, discovered a novel in an agent’s slush pile that went on to win prizes and sell in huge numbers and then crossed over into the world of commercial memoir and literary fiction. She has since worked with several literary agents and publishers including Bloomsbury, Hodder, Penguin Random House, and Orion. She has been a judge for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize for the past six years and gives regular talks and workshops on writing. Contact her at gillybethstern@hotmail.com or follow her on Twitter @gillybethstern.

Shannon Kyle

Shannon Kyle is a best-selling ghostwriter of  21 books including several Sunday Times bestsellers.  The books are mainly memoir and cover the genres of celebrity, childhood, self-help, animal and social history. One of her books was nominated for the Irish Sports Book of the Year award. She has worked with mainstream publishers including Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Headline, Macmillan, HarperCollins and Bonnier. Contact her via the website: www.shannonkyle.co.uk or on Twitter @shannondotkyle.