Expand into book doctoring and ghostwriting

If you’ve been a developmental editor for any length of time, you’ve likely encountered an author who just wants you to write the book for them. Or, you’ve encountered a ms that was in such disrepair that it required a herculean effort to fix it, dropping your hourly rate down to pocket change.

As a result, you’ve probably worked out ways to avoid these situations: by making it clear, for example, that once you deliver your edit, it is up to the author to do the work of revision. Or, in the case of the messy manuscript, you’ve learned to look at projects before you take them on and you’ve figured out how to set boundaries so that scope creep doesn’t wreck your schedule, your finances, and your peace of mind.

But another thing you can do is find ways to serve those clients—although for a much fatter paycheck. I’m talking about ghostwriting, coauthoring, and book doctoring.

A developmental edit is meant to help an author see big-picture problems in an already completed manuscript, a manuscript that, ideally, they have tried hard themselves to make as perfect as they know how. It is not meant to address an incomplete draft, a set of notes, or an idea.

Coaching can help with some of those, if the author is motivated to do the work and just needs some guidance about how to get started or how to untangle a problem that’s blocking their forward progress.

But coaching doesn’t work in every situation, such as when a client doesn’t have time to do the work themselves or simply doesn’t have the skills and doesn’t intend to acquire them. It’s tempting to boot clients like that to the curb (“Come back when you can invest five minutes in your own book!”) but, as you know, I hate to say goodbye to prospective clients if there is any possibility of money landing in my bank account, and so over the years, I’ve done a lot of book doctoring, ghostwriting, and coauthoring.

Book doctoring is the process of taking a messy draft and revising it into shape. In this case, you’re not making recommendations to the author (“I would reorganize chapters 3, 4, and 5”), you’re actually doing the work of revision and rewriting yourself.

Ghostwriting is writing a book, or helping to write a book (or other type of project), that is published under the client’s name. Coauthoring is writing or helping to write a book for which you get cover credit/a byline (along with the client).

Typically you will know ahead of time that one of these journeys is what you’re embarking on and I strongly encourage you to think carefully about how to charge for this. Editing an 80,000 book might take a week or two (depending on what shape it’s in) but writing a book, or revising a poorly written/poorly planned one, takes a much longer time.

If you would charge $2500 for an edit that would take a week, then you would need to charge $10,000 for a book doctoring job that would take four weeks. This is just simple math but it trips up a lot of editors, who wind up vastly undercharging.

If you’re not sure how long it would take to revise/rewrite a poorly written ms, ask your writer friends or your editor colleagues, give it a try yourself (and time your efforts), or do some research (Google turns up some surprisingly accurate results).

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