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Writing Right: The Blog

CAN ANYONE GHOSTWRITE A NOVEL FOR ME?

Someone asked a question online the other day about finding someone to ghostwrite a novel for him. Here's how I responded.

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Can anyone? Sure. Will that person be top-notch? Not so fast.

 

Here's the deal. A first-rate, professional ghostwriter with an opening in his schedule, who also just happens to love your idea and is on the same track as you, will do the job. More people employ ghosts to write their novels than anyone here can possibly imagine. Sometimes, people have a dynamite idea for a book and don't have the time or skills to bring it to fruition. In fact, oftentimes! The same with nonfiction books. It happens far more frequently than people realize, even among top-selling authors (go figure!).

 

Professional ghosts get their kicks out of writing the book you have in mind. And making it work. The best of the best write in your own literary style, too. Yes, they're that talented. And, of course, they turn out a product of which you can be proud after working together with your ghost for weeks or even months, depending upon the complexity and length of the project. Read More 

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WHAT'S THE COST OF A 600-PAGE-BOOK EDIT?

Unfortunately, no one can give the person who asked this question online the other day a specific, accurate answer without knowing more about what is required. Asking for a price to edit a 600-page manuscript is nowhere near enough information. With that said, here are a couple of points I suggested the author consider.

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First, I'm happy to see that you recognize your need for an editor for your work. No writer can know how to edit simply by having written a lot of words. Writing requires one skill-set (or, some would argue, no skill-set at all, but let's not get into that); editing requires another. Without learning what editing involves—and then learning what good editing entails—no one can sufficiently edit anything but the most rudimentary piece of writing with the hopes of improving its readability.

 

Second (and here's where things get dicey), few editors can do all types of editing. And editing does come in a plethora of flavors. Not butter brickle, unfortunately, but things that can be just as enticing, if less indulgent. Depending upon who's doing the defining, an editor can be a proofreader (checking for typographical errors and basic grammatical and punctuation mistakes). He can be a fact-checker, a copy editor (reviewing the author's copy for readability, proper syntax, and the like), a conceptual or substantive editor (also at times referred to as a content editor, checking a piece for various flaws in logic), or a developmental editor (reviewing how the story is put together and marking various recommendations from that point-of-view).

 

An editor can also be a structural editor (specializing in structural issues concerned with a story's readability and involving the use of flashbacks, flash-forwards, linear chronology, and even when and where to break a story into chapters and other divisions), a line editor (concentrating on the flow of the prose and pointing out any awkward phrasing, etc.), or any combination of the above. Read More 

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HOW DO YOU WRITE A NEWSPAPER HEADLINE?

A writer asked this question in a forum the other day, and the only respondent besides myself brave enough to tackle it was someone with little or no experience writing headlines!

 

"Brave" enough, but not smart enough. His answer was anything but helpful, and I felt sorry for the person who asked. So, of course, I had to throw my hat into the ring. Here's what I wrote:

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Contrary to what one "content writer/copywriter/marketer" wrote in response to your question, a solid newspaper headline doesn't hinge upon who cares about what the article says or why you should care. That's simply absurd. Writing a newspaper headline, which is what you asked about, requires seven steps. (Well, it does in my experience, at least, although others may have a different take on the subject.) The same holds for article headline writing in any medium, by the way. Read More 

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WHY ARE GHOSTWRITERS SO CHEAP AT JOB SITES?

You know, a lot of people must be asking that question, and I'm not surprised, considering the phenomenal growth of some on-line professional job agencies of late. Everywhere you look, someone is promoting the idea of finding professional workers online.

 

Even though it's tempting, I'm not going to put down Fiverr or Upwork or any of those other job mills because some writers struggling to make a buck sign up there and, hopefully, earn a few dollars now and again. As others have said, though, professionals (I mean the time-tested pros who can write any genre in any voice and do so successfully) don't. When I'm not working hard on perfecting my own books for publication (and articles, scripts, etc.), and when I'm not out photographing, designing book covers, critiquing and reviewing books, or painting or sculpting, I take a ghostwriting or book-doctoring job now and again. When I do, I devote my full attention to the task at hand because I know the author who hired me wants to see the finished product as soon as possible. The perfect finished product.

 

I can't work for jobbers and make the kind of money I'm forced to charge because the quality of my work demands a huge amount of my time, skills, and energy. People who go to an agency looking for someone to hire are looking for top quality professionals at bargain-basement rates. They usually find them—the bargain-basement rates, that is. Top quality professionals? Uh-uh. Don't even go there. Read More 

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DO YOU REWRITE OR JUST EDIT YOUR FINISHED NOVELS?

I received this question the other day from someone whom others had already advised. I had a bit to add to their comments.

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First, rewriting and editing are not "close cousins," as someone advised you. The two are totally different concepts. And, no, the only reason you rewrite a novel is not because "you couldn't complete the idea," as some other brain said. These are absolutely ridiculous, shameful, amateurish responses. No wonder these people aren't full-time freelance writers. I'm surprised some of them are full-time freelance people.

 

Of course, editing and rewriting and reworking and refining and adjusting and readjusting and tweaking and everything else that goes into making a revision better than an earlier draft are all on the table. Are you kidding me? When you've written something and then go back to read it later, and you find problem areas, do you think you're going to tell yourself, "Well, that needs rewriting, but I'm only editing now, so I'll pass on that." Read More 

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HOW CAN I HIRE A BOOK EDITOR FOR NOT SO MUCH?

That's what someone asked me the other day. Of course, the answer was obvious. Here's what I said:

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First of all, your question is a bit nebulous. How much is "so much"? Three dollars? Thirty? Three hundred? Three thousand?

 

Second, what kind of quality do you want from an editor? Slop? Garbage? Fair-to-meddlin'? Decent? Good? Top-of-the-line? It makes a difference. Here's my estimation.

 

If you're like most writers who are just getting started (I make that leap of faith because experienced writers don't have to ask that question), your material is … uhh, how do I put this? Oh, yeah. Not great. Not good. In fact, it's downright sloppy, bordering on horrible. Your manuscript is loaded with typos, grammatical errors, syntax problems, punctuation mistakes, and lots and lots of developmental issues, like poor character development, wandering narrative, weakness in storyline, unrealistic dialogue, plot incongruities, and so forth. You don't know that, of course, because you don't have the training, skills, and discipline to be able to tell. That's why you need a professional editor. Read More 

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GREAT WRITERS AND GREAT EDITORS

Someone asked on a forum recently if great writers need great editors, and I couldn't help but chime in--if only to correct some of the ridiculous responses others had given her. Here's what I said:

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Do great writers need great editors? Some do; others don't. A truly "great writer," if you stop to think about it, doesn't need a "great editor," whose work would only be superfluous. Now, if you mean a tremendously popular writer or even a highly skilled writer, then I'd have to say it's likely that an editor would help. But, that would depend upon the writer's abilities and literary adeptness, as well as upon the editor.

 

Hemingway, although hugely popular in his day, would likely not have endured without a first-rate editor backing him up. Fitzgerald, ditto. Even J. K. Rowling, who I understand enjoys a certain amount of favor among readers these days, needs the help of talented editors: She's powerless without them.

 

As for one commentator suggesting to you that feedback by a group of writing peers is more valuable than that from individual professional editors--ridiculous! He may be thankful for everything his group taught him, but I'm not impressed. Anyone who scribbles out, "A writer can more quickly experiment and evolve their technique when they have multiple people reviewing and reacting," deserves some skepticism. Aside from the misplaced modifiers and failure of agreement between subject and verb in a single sentence, his logic is flawed. But that's another story. Read More 

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RETAINING YOUR NOVEL'S ESSENCE

Can a person make revisions to a novel without destroying its essence? That's a question someone asked online recently, and the answers were eye-opening. I mean, they were horrible, if not outright harmful. Here's how I responded to the writer:

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I'm constantly amazed at the bad, offtrack, and irrelevant information people disguise as responses to serious questions. Contrary to what one respondent wrote ("Don't give editing a lesser weight in your efforts than the writing"), you didn't ask that nor did you imply that's what you intended to do. And, it's absurd that he said you can't revise a novel without changing its essence. I know it's tough to use such big words correctly, but that's what dictionaries are for, and he should buy one.

 

Ditto to another respondent who advised you, "The whole purpose of revising a novel is it isn't working as it is. If your novel isn't working, revising the essence of it may be exactly what you need to do." In addition to being at least partly erroneous, I don't see how that answers your question at all.

 

A third respondent, talking about art school and "one shot" prints, missed the mark by a country mile.

 

Here's the real deal: Read More 

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CREATING A ONE-PAGE SYNOPSIS

Somebody asked, rather skeptically at best, how to turn a 150,000-word manuscript into a one-page synopsis. I mean, it just can't be done. Can it? Can it?

 

Well, you've probably already guessed the answer to that. Here's what I advised.

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You've received some useful pointers here, most notably the need for you to reduce the total word count of your manuscript by a third. That's true if you ever hope to sell the novel to a conventional publisher or until you make a name for yourself as a top-selling author, at which time you can sell any number of words you want. One not-so-good pointer you received is to write a synopsis with a misplaced modifier in the very first sentence, as in this respondent's example:

 

"John invites Mary to spend the weekend with him at a cabin by an upstate lake, that his dad has agreed to let him use."

 

Huh? His dad agreed to let him use an upstate lake?

 

Besides that little bit of ridiculousness, not one of the respondents to your question actually answered you when you asked How does one go about compressing a 150K novel into a page … The respondents tell you why you should condense your story into a single-page synopsis (which is not a "spoiler"). They tell you what your synopsis should include and why it should include it. But, they never give you a clue as to how to accomplish your goal.

 

But I will. Read More 

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SAVING YOUR BOOK'S LIFE

When I began writing five decades ago, I found editing my own work a painfully difficult experience. I agonized over what to change and why, mostly because I didn't know a dangling particple from a split infinitive. After taking a few college journalism courses, I picked up a book on etymology and studied several classic works on how to write better. I began stringing for a local newspaper before landing an entry-level job as an editorial assistant for a national magazine. And, do you know what? Editing suddenly got easier.

 

Thank goodness, too, because even the most poorly written books can be improved with effective editing. Unfortunately, not all editing is "effective."

 

A case in point: I wrote a nearly perfect book a few years ago. No surprise. I'm a perfectionist. I've worked as a professional editor for most of my life; I've taught analytic grammar and creative writing workshop at the college level, and I ghostwrite, book-doctor, and edit for other authors. And, I'm a perfectionist. (I know, I know. I just wanted to hear it again).

 

My publisher assigned my manuscript to an editor who introduced herself in an e-mail. Not having worked with her before, I told her I was looking forward to any substantive suggestions she might make but that I didn't want her editing my work to change the book's voice or style to meet her own literary preconceptions and preferences. She said she understood. Read More 

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