What is the Difference Between a Ghostwriter, Developmental Editor, and an Editor?

In the publishing industry, different titles are given to different positions, each having a different set of responsibilities. Some of the most common positions are ghostwriters, editors, and developmental editors. Each plays an important role to the author who needs their services. Let’s take a look at each of them and define their contribution to the book writing and publishing process.

  • Ghostwriter: A ghostwriter is responsible for writing a book. In exchange for a fee, the ghostwriter completes the manuscript based on the client’s message, material, and ideas. They are usually experienced writers who have knowledge of the publishing industry and help their clients convey a compelling, interesting, and appealing message to the reader. A ghostwriter can be asked to write a book without any input from their client, or they can be asked to communicate often, obtaining the author’s unique message to use as content for the book. The ghostwriter’s byline usually is not included on the book cover, and the author often doesn’t give credit to the ghostwriter for his or her services. However, some ghostwriters are given credit next to the author’s name, using “with the ghostwriter” or “as told to” the ghostwriter.
  • Developmental editor: A developmental editor does not write the book, but he or she is responsible for assisting the author with the organization, layout, and delivery of their message. A developmental editor advises the author on the next logical step in the presentation of the material. It’s common for developmental editors to add or eliminate characters in a fiction story, ideas or concepts in a non-fiction story, and to assist the author with the story line. A developmental editor might suggest moving entire chapters or presenting them from a different perspective. They are fundamental in the overall development of the book, but while some do contribute some level of ghostwriting to enhance the flow of the material, they are not usually responsible for the actual writing of the manuscript.
  • Editor: The editor is the last person to receive the manuscript. When the author has completed writing his or her book, it is then sent to the editor, who polishes it and checks it for accuracy. The editor proofreads the book, checking it for spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors, and also ensures consistency throughout the story, correcting any areas which conflict. For instance, if the author stated that the main character had brown hair, but later changed that to blonde hair, the editor would catch that and correct it. The editor also ensures proper word usage, verb tense, and consistent tone is used throughout. They look for areas which lack clarity, or are choppy or redundant. They are adept at making sure the book follows a consistent pace, flows well, and transitions between thoughts and ideas. Some editors perform a minimal level of ghostwriting to meet these ends, and some provide suggestions to the author for alternate wording or layout of chapters; however, they are not expected to totally rewrite and/or rearrange the content of the book. When the editor is finished, the book is ready to be formatted for print.

While most authors will not use the services of all three of these professionals, each is valuable in the book writing process, depending on the author’s needs. As an independent publisher and book coach, I help my clients find the services that best suit their needs. If you are interested in learning more, contact me at alicia@aliciadunams.com for a complimentary strategy session.

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