There’s More than One Way to Write a Book

There’s more than one way to write a book—or anything else, for that matter.

The old joke about writing is that it’s really very easy: you just sit down at a keyboard (or in front of a blank sheet of paper, if you’re the old-fashioned type) and open a vein. But even if you’d rather slash your wrists than sit down at that keyboard, writing doesn’t have to be painful.

It doesn’t even have to be lonely. A room of your own and a source of income may be prerequisites to writing, but every book is a collaborative effort, involving not just the writer but editors, proofreaders, designers, printers, and distributors.

Those are the two most important things to know if you want to write a book: it doesn’t have to hurt, and you don’t have to do it all by yourself. In fact, if you work with a ghostwriter or a contract writer, you may not have to do any of the writing at all.

That doesn’t mean you won’t be doing any work, though. Your job, as the author, is to create the concept and to make sure that the end result is in line with your vision, just as if you were directing a movie or a play. If it’s going to be your book, you have to be involved, and you have the final say.

A Ghostwriter writes with you. Your “ghost” translates your vision into words while preserving your “voice” or personality. That means the ghostwriter has to get to know you very well. Authors talk about ghostwriters “channelling” their books, but what a ghostwriter really does to get inside your head is interview you (and frequently your friends, family, clients, and competitors) and study your work. To carry our film analogy a little further, a ghostwriter is like an actor getting into character—and you are the character. You are the expert.

A Contract Writer is someone who writes for you. Working with a contract writer is like assigning a story to a newspaper reporter: you provide the subject matter, length, and other guidelines, and the writer brings you a finished product. You don’t have to be an expert in the subject. Contract writers are sometimes subject experts and always good researchers. If you need website or newsletter content or other forms of copywriting, you want a contract writer.

You don’t need to worry as much about compatibility with a contract writer as with a ghostwriter, but you definitely want someone who can stick to deadlines.

The line between contract writing and ghostwriting is not always clear cut. Many freelance writers do both. Even if you send a contract writer out to do the initial research and writing on her own, you may want to collaborate on a second draft in order to get the “voice” right. In some cases you won’t need—or even want—the book or article to sound like you, and the writing may not be attributed to anyone at all.

A Developmental Editor arranges your material for the most effective presentation, like an architect creating a blueprint for your book. The best time to hire a developmental editor is after you collect your source material and make an outline, but before you sit down and start grinding out pages, but you can bring one in at any point in the process. It’s usually easier to build from scratch than to remodel, though, so if you already know that you want help with ordering your material and deciding what to put in and what to keep out, don’t wait.

A Book Doctor takes your manuscript and reworks it to create a finished product that agents and publishers know they can sell. Book doctoring is very similar to developmental editing, but an author rarely calls the book doctor until well into the writing process.

If you’ve run up against a wall in your writing or tried to sell a manuscript without success, you might want to ask for a house call.

Because even major publishing houses have cut back on their staff, you can’t count on having editorial services provided for you. If you’ve already sold your book, check with your publisher so you can be sure which services they provide. It can be well worth spending some of your advance on getting help.

And remember: it doesn’t have to hurt, and you don’t have to do it alone.

© 2005 Sallie Goetsch

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *