The Difference Between Ghostwriting and Developmental Editing

Since developmental editors work so closely with authors to help them create great books, it’s not unusual that some authors wonder how a developmental editor is different from a ghostwriter. Both are heavily involved with a book’s content, and in terms of the teamwork, coaching, and feedback that goes on between ghostwriter and author, or equally between developmental editor and author, it requires some clarification to distinguish between these two major ways of working with writing and editing professionals.

Let’s tackle the ghostwriter first. Basically with ghostwriting, if you are a person with an idea for a book, and you possess the expertise in your field but are not particularly good at writing—or don’t have time for writing (for example, you might be a busy corporate executive, a coach with a full coaching practice, or a speaker with a full roster of speaking gigs)—you might consider hiring a writer to turn your ideas and knowledge into words. You would give the writer as much information as possible, and then the writer would get to work creating a draft manuscript for you. So, the process of creating a book with a ghostwriter is that you supply the information; the writer does the writing, attempting as much as possible to create the content with the flavor of your voice. Sometimes ghostwriters will do recorded interviews with the author in order to get a sense of the author’s voice and style.

In contrast, developmental editors do not write the book for the author. Instead, a developmental editor works with the author to develop the book’s concept, and often coaches the author through the writing process, always with an eye to the book’s purpose, its audience, and it content map (structure). Working with a developmental editor from the very beginning concept stage often makes it easier for the author to do the writing with confidence and the comfort of knowing that there is always someone there to give feedback and helpful suggestions.

To use an old analogy often applied to human endeavors—the ghostwriter catches the fish for you (writes your book); the developmental editor teaches you how to fish for yourself (helps you write your book). 

Many times, however, the developmental editor gets involved after an author has created a first draft. In that situation, the developmental editor evaluates the manuscript and considers many of the same issues involved in early stage developmental editing—for example, what is the book’s purpose, who is the audience, how well does the narrative arc of the book move the content forward, etc. If the draft manuscript needs work in clarifying or emphasizing its purpose and its narrative power, the developmental editor helps the author make the structural and thematic changes to hone the book into a compelling written work.

What is best for you as an author desiring to have a book published—hiring a ghostwriter or hiring a developmental editor? If you want it done for you, then the ghostwriter would be your choice. If you want to have the experience of creating your own words, but need someone to guide you through the process, hold your hand, and keep you on track, then you would choose a developmental editor. If you want to do your own first draft writing, a good developmental editor can also help you speed up the process of writing your book, and give you good guidance not only about the content, but also about the publishing process itself.

Ghostwriters tend to be more expensive than developmental editors, because the process of writing a book from scratch is very labor-intensive. With developmental editing, since you as the author would be doing your own writing, your developmental editor will be checking in with you all along the way, and helping you with your content mapping. So it’s somewhat less labor intensive than ghostwriting, and therefore can be less expensive.

Either path is viable and valid. It all depends on your own inclinations (do you want to experience yourself as a writer or delegate the writing to someone else?), your budget, your timeline, and your goals for your book.

Working with a professional ghostwriter or with a professional developmental editor can be a very worthwhile and positive experience. Both paths involve collaboration and a sense of teamwork. The author-ghostwriter experience is a dynamic relationship, and so is the author-developmental editor relationship. The important thing is that you, as an author, are comfortable with your choice and feel good about the end result—your book.

Sharon Lindenburger
Professional Writer
Professional Developmental Editor
Consultant and Supplier of all forms of editing

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