Ghost Editing: Is It For You?

Have you heard the whispers about ghost editing? It’s not a new term, but it is uncommon and somewhat mysterious. We like to think of it as ghostwriting’s shy, bespectacled cousin who ducks into a phone booth, dons a superhero costume, and saves the day for struggling authors.

What Is Ghost Editing?

Ghost editing, aka book doctoring, is a hybrid of developmental editing and ghostwriting. It entails taking a big-picture view of your manuscript and doing some creative writing and revising. Whereas a ghostwriter starts with your idea and a blank page and writes your book for you, a ghost editor starts with one of your early drafts and reworks it until it’s a viable book.

Ghost editing is ultimately useful if you want help revising a rough draft into a final manuscript with a minimum of frustration and time. By partnering with a ghost editor, you can finish the book you've started and eventually see it in print.

Who Is Ghost Editing For?

Authors who don't have time to revise a manuscript or who feel unqualified to rewrite their book may benefit from ghost editing. A ghost editor—in cape and mask—will soar in and rescue your draft from the oblivion of a bottom desk drawer (or a computer folder), where unfinished books are banished.

Ghost editing is ideal if you’ve written a book but are short on the time, patience, or technique required to finish it. It cuts down on the number of drafts you must endure so that writing a book becomes a less painful prospect.

It is also ideal if you’re the kind of author who expresses themselves better verbally than in writing. The ghost editor will record your ideas and information in conversations and interviews and then transcribe these into compelling text: you speak, the editor writes, and the book develops.


Ghost Editing Fiction and Nonfiction

If you’re a fiction writer who has a grand idea for a novel but only a rough sketch of the story on paper, you can rely on a ghost editor to refine the piece. Together, you and your ghost editor work to develop a viable and engaging plot, with turning points and rising action and plenty of tension.

If you’re a nonfiction author who has information you want to pass along or a point you want to make but no background in writing, you can employ a ghost editor to convey your message effectively.

Authors usually decide to engage a ghost editor after they have written a complete draft of their manuscript and realize they will require help revising and rewriting into a finished book. Authors and ghost editors engage in close collaboration in person or by phone, Skype, and email at each stage of the ghost editing process.

Especially with nonfiction books, a large part of the ghost editor’s job is to pick up on your voice so as to mimic it later in text. The ghost editor harvests clues on your voice from recordings of interviews and the wording of emails and other communications.

Your voice is the way the story is told—whether it’s fast-paced or slow and brooding, humorous or ironic, in a formal tone or conversational style. Your personality comes through on the page through how you use punctuation, big words or slang, sentence structure, dialogue, and figures of speech, among other techniques. Your ghost editor will adopt your distinctive voice and help you say what you want to say the way you want to say it.


The Ghost Editing Process

The ghost editing process goes something like this:

The ghost editor assesses the manuscript you’ve submitted. They read through it, making note of what content is there, what’s missing, and what’s off-topic and formulating an idea of how to arrange text to best effect.

Then, you and your ghost editor review the manuscript evaluation and brainstorm to enhance and complete an outline for the book.

For a fiction manuscript, the editor might make a scene map and then, together with you, consider each scene’s importance and effectiveness and decide which ones can be cut, combined, or rewritten, and which scenes must be added. In this way, you and your editor develop the plot, characters, turning points, tension, and themes, and then the editor executes the plan.

For nonfiction, you and the editor work together to develop or refine your book’s thesis, arguments, counterarguments, supporting points, tone, theme, and conclusion. Again, the editor writes to the plan.

The editor writes each chapter in accord with the new outline and revision plan, doing necessary research along the way, whether that is interviewing you, pursuing leads, or gathering information. You and your editor will evaluate each chapter as it is written, revising until it says what you want it to say. When you offer close feedback, your editor can respond with appropriate revisions in text. Each draft the ghost editor produces is an attempt to capture the idea of the story in your voice. 

When all the chapters have been written, and preferably after a suitable rest period, both you and your editor do a final read-through. This is like a mini developmental edit in its own right—the ghost editor will look for what’s missing, what’s irrelevant, and how to tighten and make the text flow. They will then implement the last round of edits to arrive at a final draft that pleases you.

Ghost editors are skilled word technicians, so while writing, they edit their own work. The final draft of a ghost-edited book appears as if it’s been through a developmental edit, a heavy stylistic line edit, and a thorough copyedit for grammar and mechanics. This saves you from submitting the work to the many rounds of revision required to produce a professional piece.

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Collaborating With a Ghost Editor

It’s said that two heads are better than one, and in the case of ghost editing this is true. When an author and ghost editor form a good team, they spark creativity and enthusiasm in each other and find it easy to brainstorm ideas for the book and solutions to writing or content challenges that arise in the process.

You, as the author, bring creativity and the ability to capture raw ideas from the ether, and the ghost editor, your invisible ally, sculpts the content to best communicate your message or story. Collaboration between you and your editor, with excellent and honest communication, produces a stronger manuscript.

If you think ghost editing might be right for you, contact us for more information.


About the Author

Our not-so-spooky ghost editor Christina Palaia has edited more than three hundred books, ranging from the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s memoir to a handbook on forensic medicine. She has contributed articles to The New Encyclopedia of American Scandal and The Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence and coauthored a midsized technical manual for Paraglyph Press. Her specialties range from quirky nonfiction to scholarly writing to novels that seize the imagination.