By Karen Cole
The job of a ghost writer (or anyone else who writes) is to create brilliantly written copy. Today’s book market won’t stand for anything else, even if the original material is creative and full of new, interesting ideas. Presentation is still very important, so you should know how to edit properly and with professional presence, style and sophistication. But sometimes, your material can be something of a nightmare or otherwise unwieldy and difficult to work with – don’t despair, there are ways!
When facing a huge manuscript that obviously needs to be pared down sizably, the first thing a ghost writer should do is ask the original author or client what he or she wants to see used in the manuscript primarily, and what needs to be removed. It helps to take out any excessive, redundant material, but as in all cases, communication with the client is crucial. You need to ask them what they want to see in the newly edited manuscript – tighter writing, more of a plot line, new characters, how they might like to see it reworked, etc.
It’s your job as the editor/ghost writer to go through the manuscript, and yes, although it may be a lot of work, going through everything (including any separate notes) is needed; but you must also decide for yourself what constitutes excess material. Fortunately, you can usually just read through everything once, make some liner notes yourself, and then begin the process of culling out unneeded material. If you make ample notes as you go: “Needs more drama throughout entire scene,” etc. you will have no problems in going back and editing what’s needed where it’s needed.
Meanwhile, what if the author client didn’t make an outline, or the outline or notes are a huge, misguided mess? Well, in all cases, again communication is paramount. You can’t read minds or do too much guesswork. Over time, I’ve found that most authors can write an outline and the general ideas in their notes so that I don’t have to worry; but sometimes people are a bit scatterbrained and need some direction. A phone call is best here, with plenty of discussion about what they want to see in the book and what can be safely removed without the author crying, “My baby! What did you do to my baby?”
Messy notes are really not as big of a deal as insufficient notes. You need to know where the book is going to stand, so if you have a lot of messy notes, going through them helps, as long as they are legible. I always ask my clients to send me their notes in Word 2007 or later. Handwritten notes can be a true nightmare; you don’t want to have to deal with those. As for the first draft, if the client can get you one of those – wonderful! It helps to have a first draft, even if it’s sprawling and messy, so you know basically what you’re working from and how to begin to go about dealing with it. Your job is to whip it all into shape for the second and final drafts. You may be adding background material, researching the material the author client included, asking the author to write about permission to use cited materials from other people’s works, etc.
Whatever you do, maintain constant contact with the client, sending along the installments of the work as you go. And don’t despair; if everything is sprawling, messy and excessive, that’s the very reason the client hired you to write for them in the first place. So it’s your job to get it all down to a dull roar, and then to rework it into something that might hit the best seller lists.