In the shoes of another: reflections on editing and ghostwriting

I am very selective about ghostwriting clients and very open to a broad range of editing clients.

Part of the reason is that a ghostwriting commitment means living in your skin for six or nine months, while an editing commitment means living in your manuscript for two or three weeks. But it’s not just the length of the commitment.

Why I’ll edit any nonfiction

Let’s say you bring me your nonfiction book and say “I need help with developmental editing.”

I have two resources.

First of all, I know how nonfiction books work. I know all the techniques and methods writers can use — and all the mistakes they tend to make. So I can diagnose and suggest fixes for your weaknesses.

Second, I can put myself in the shoes of the reader. I can imagine what it is like to be a hiring manager, an entrepreneur, a marketer, a coder, a content writer, and so on. I’ve been in business long enough to wear those shoes. I can even imagine what it’s like to be an overweight person, a woman in a man’s world, an alcoholic, or a runner.

With those two types of knowledge, I can suggest how to improve your book, whether it’s a self-help book, a strategy book, a big idea book, or a memoir.

I can’t help with fiction, since I don’t really understand how fiction works. But if it’s nonfiction, I can probably help.

Why I’ll only ghostwrite a narrow set of books

I’ve ghostwritten books about marketing, customer service, and management. I can imagine myself as a coach to marketers, customer service executives, or managers. I know how to write business coaching and strategy books, because I can wear the skin of coaches and strategists comfortably.

I cannot ghostwrite a memoir of a Hispanic immigrant who started his life when he and his mom washed ashore on a beach in Florida, because I don’t really understand how that feels.

I cannot ghostwrite a book about being a successful woman in a man’s world, because I don’t really understand how that feels. (And yes, somebody once asked me to do that, and was very disappointed when I wouldn’t consider it.)

I cannot ghostwrite a book about economics, because my education doesn’t include any actual economics.

Because of my experience, I can write about mathematics, software development, media, marketing, management, and AI. My voice will be indistinguishable from the author client’s voice. That’s because I can play-act my way through all of those jobs.

If you think you can ghostwrite anything, either you’re lying or you have incredible range. It’s probably the former, and you and your client are going to end up unhappy with the result.

What this means for hiring editors and ghostwriters

Hire developmental editors who know how books work and how your field works.

Hire ghostwriters who know how books work and how you work.

It’s not the same thing.

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  1. Josh, really enjoy your knowledge sharing and look forward to it/them on a daily basis. I have purchased your new book as I have a nonfiction manuscript written, but first I need to concentrate on a fiction manuscript I wish to publish first. It is in dire need of a good editing and is in the Spiritual/Inspirational category and a little over 43000 words. Any recommendations? Thanks for telling it like it is!