Do I Need a Ghostwriter or an Editor?

Ghostwriting and editing are two very similar entities and are often confused by both new and veteran authors. Particularly if you’re new to the world of writing, you might look at your newly written manuscript and think, “What the hell do I do next?” Believe me, you’re not alone in thinking this. Not only that, but there are tonnes of other job titles you’ll hear thrown around too. Developmental editor, line editor, copy editor, proof-reader, literary agent, book coach, book doctor, and quite a few others to boot. Knowing what direction to take with your book can be really confusing but it doesn’t have to be. Your friendly neighbourhood ghostwriter is on the case to help you plan the next steps on your journey.

You need a ghostwriter if you have the premise of the story but do not wish to write it yourself. Now, we’ve covered this in the past many, many times. But, for those in the back, let’s just do a quick revisit. The definition of a ghostwriter, for those of you who are interested, is ‘A person whose job it is to write material for someone else who is the named author.’ There are lots of reasons why a person is unable to write their own book. Maybe they don’t have the time or the writing ability, maybe they don’t have the expertise, or the topic is too sensitive for them. This one is easy. If you don’t want to, or can’t, write your own book for whatever reason (any reason is valid!) then you need to hire a ghostwriter to support you with the process. Take a quick peek at my previous blog post ‘What Do Ghostwriters Do?’ for more information on the ghostwriting process. Once you’ve started writing the manuscript, this is where the waters become muddied.

If you’ve written a manuscript that you don’t believe is up to snuff, a ghostwriter is your go-to in this scenario too. Whether you’ve written the full manuscript or part of it, a ghostwriter can take what you’ve written and turn it into what you envisioned. There’s no shame at all in having a ghostwriter help you in this way, or any way at all! The ghostwriter is simply helping you say what you need to say but better. If you’re halfway through a manuscript and think, “I have no idea how to finish this thing off.” Or even, “I don’t want to finish writing this manuscript.” A ghostwriter can step in at this stage too. Either re-writing the existing information and then continuing with the manuscript or starting where you left off.

Say you’ve written a manuscript and you know it needs some work to make it publishable, but you don’t know where to begin, it’s time to call upon a developmental editor. Developmental editors are sometimes referred to as ‘substantive editors’ or ‘book doctors’, although I have to admit the title ‘book doctor’ seems a little out-there to me. Anyway, developmental editors will work in a very similar way to a ghostwriter, which is often why people like myself will perform both developmental edits and ghostwriting. The definition of developmental editing is, “A developmental editor may guide an author (or group of authors) in conceiving the topic, planning the overall structure, and developing an outline—and may coach authors in their writing, chapter by chapter. This is true developmental editing, but not the most common way of working.”[1] They might write or re-write portions, add portions, or advise you on the structure, while basically giving you an overview on what could be changed to make the manuscript more marketable or more readable, depending on your aims. At this stage, the developmental editor might also edit for grammar, punctuation, and clarity if required.

Once you’ve written a manuscript that you are happy with, although I don’t think anybody ever feels their manuscript is truly finished, we move onto line editing, copy editing, and proof-reading. A little disclaimer here: line editors and copy editors can proof-read also, but proof-readers are not always qualified or experienced in line and copy editing. This is relvent when you’ve written your manuscript, but it needs a thorough looking over for inconsistencies and errors. To reiterate, copy editing, line editing and proofreading are for when you have a manuscript you are relatively happy with and it simply requires ‘finishing off’. Editing on all levels is something I love to do, but I will always have a special place in my heart for line editing. A line editor corrects language use line by line, paragraph by paragraph. They will identify sentences that are too long, words that are repeated or unnecessary, tense issues, passive voice, and clarity, amongst other things. Copy editing is what people often refer to as ‘editing’. This is when you hire someone like me to go through your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb looking for technical errors. Incorrect grammar, punctuation, typos, tense, spellings, and inconsistencies are what the copy editor will be looking for and correcting.

Proof-reading is the final stage of polishing the manuscript. Once all the technical errors and inconsistencies are fixed, the document is given a final proof-read, or two, or three, for any errors. The aim is to catch as many mistakes as possible. My best advice here is to always hire somebody to proof-read your document. Even if you don’t want to splash out on editors, get somebody to proof-read for you. It is nigh on impossible to proof-read your own work and errors can be a huge turn-off when it comes to looking for publishers or self-publishing. Proof-read, proof-read, and then proof-read some more. Rope in friends and family, if you don’t want to spend money (although I recommend that you hire a professional too), as sometimes they catch errors you miss.

Literary agents and book coaches are a different kettle of fish. So, a literary agent is somebody who represents you in pushing your book for publication. They will ‘shop’ your book to different publishing houses on your behalf, trying to get you the best deal. The agent will then take a small percentage of the advance you receive from the publisher once they receive a contract for you. I want to say this loud and clear – a reputable literary agent will never, ever, ever, ask you to pay them upfront. Literary agents are a huge blessing when it comes to negotiating and winning contracts, especially for first-time authors. Book coaches are different from literary agents, although literary agents will often coach you too. Book coaches will give you advice around both writing your manuscript and your book proposal. They will help you to work out the finer details of your book, perhaps help you with the outline, and possibly provide feedback upon your chapters as you write. This does not include editing or ghostwriting, so bear that in mind.

So, do you need a ghostwriter or an editor?

The simple fact of the matter is that only you know what support you need when it comes to writing your book. The literary world is full of various people, performing various roles, offering support to you at different stages in your journey. The sign of a good, solid literary worker is somebody who will point you in the right direction if they are not able to offer the service you need. That being said, if you ever need advice on what kind of service you should pursue, my inbox is always open, and I will do my best to point you in the right direction. If you require a service I offer, namely all types of editing and ghostwriting, I am more than happy to provide you with a quote and plan at this stage too, so that you can compare different options. Email me at if you would like to reach out.

As always, wishing you love and books that make your heart skip a beat,

Sarah Jules x

[1] Norton, Scott. Developmental editing: A handbook for freelancers, authors, and publishers. University of Chicago Press, 2009.

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