Even Geniuses Need Writing Collaborators

Guest Blog Post By Jennifer Locke

“My Shot.” “You’re Welcome.” “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.”

What do these songs have in common?

Answer: They were written by certified MacCarthur genius Lin-Manuel Miranda. And, perhaps, they were reviewed by John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats before the rest of the world was exposed to these earworms.

Lin-Manuel recently posted a picture of John Darnielle and himself on Instagram. These two prolific songwriters have been “email pen pals” for years, sharing early song drafts and giving and receiving feedback on their work.

The picture delighted me.

I have my own cadre of trusted collaborators with whom I’ve been exchanging work for years. They make my writing better (and more fun).

Writing is a solitary act–to a point. Eventually, all writers need the input of other professionals (may the myth of the “solitary genius” burn in a trash heap). Yet too often, writers believe they have to make their work perfect on their own. Writers eschew collaboration because they fear feedback, or because they don’t know what kind of collaborators to look for.

Would your book benefit from the expert eyes of an outsider? Here are paid and non-paid collaborators you may want to engage:


Beta readers: Beta readers read your drafts and give you both big-picture and targeted feedback. For example: if you’re writing a book with medical information but you’re not a doctor, you may ask a doctor to beta read to make sure the material you’ve included is accurate.

Critique partners: These are fellow writers who see your work and offer specific suggestions on how to make it better (a la John Darnielle and Lin-Manuel Miranda). Especially helpful are critique partners who write in your genre. If you write historical fiction, for example, it’s wise to get input on your draft from other historical fiction writers.


Book ghostwriters: Book ghostwriters specialize in turning the ideas in your head into a book that translates your expertise and experience. Ghostwriters often do their work by interviewing you to mine your best stories and insights; then, they build those into a book narrative. As far as monetary investment goes, this type of collaborator is the most expensive to engage.

Developmental editors: Developmental editors read your entire draft and offer big-picture feedback for what needs to be improved. This feedback may be delivered in the form of an edit letter with insights on the book’s strengths and weaknesses and specific advice on how the manuscript can be tightened, its message amplified.

Book doctors: A book doctor falls somewhere between a developmental editor and a ghostwriter (expect to pay rates closer to that of a ghostwriter). You need a book doctor when you have a manuscript–either complete or almost complete–that needs significant re-working. A book doctor will edit where necessary and ghostwrite additional sections as needed to ensure your book is living up to your highest intentions.

Line editors: A line editor enters the scene when your manuscript is complete. They edit for style and flow, ensuring your book is readable and grammatically correct.

Copyeditors and proofreaders: These people are the last to review your manuscript before it goes to print. Their job is to ensure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed–that all the final bits are in place before your book has readers.

Note: the person who does line editing may also do copyediting (and/or proofreading) for your book. Or, you may not need a line edit. Each book is different, and if you engage expert help earlier, you’re less likely to need a heavy hand (or hands) closer to publication.

For instance, if you hire a ghostwriter, you’ll probably only need a copyedit and proofread before publication. Also, one collaborator may wear different hats at different points in your book’s journey.

Good writing, whether it be a book or song, is the result of many smart people putting their heads together to make something better. None of us are meant to write alone.

The right collaborator may be the “secret sauce” your book needs to unlock its potential.

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Marcia Layton Turner


  1. Mike Wicks on October 30, 2023 at 12:09 pm

    Great article Jennifer. Thanks.

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