Editors, coaches, and consultants — what's the difference?

How to figure out which one you really want or need

Hi Manuscript Workers,

As a reader of this newsletter, you’re probably well aware that professionals (like me) exist to support scholarly writers in their work. You may have heard your colleagues or Twitter friends talking about working with an editor, coach, or consultant to achieve their publishing goals. It may sound pretty nice, being able to hire someone to assist you in the process and make everything you need to do happen more quickly and easily. But all the options can also be overwhelming, especially if you’re not really certain about what these different kinds of support professionals do. So this post is here to break down some of the key things involved in editing, coaching, and consulting and to highlight some of the differences between these services. Once you have a better idea of what they are, you can figure out what might be most helpful for you and narrow your search for the right person to bring onto your team.

Editors work with your text to help get it into the shape it needs to be in to connect effectively with your target readers. This might mean copyediting the manuscript to be free of errors and ambiguity that could interfere with reader understanding. It might mean structural editing to make the argument and through-line stand out for acquiring editors and peer reviewers. It might mean developmental editing to help you identify what your argument and through-line should even be.

Developmental editors are becoming more sought after as awareness grows about how they can help authors and their manuscripts. I’ve written a bunch about how and why authors work with developmental editors in case you want to learn more:

Working with Your Developmental Editor (a good overview for authors on academic developmental editing)

8 Signs You Need a Developmental Editor for Your Academic Book

When to Bring in a Developmental Editor on Your Academic Book Project

Developmental Editing for Academic Writers: 5 Questions to Help You Find the Right Fit

A coach is distinct from an editor in that, while an editor is largely concerned with texts, a coach focuses on the writer themselves. Coaches may help writers establish a regular writing practice or overcome the blocks that are keeping a writer from accomplishing their own goals. A coach may help you even figure out what your goals are in the first place. Coaches may organize writing groups or writing sessions and provide you with tools to get the most out of them. As my own coach (not a writing coach, but a business coach who specifically works with self-employed editors) explained to me in our first session, a coach is there to help you do the thing you (probably) already know you want to do, even if it’s buried somewhere inside you and they have to help pull it out.

Consultants are a third type of helper who can help you achieve your publishing goals. While a coach helps you do the things you already knew you wanted to do, a consultant uses their specialized expertise to tell you what you should be doing. Or perhaps more accurately, to provide you with knowledge of your options and help you come to your own best decision about what you should be doing given your unique circumstances. In the academic writing realm, a consultant is someone with extensive knowledge of the scholarly publishing landscape who can help you navigate the process of getting your work published. They may also use their knowledge to help you develop your writing projects; here they may overlap a bit with a developmental editor, even if they don’t do hands-on editing of your manuscript.

While I started my business primarily as a developmental editor, I’ve since transitioned into a blend of activities that is more weighted toward consulting than editing. These days, I use my understanding of scholarly book publishing to help authors craft effective book proposals and to guide them through the often daunting process of pitching to acquisitions editors, responding to peer reviews, and fielding offers from publishers. At times I put my developmental editor hat back on, if I can see that an author needs to more effectively communicate their book’s argument or possibly rethink the structure of their book in order to be more successful with acquisitions editors and peer reviewers (and ultimately their target readers). It feels like the best of both worlds for me (and hopefully for my clients as well). The one thing I don’t really do is coaching. While there’s some degree of mindset advice—and plenty of cheerleading—in what I do with authors, I mostly defer to the expertise of others on stuff related to the writing process and personal organization.

If you read the above descriptions—especially the editing one—and thought “hey, I think I’d like to be an editor for academic texts,” I have an upcoming webinar and course that you might be interested in.

The webinar will happen on Thursday, June 24th, 2021 at 10am PDT and will cover what developmental editing is and how it fits into the academic publishing process for both journals and books. I'll also share the nuts and bolts of what developmental editors do with academic texts and how to acquire and work with clients. While this webinar is geared toward people who want to work as developmental editors, it may also be useful for academic authors who are hoping to do some DIY developmental editing on their own manuscripts. Click here to register.

The course will expand on the webinar content in 6 modules, providing the tools you need to confidently establish your own developmental editing practice working with academic writers. When I first started my business, I went through a lot of trial and error as I figured out how to approach texts and deal with clients. This course is my attempt to save others some time and trouble by taking the mystery out of what developmental editing is and how to do it effectively and professionally for academic texts.

The course is entirely self-paced; there’s no interaction with me or other students (though I will make myself available for open office hours from time to time). Students in the course will have indefinite access to the materials, but enrollment will close as of July 10th, 2021. There’s an early-bird discount if you sign up by July 1st. Click here to read more info and enroll.

One last thing — I’ve (experimentally) started an Instagram account for Manuscript Works. I’ll be posting publishing tips, announcements of new newsletter posts (in case they’re getting buried in your inbox), beauty shots of client books, and whatever else seems to make sense as it builds momentum. Come hang out with me there and tell your friends about it!