Touchstone Editing logo
Contact Us

Is Your Editor a Ghost?

Love it or hate it, you probably know that ghostwriting happens. And that especially in recent years it's shifted from a practice primarily in the nonfiction world to a known factor in fiction writing. From creating premises and outlines to drafting fully fleshed out, ready-to-publish manuscripts, ghostwriting fiction has become an undeniable reality, even as many writers and readers consider it to be a less-than-ethical practice to publish something you didn't write under your name.

But did you know that ghost editing happens too? We've talked before about finding the right editor for your work. Now I'm adding another tip: if it matters to you, make sure the person you're hiring is actually the one who'll be editing your manuscipt. 
    Unfortunately, authors working with traditional publishers may not have the clout to do this.

Because sometimes, your "editor" will be switched out for someone else, without you ever knowing. A few ways this can happen:
  1. The editor you hire sub-contracts out to another editor, without telling you. The money is split between the person whose name/reputation sold the service and the person who actually performs it. Who gets what percent of the money you pay will depend on the individual agreement. The person you think you're hiring may look over the edits, or they may not, depending on their own morals, the time they have available, and how reliable they believe the sub-contractor to be.
  2. A publisher assigns you an editor on their staff, but there's no way that person can handle all the books on the schedule needing to be edited. The publisher also hires freelancers. But they want you to have faith in the editor whose name you know, so they pressure the freelancer to perform the edits as "User" or "Editor," or even "Anonymous." Some may even ask that the primary editor's name is used (all of this is easily configured in MS Word), though I haven't personally seen the last happen.

    The edits are passed on to you by the primary editor, even if that person never actually provides any feedback. Again, they may or may not look over each round of edits done on your book. Sometimes they won't look at the notes you're given until they're evaluating the freelancer's performance, even if that's long after the book is published. 
    • Psst, freelance editors: keep in mind, you can say no if you're asked to do this! 
    • It's also possible that the publisher hires a freelancer who then sub-contracts out to another editor, without the author or publisher knowing.
  3. An editor (whether they work independently or at a publisher) agrees to mentor someone who wants to break into the field. In order to learn, that person needs hands-on experience editing manuscripts. Depending on the circumstances, the author, publisher, or both are kept in the dark about the mentoring arrangement.

    In this scenario, the mentor editor is more likely to look over the edits, since the whole point is that they help the less experienced editor learn. Still, at least the majority of the edits on your book would be performed by the mentee. And while the mentor will likely provide feedback to the mentee, that feedback may or may not be incorporated into the notes you receive.

These are not hypotheticals, and these practices are more common than you may want to believe. I've seen all of these either happen or be discussed in editor groups, and I've been pressured by publishers to remove my name from my edits.

Now this post isn't about criticizing how other editors choose to work. And all of the options above may be perfectly acceptable with one little tweak: if the author knew this was happening. Some editors who sub-contract the work do let their authors know. Many publishers who work with freelance editors do not hide that fact from their authors, who work directly with the freelancer actually providing the notes. Some editors who mentor others have them perform the edits in parallel, providing their own notes to the author and separate feedback to the mentee on their edits. Or again, they simply let the author know ahead of time that the work will be done by the mentee.

For that matter, maybe you don't care. If you're hiring a company rather than an individual, maybe all you care about is that the work gets done for the price you were quoted, not the name of the person doing the work or developing a relationship with a specific editor.

This post is to help you be aware of what may be happening behind the scenes. So that if it does matter to you—if you've carefully selected an editor based on a recommendation, their reputation, a sample edit, or all of the above—you can take steps to be confident they'll actually be the person helping you with your story.

    For the record: Touchstone Editing always connects you directly with the person actually performing your edits. If for some reason we do need to hand a project off to someone else, we'll get your permission first. We're committed to our authors, and we do not pass off anyone else's work as our own.