February 23, 2023

The Spectrum of Editorial Roles, Part 1: First Draft Creation


Book coach, book doctor, ghostwriter, collaborator, editor, copy editor, developmental editor, content editor, proofreader, line editor…

They all claim to do one thing: help you make your writing, and your book, shine!

For authors who haven’t been breathing the air of the publishing industry for years, the various titles and roles can be bewildering, to say the least. Heck, I even come across people selling these services who clearly don’t understand what they’re actually offering (and therefore should not be offering them!). The publishing industry, for better and often for worse, is not regulated by any governing body. Literally anybody who got an A in English during high school could create a website or profile on Reedsy and call themselves any one of the above titles. And they do—all the freaking time. 

For those of us who are in the industry and have to watch people claiming to have the skills we’ve spent years honing, it’s maddening. But the worst part is that authors, often those with limited budgets looking for help as affordably as possible, are easy victims for these people. 

So today, I want to offer you a comprehensive guide to understanding all of these editorial roles, what they offer and when you should work with them. 

First of all, you should understand that these editorial roles exist along a spectrum, from highly abstract (dealing with the high-level ideas, the 30,000-ft view of your book), to technical (fixing final-line issues to prepare the book for publication). Different roles also align with different stages of the draft development. The reason these terms get so jumbled is that there are no clear lines between them; each role tends to subtly mesh into the ones next to it, depending on the needs of each individual book. Because of that, your book very likely will not need some of these people, or may need to do multiple rounds with one of them.

It’s a lot to look at, but hopefully this graphic is helpful to you! 

Disclaimer: Please do NOT think of these as “steps” that your book needs to go through. Again, the needs of each book is different—yours may need multiple rounds of developmental editing, or you may be able to skip working with a book coach altogether. A professional should be able to advise you on what your book needs.

Today, we’re talking about those first three roles, relating to the creation of your first draft.

First Draft Creation: Book Coaching, Ghostwriting, and Book Doctoring

The goal of all three of these roles is to get you to a solid first draft. Again, these roles can often merge into each other. Often a ghostwriter is also called upon to help plan the book, and a book doctor may end up rewriting or filling in significant portions of the manuscript. Often, someone who calls themselves any one of these roles really can perform all three, depending on the needs of the author.

Book Coaching

Book coaching is the front line of editorial development, taking place before any writing actually occurs. Book coaches help authors take the seed of an idea and create a comprehensive plan for writing their book. Book coaches are concerned with questions like:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What type of book are you writing?
  • What’s the “big idea” you want to convey in your book?
  • What transformation do you want to accomplish in your reader? 
  • What problem will your book solve, and how?
  • What will be the pieces of your book?
  • How will you structure your book into chapters, parts, and sections?
  • How will each chapter be structured?

Book coaching is highly collaborative; it requires a significant investment of time and participation from the author. This is when you’re doing much of the heavy thinking about your book, problem solving in advance. 

Book coaching is a significant portion of what I do. I love helping authors refine a great idea and then figure out how it will unfold throughout a 50,000 or 60,000–word book. You’ll often hear me refer to this as “book planning” as well; because the tangible outcome of our work together is going to be a plan—a clear vision—for what your book is going to look like when it’s done, and how you’re going to make it happen. 

The most important part of that plan is your outline, aka your book map. I’ve written extensively about book mapping elsewhere, so I’ll let you check that out

By the time you are done working with a book coach, you should feel confident about the big idea of your book and how you’re going to fill an entire book about it.


Once you have a plan for your book, the actual writing begins. Ghostwriters (also more fashionably called “collaborators”) are the people who take the plan for the book and start implementing it. They are stringing together the words that form the ideas you’ve already decided on. 

The most common process for working with a ghostwriter is to do a series of interviews together. After the overall plan has been worked out, you’ll meet with the ghostwriter so they can “mine” your brain for more specific content, examples, stories, and other pieces that might not have been discussed in the high-level planning stage. Typically, the ghostwriter will record the interview and have it transcribed so they can get a sense for the cadence of your natural voice and, ideally, integrate many of your own words into the draft. The ghostwriter will also ask for other content you have relating to the topic of the book (talks you’ve given, slides you’ve created, podcasts you’ve done, blog posts you’ve written, etc.) to help them understand more about your work and how you typically like to convey it.

Writing the book is often the most labor-intensive part of the process. It can take months, or even years, of dedicated, hard work. (This is why ghostwriters typically charge a range from $25,000 to multiple-six figures or more to get a draft done.) Hiring a ghostwriter is a good option if you don’t have the daily hours it takes to commit to the writing of the book.

This does not mean the author is not involved! 

Indeed, authors need to stay accessible and engaged in the creation of the draft. Why? Because your ghostwriter is not you! They don’t live in your head. If you know each other well, or your ghostwriter is a little clairvoyant, they might be able to make a worthy guess at the direction you want to take a chapter or what you meant when you said a throwaway line in one of your interviews. This is why ghostwriting is so often called collaborating now. Because it truly is a partnership of thoughts as well as words.

Keep in mind that the tangible outcome of a ghostwriting collaboration is a finished draft, not a perfect one. Ryan Holiday says, “Nobody [even ghostwriters] creates flawless first drafts. And nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention of someone else. Nobody.” 

Book Doctoring

Book doctors are a hybrid between ghostwriters and developmental editors. Perhaps an author started writing their book and realized it was too much, or perhaps the author has a collection of blog posts that they’ve half-heartedly attempted to turn into a book. Or perhaps they’ve just written a really, really shitty first draft that doesn’t even quite qualify as a first draft. Often (but not always), if your book needs a book doctor, it’s because you didn’t have a good plan for your book from the beginning. 

Like their name suggests, book doctors are brought in to do triage. Like Madam Pomfrey in Harry Potter after Professor Lockhart accidentally disappears the bones in Harry’s arm, book doctors will inject your book with Skele-Gro and remake that jelly into something that has a structure.

By the end of your work any one or two of these three possible interventionists, you should have a solid first draft that is ready to be refined by a developmental editor… or maybe a line editor. That’ll be the topic of next week’s post!

Interested in Enhancing Your Writing Skills & Refining Your Own Work?

While you can’t replace the need for some kind of help in the book process, there is a LOT you can do on your own to help improve your writing and refine your own book! 

Next Wednesday, March 1, I’m partnering with Liz Morrow (my co-host on the Hungry Authors podcast) and editor Mara Eller to offer a new masterclass:

How to Edit Your Nonfiction Manuscript

When: March 1 at 4p PT/7p ET

Where: On Zoom

Cost: $49

We are three book professionals—a book coach/writer/editor, ghostwriter, and editor—who make a living helping writers improve their work. Often we see areas where our authors could take their writing at least one step, if not two or three steps, farther, so that we can take it even farther than that! Learning to edit your own work isn’t only helpful for books; it can help you refine articles, blog posts, and other writing that you hope to publish. 

In this two hour masterclass, we’re going to be walking you through a phased approach to editing your work and teach you what to look out for in each phase. And we’ll be sending you home with a handy checklist to help you stay focused! 

If you’re interested, click here to learn more and register.