A first draft never goes straight to print. In my experience the first ‘final’ draft never does, either. This is especially the case when you are working as a team – whether it’s an editorial team, or author and ghostwriter. In nonfiction, a ghost is sometimes working with two, or even three, named authors, so it becomes a small business project.
Quite early in my career I learned never to call a version of a document the ‘Final’ draft, because before long you have the ‘Final Final Final draft v5’, and someone else has created a ‘Final Final draft v6’. Which is the later? Instead, what you learn to do is simply put the date on the version, as well as the initials of those who have edited it.
One other thing that I’ve learned is that there are two types of edits: Good Changes and Bad Changes. I define them as follows:
- Good Changes, which consist of repeated iteration and continual improvement.
- Bad Changes, which feature gratuitous tinkering and editorial u-turns.
An example of Good Changes came with my superb development editor on one of my novels. She spotted scenes that required more depth, or more colour; characters who said something inconsistent with their voice, and sections that needed either to be developed more fully, or to be dropped altogether. Responding to her observations was tough work – tougher than writing the first draft, actually. It was also a rich education for me personally, and the process significantly improved the quality of the manuscript, yielding some of the lines and scene-setting that I am most proud of.
In my experience, Bad Changes often occur when there is a group of authors, and some differences over objectives or taste. Styles can clash: some will feel that the text must be pared back to the minimum; others that explanatory introductory passages help set the context for each chapter. The results are frequent u-turns, much frustration and, in some cases, less fluent language in version 23 than we had enjoyed in version 2.
Of course, in many editorial processes, you get both Good Changes and Bad Changes. Distinguishing between the two is part of the ghostwriter’s skill. It means politely challenging those wanting change to justify it: Why? What does the current chapter or scene lack? In which ways does your proposed change improve things for the reader? While this is part of a ghostwriter’s role, there will be times when the named author strongly disagrees, and it can be helpful to bring in a third person – a beta reader for example. An extra view helps challenge or confirm views. Ultimately, however, it is the ghostwriter’s duty to keep the project on course, to check that the latest edit represents Good Changes, to imagine the reader’s experience.
Philip Whiteley is a ghostwriter, business author and novelist. His website is www.pjwhiteley.com