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Do I Need a Ghostwriter or a Book Doctor?

By now, I suspect you know that I suggest for everyone who is writing a book to get professional help.

Editing help, that is.

But I am writing this article for those of you who know–or at least suspect–that you need a lot of that help.

Maybe you’re incredibly busy and just don’t have the hours and hours it will take to organize or reorganize your ideas into a full-length manuscript. Or maybe you’ve realized that your writing chops aren’t where you want them to be, and that doing the work it will take to improve them isn’t a good use of your time.

If this sounds like you, never fear. Great options are available! Enter collaborative writers (a.k.a. ghostwriters) and book doctors.

Both ghostwriters and book doctors can help you get from “good idea for a book” to “actual, fully-fleshed out book” ready to wow readers everywhere. Without having to do it all by yourself!

So who, exactly, are these book-creating magicians? Collaborative writers and book doctors share relatively similar skills–with a few key differences. Understanding both of these roles will help you choose the path that’s right for you and your book!

Collaborative Writers

Collaborative writers, a.k.a. ghostwriters, bring their writing skill sets to the table before you ever set pen to page. You bring the idea, the stories, the wisdom and the will. They bring the experience of a career-level writer, who knows how to step into your voice and get your words onto the page in an efficient manner. Together, you collaborate to create a world-changing book.

Maybe you can see why I personally prefer the term “collaborative writing” to “ghostwriting.” The term provides a much clearer picture of what’s actually going on: You and your writer are working closely together to co-create the book. It’s still your idea and your message, backed up by your story and/or your experience, and all of the content still comes from you and–very importantly–sounds like you on the page. What she brings is the writing skill.

The process goes like this. You decide to write a book. You find a writer with experience crafting books in your genre. Together you hone in on your “hook,” the positioning statement that will serve as the north star for your book. Then she reviews any previously created content–written, audio, video. She will likely interview you extensively, both to draw out more wisdom and stories, but also to get an accurate sense of your voice.

Together the two of you will create the right outline for the book, depending on what you want it to do for readers. (Teach them something? Change their perspective? Entertain them? All three?)

From there, she will write the book you’ve agreed upon. Often you will receive a chapter or two at a time, so you can read, revise and give feedback that she will use as she continues her work. Often you’ll agree in advance that she will revise a certain piece of the manuscript a set number of times. If there are more revisions required, the fee for work may be renegotiated.

So while the writing piece is up to someone else, let’s get real–you’re still heavily involved in the process. You’re needed. You’re necessary. You can’t expect to hand the reins over and *poof* receive the perfect book without any work at all. But that’s the point: Even though you didn’t draft every single word yourself, you were heavily involved all along the way. And thus, the final product is still very much your book, which is why your name ends up on the cover.

Book Doctors

Book doctoring technically falls into the category of “editing” rather than “writing.” That said, there’s a ton of rewriting involved, so in some way it’s the love child between ghostwriting and content editing. Unlike editing, where making the editor’s revisions is up to you, a book doctor will suggest edits and then implement them herself.

Contrary to working with a collaborative writer–who writes the whole thing from scratch for you–book doctoring requires you to provide a first draft.

But from there, your book doctor does whatever it takes to make the book sparkle. He may reorganize, rewrite and add transitions. He may ask you to draft some personal or client stories that he can refine and drop into the manuscript. His job is to play doctor (in a non-saucy way), taking the book apart and putting it back together again as needed to create maximum impact for the reader.

You can see, then, how doctoring begins to look more like collaborative writing: Your book doctor may shift things around, flip paragraphs on their heads and even rewrite entire sections, all in service of making your book the best it can be.

Watch the video below to learn about the difference between book coaches, editors, book doctors, and ghostwriters.

So….Which to Choose?

There are really two questions to ponder when making the decision between a collaborative writer and a book doctor. To wit:

  1. Do you have the time, skill and interest in writing a first draft?
  2. What is your budget?

To address question #1, allow me to recap: The primary difference between book doctoring and collaborative writing lies in who writes the first draft. With collaborative writing, it’s your writer; with book doctoring, it’s you.

If you don’t have the skill, will or hours in the day to sit down and write a 50-70k word draft, you may be a better candidate for ghostwriting.

If, on the other hand, you love writing, already have a draft underway or simply relish the challenge of putting so many words on the page, one after the other, a book doctor might be just what the–ahem–doctor ordered. They will take what you’ve written and make it oh-so-much-better.

But before you decide, let’s move on to question #2, the question of cash. Book doctoring is basically an edit on steroids–requiring more hours of work. Because of that, it’s going to be more expensive than content editing. But at least your doctor has a draft to work from, right?

Not so with collaborative writing. Here the onus for gathering, organizing and presenting the first draft is squarely with the writer. That’s a whoooole different animal time-wise. Since it takes so much longer–and requires so much more creativity–it’s going to be much more expensive. Think double the price, minimum.

Now that all the differences are on the table, let’s talk about something that seems similar between ghostwriting and doctoring. At least to aspiring authors who don’t understand how the book publishing business works.

Yep, I’m talking about the most common question I get when discussing these services with prospective clients.

Isn’t this…you know…cheating?

I get it. You are a writer, so why would you hire another writer to…write? Here’s the truth of the matter, which I shared in my book I’m pretty sure that many, even most, of the non-fiction books being published today have been heavily edited (read: doctored) or ghostwritten.

Why? Because the best books come out of professional writers, and most non-fiction authors are not professional writers. They’re professional other things.

Beyond that, a lot of bestselling authors are movers and shakers, and they have a lot of important sh*t to do! Take Nancy Levin, my amazing bestie, for example. Nancy is a transformational life coach, renowned speaker, bestselling author and Hay House radio host (and she still makes time to ski!). Nancy is a full-blown ghostwriting advocate; she proudly admits, right on stage at the Hay House Writer’s Workshops, that several of her books were–and here’s where the crowd often gasps!–ghostwritten.

That’s right. Nancy has great ideas, unique experiences, and everything else, but she doesn’t have the time to devote to writing all her drafts.

When the time was right for her to publish her first how-to book, Jump…and Your Life Will Appear, we got right to work and found a collaborative writer to help her craft her ideas into the book they were meant to be. She’s now written four books with her ghostwriter’s help, and they have formed the foundation of her (very successful) coaching programs. Even more importantly, these books have gotten her message out into the world, where it is helping people every day.

Hiring a ghostwriter allowed her to do the work she came here to do.

(If you want to hear me and Nancy talk shop about the book biz, or just get a sense of how much we absolutely adore each other, check out this interview we did for her Hay House radio show.)

Will Hiring a Writer or Doctor Make You a Bestseller?

So now you know what a collaborative writer does, what a book doctor does, and how getting that level of assistance can help you do your best work in the world. But before I let you go, there is one more factor that we have to discuss: Platform.

That’s because I want to be really, really honest with you. And the elephant sitting in the middle of today’s publishing living room is this: No matter how good your book is, it is highly unlikely that it will sell well without you building yourself a marketing platform from which to sell it.

For this harsh reality you can thank the Interwebs, Jeff Bezos, and the forward movement of Life itself. Blame it on whoever you want; but ignore it at your peril.

I’ve spoken with far too many authors who have amazing ideas and experiences to put into their books. They’re convinced that if only the book were written well enough, it would get a book deal and become a bestseller. While lightning does strike, don’t get me wrong, the odds of this happening are frankly too low to talk about.

I give you the skinny on why you need a platform HERE, and strategies on how to build one HERE. But I can’t make this difficult and often disappointing piece of the book industry go away.

Before you invest in high-level (read: pricey) services like book doctoring or collaborative writing, I want to make sure you understand this truth.

Does not having a platform mean it’s not worth it to get the help you need? Absolutely not. The mere act of getting your ideas and stories and wisdom onto the page–and into your hand in the form of a book–has untold rewards.

Impacting even a few lives is a very big deal. I’ve seen books that sell 200, 100 or even 50 copies bring authors personal fulfillment, career advancement, professional legitimacy and deep healing. All of that is still very real and legitimate.

I just want to be clear that a well-written book doesn’t necessarily translate to sales; there are just too many other factors involved! Consider this my Public Service Announcement, as you make the big decision in front of you.

So Will It Be Book Doctoring or Ghostwriting?

As I’ve mentioned, this decision depends on your time resources, your financial resources and your skill set. This is a totally personal decision that only you can make.

But I what I can tell you is this: Getting high-level help like the type that book doctors and ghostwriters provide is one of the best ways to ensure that your manuscript is truly the best it can be.

If you still need help deciding, here’s the TL;DR version of this post:

Ghostwriting = less work for you, more work for them = greater financial investment

Book doctoring = more work for you, less work for them = lower investment

That’s it.

If you’re feeling confused and/or just want to talk through this (rather big) decision with an expert, we’re always here to help.

You can sign up for a totally free call with one of our editors HERE. We love talking books, and would love to help!

Happy writing!


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