An Interview with Michael Coffino—Writing Coach and Developmental Editor
What’s the difference between ghostwriting, cowriting, developmental editing? How does one manage the writing process when their name isn’t necessarily on the cover? This interview covers these topics.
An Interview with Michael Coffino—writing coach, developmental editor, author

An Interview with Michael Coffino—Writing Coach and Developmental Editor

Michael Coffino and I first met when he asked AuthorImprints to manage the publication of his book for high school basketball coaches, Prepping for Success, in 2018. Since that time, we’ve worked with Michael and his writing clients to publish several of their books on a wide range of topics.

Some he has ghostwritten, some cowritten, and for others he’s served as the developmental editor.

What’s the difference between these? How does one manage the writing process when their name isn’t necessarily on the cover? Those are the topics we cover in this guest interview.

David Wogahn: 1. How do you explain the difference between being a cowriter, a ghostwriter, and a developmental editor?

Michael Coffino: A cowriter and ghostwriter can play similar or different roles, depending on what the client needs or prefers. But in a general sense, cowriters and author clients split responsibility for different content that ultimately combines into a finished manuscript. The challenge is creating a consistent writing voice.

In most instances, a conventional ghostwriter is responsible for virtually all original content, drawing on client interviews, written materials the client typically provides, and sometimes independent research. The client then revises and comments on what the ghostwriter generates, commonly on a chapter by chapter basis, building the manuscript in increments. The ghostwriter is charged with capturing the client’s vision and giving expression to their voice.

The developmental editor, on the other hand, plays a more limited role, typically charged with evaluating an existing manuscript and providing extensive recommendations on the writing, storytelling, and narrative structure. The client decides what recommendations to accept and who between them should implement them, which can be the client alone, shared, or delegated to the developmental editor. For example, the client might prefer that the developmental editor revise dialogue scenes and the client restructure chapters as recommended.

The roles should reflect the most suitable and efficient way to help the client achieve stated goals.

2. How does the author client choose the help they need?

In most instances, the decision reflects a confluence of factors, including any client financial budget, the time the author client can devote to the process, the different skill sets the client and the writer or developmental editor bring, and how the client perceives the extent to which they and the writer or developmental editor will be a good fit as collaborators.

I cannot overstate the importance of the interactive quality of the experience. The process demands a lot from both parties, much give and take, many ups and downs, and unanticipated course redirections, but it can and should be a joyful journey with a prize at the end. The collaborative fit is key.

3. You obviously have to get to know your client/subject well. How do you do that? Can you share any techniques or stories?

The success of the writing relationship depends on building trust. An essential ingredient therefore is creating an environment in which the client feels safe: that the writer or developmental editor will not judge them, will take them as they are, will listen attentively to all they have to say, and will have a keen ear for subtexts. The process can be painful for clients and they deserve the writer’s and developmental editor’s understanding and support. Some ghostwriters bristle at performing what they call the “role of a therapist.” But the raw truth is that clients at times need emotionally available professionals who are unafraid to display empathy.

Ghostwriters need a reservoir of patience as well, especially when clients veer off course to emote. When and how to reestablish the flow is not always easy. But if there is a solid foundation of trust, getting the dialogue back on track can be relatively seamless.

I recently had a client go off on someone in their life in a way that took the air out of the room. It wasn’t a rant as such but rather an explosive outpouring of angst and tears. The client had taken a sharp turn into a dark place. I listened without a word said, waiting until his breathing normalized before softly intervening to get us back on track. How to handle these situations is not formulaic. It calls upon experience and instinct.

4. It seems like the author client needs to do their part for this to be a success. What tips do you have for author clients for choosing a ghostwriter, cowriter, or developmental editor? What do they have to do to ensure they get the results they’re anticipating?

As noted, trust in the writer or developmental editor is indispensable in not only maintaining confidences but helping the client feel safe they will not be judged. For their part, clients must be consistently available, lest they risk loss of project momentum—when the wheels are turning well, the material is rich in detail, nuances are accessible, and memory becomes fertile. Long delays not only dampen the development of content, but they also rob the project of energy and verve, which can derail things. Clients have an obligation to do their part. And while it is ultimately their project to manage as they wish, subject to contractual obligations, if they want the best results, they must stay engaged.

5. You’re also a published author. What advice do you share with your clients about the publishing process and/or marketing their book?

Be realistic—it’s a jungle out there—but remain undaunted in pursuing goals. The way the publishing industry has evolved, with hybrid and self-publishing now viable options and commonplace, you will get published. The one thing I urge my clients to do is to try not to let disappointment get them down. Wonderfully conceived and written books commonly get overlooked merely because of the crowded literary field. The market is bulging with books. Rejections sting, of course. How can they not? But they are integral to the experience. They happen to everyone. Be proud of your work.

You deserve to feel good about what you’ve accomplished. Keep plowing. Good things lie ahead.

6. Share how your background in law and coaching got you interested in working with writers.

My legal career laid a strong foundation for my writing career. First, I had a motto as a trial attorney, “Every client is the only client,” which I carried forward as a ghostwriter and developmental editor. Each client deserves my best, regardless of their prominence or the perceived importance of their project. Second, practicing law at high levels commanded uncompromising top-flight service, a sacrosanct principle for my writing clients. Third, the art of witness examination, how and when to ask questions, is essential to both trial work success and the role of ghostwriter.

My basketball coaching career taught me important lessons as well for working with authors: know your audience and adapt communication styles accordingly, and relish the privilege of helping others become successful in achieving their goals.

About Michael Coffino

Michael transitioned in 2016 from parallel careers as a trial attorney and high school basketball coach to focus on writing—as an author, ghostwriter, developmental editor, and writing consultant. He has published nine books with two more in progress, including his second novel. His debut novel, Truth Is in the House, won awards in several categories, including Historical Fiction, African American Fiction, Race Relations, Multicultural Fiction, Social and Political Change, and Friendship. His nonfiction works span multiple genres, including business, politics, sports, true crime, military, classic memoir, and self-empowerment.

Michael grew up in the Bronx, earned a BS in Education from the City University of New York and JD from the University of California, Berkeley, and served in the US Army in 1968–1970.

Michael plays guitar, holds a black belt in karate, hikes regularly in California and Colorado, and plays pickleball. He lives in Mill Valley, California, and Aspen, Colorado.

Learn more about Michael and his services.

Michael Coffino's books

An Interview with Michael Coffino—Writing Coach and Developmental Editor

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