Choosing the Editor or Ghostwriter That's Right for You: Hobbyist or Professional?

Cristen Iris

The importance of identifying one's fit in the publishing industry has come up several times in recent conversations I've had with prospective clients, fellow editors, and a publishing and film industry career consultant. It's a topic that applies to authors and editors and ghostwriters, but I'm going to address it from the author's perspective here.

What Is a Hobbyist?

Merriam-Webster defines a hobbyist as "a person who regularly or occasionally engages in an activity as a pastime rather than as a profession." Synonyms include: amateur, dabbler, nonexpert, putterer, tinkerer.

What Distinguishes a Professional Editor or Ghostwriter from a Hobbyist?

Professional editors and ghostwriters work full-time in the publishing industry and operate with a growth mindset.

Professional editors and ghostwriters have deep knowledge of the publishing industry, especially in their areas of expertise (self-publishing, traditional publishing, the fiction market, the nonfiction market, etc.). This comes with time and through trial and error. They have built a network of like-minded and highly skilled industry professionals that they can refer clients to, receive referrals from, and go to for advice and emotional support.

Professional editors and ghostwriters have track records of success.

Professional editors and ghostwriters spend as much or more time reading, researching, and nurturing client and industry relationships as they do working on the active editing and ghostwriting projects on their desks.

Professional editors and ghostwriters pay their taxes, have health insurance, and have savings and retirement accounts. In short, professional editors and ghostwriters operate sustainable businesses, businesses that are healthy on all fronts to allow them to stay in the industry indefinitely and serve their growing list of clients year after year.

What About Up-and-Coming Editors and Ghostwriters?

There is a third category. I will call them up-and-comers.

These are editors and ghostwriters who are actively developing their skills, increasing their industry knowledge, networking with industry professionals, and growing their client list to accomplish their goal of working full-time in the publishing industry. While editing or writing may be their side hustle, income from these projects is rising to the point that quitting their day job and transitioning to full-time editing and ghostwriting is within reach.

The Price Difference

As you might imagine, prices vary dramatically between and within these groups. In general, hobbyist are the cheapest because they have no or extremely low overhead. Income from editing or ghostwriting is pocket money rather than living money.

Up-and-comers charge more than hobbyist because they provide more value and have business expenses closer to those of full-time editors (hardware and software costs, website costs, association fees, marketing and other operating expenses).

Professionals charge the most because they provide the most value and know the true cost of doing business. They've refined their processes and have experience shaping books into commercially viable products. They also help clients position themselves to compete with other authors, which is particularly important for authors of nonfiction. They also know how to provide a unique and enjoyable experience for their clients and nurture high-value industry relationships.

Because the publishing industry is so complicated and value-based pricing difficult to quantify, let's connect this to a more relatable example.

A Professional Sports Analogy

With few exceptions, athletes who go from amateur to pro do so with the help of high-level coaches.

Young men who aspire to play in the NFL join or earn their way on to teams early. Some start in city leagues then earn their chance to regularly play on junior and high school teams. This applies to many sports and all genders. Coaches at every level specialize in moving their athletes up to the next level. Each level gets progressively more competitive.

Those athletes who aspire to play at the highest level seek out the most experienced and results-oriented coaches and subject themselves to rigorous training. If they are highly skilled, surround themselves with excellent talent and career advisors, and perform well at the right place and time, the player may accomplish their goals.

But it is exceedingly rare for someone who's never had a professional coach and regularly played on a team with and against highly skilled and internally motivated athletes to be picked up by a professional team as a walk on. The same is true in the publishing industry. It is rare for a debut author to DIY their way to a successful book launch and on to long-term success.

Which Editor or Ghostwriter Is Right for You?

I recommend letting your goals drive your decision making when choosing which professionals to engage with and when to engage.

The more competitive you want to be, the more important it is to start early and match your goals to the experience and value your editor or ghostwriter can provide because they can give you the constructive coaching necessary to develop a well-written book and the strategic consulting and sometimes connections to position you in front of decision makers whose attention you want and need.

So, how do you see yourself?

  1. Where on the spectrum of hobbyist <--> professional are you now?
  2. Where on that spectrum do you aspire to be?

Identifying those two things will help you determine your budget and which editor or ghostwriter can provide the maximum value at your price point.


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Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash


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