Mulling what ghostwriter to hire to write your book? Well, don’t hire me or anyone else before at least reading these few bits of advice on the process. Your experience with a ghostwriter will involve a considerable investment of your money, time and soul, so you’ll want to be methodical in your hunt to find and hire a ghostwriter.
What is a ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is a professional writer who produces books on a client’s behalf, letting the client be credited as the book’s author. Ghostwriters are hired by people who have ideas and experiences to share, but don’t have the time, discipline or creative chops to write them out to a professional, marketable standard.
What types of books, styles and genres do ghostwriters handle?
There are dozens of types of ghostwriter serving every imaginable niche. Most professionals work in a specific area, so you’re best to look for one who’s handled clients in your general zone of interest. Here are a few examples:
- Biography (Most Common)
- Science fiction
- Detective story
- DIY (Do It Yourself)
Resources for finding a ghostwriter
How do you find a ghostwriter who will write you a professional-grade, high-quality book that embodies you, your voice, your experience, know-how and messages to the world? And, in the process, create new opportunities for you or your organization? One resource I can’t recommend enough is Jane Friedman (https://www.janefriedman.com/resources/). She offers unbiased advice for finding a ghostwriter, and more. There are others, but Jane is among the best, and most respected.
You can also search online for ghostwriters
There are many. Establishing their credibility is a process unto itself. Do your research. Ask around. Dig deeply. Don’t throw in with anyone too quickly.
What is the ghostwriting process?
Each project calls for a different approach. But the following breakdown offers a general idea of how the process of ghostwriting a book unfolds:
- First meeting – The client and ghostwriter will either meet up, speak via phone or video conferencing to feel each other out and get a sense of whether they click well enough to make the project succeed. The ghostwriter will ask various questions to gain a sense of the project’s scale and the scope of work involved to write it. The client should do the same.
- Written proposal – If the two do click, the ghostwriter writes up a project proposal outlining the work they will undertake, including the book’s length, tone & manner, research and interviews undertaken, delivery timelines, payment schedules and other business details. When the client signs the proposal, the project is officially underway.
- Outline – The ghostwriter engages the client for a series of recorded interviews (usually two-to-three), which are transcribed to text. From these, the ghostwriter puts together a book outline of between three to ten pages. The client reviews this, makes any necessary revisions, sends it back. The writer and client go back and forth on several drafts until the outline is mutually satisfactory.
- In-person interviews – During a span of a few days to a week, the ghostwriter interviews the client to acquire the meat of the book. These discussions are also recorded for transcription. The ghostwriter is given any supporting documentation in print or other media.
- Expanded outline – Post-interview sessions, the ghostwriter develops an expanded outline of the book, usually between twenty to sixty pages long. It varies according to the book’s length and complexity. The client is again asked to revise (usually several) drafts until both parties have a final agreed-to outline from which to work.
- First draft – The ghostwriter now enters serious writing mode, a few months to a year of hard labour, during which they disappear into the life and times of the book’s subject and put it to paper. Once the first draft is finished, it’s sent to the client.
- Major revision – This is when writer and client get their hands dirty. A good ghostwriter lets clients put their own fingerprints on the work – whether by using vocabulary more attuned to the subject’s, adding / expanding on stories, and putting a finer point on key lessons and ideas to be conveyed.
- Editing – Once the ghostwriter and client finish the final draft, the manuscript is professionally edited to a standard befitting the book and its audience.
- Publishing – Post-editing, with both parties content with the final version, the work is ready for publishing. This is a whole other process which varies in nature depending on how, where and to whom the book is to be marketed.
How much does a ghostwriter cost?
Since ghostwriters’ price ranges are pretty much tied to reputation and ability, most clients hire a mid-range professional. And these pros charge between $15,000 and $90,000 (all prices mentioned are in US dollars) to write a book of between 80-300 pages in length. There will be price variances based on writer expertise and amount of research, interviewing, fact-checking and so on needed to execute the project well.
Ghostwriters sometimes quote a per-word charge. I charge between seventy cents to a buck-fifty a word to ghostwrite, depending on how long the book and how involved the writing process will be.
Then there are the extremes
Unless you’re a celebrity or have a celebrity’s financial resources, you’re probably not in a position to invest between $150,000 to $750,000 on a top-tier ghostwriter. If you are in that snack bracket, you’ll still likely have to take a number, as these folks are busy.
An upstart might offer to quickly write you 20,000 words for a few thousand dollars. You should avoid such persons. You’ll only have to pay someone to fix it. And there’s nothing a writer loves more than being asked to fix another writer’s substandard work. Joking aside, you really do get what you pay for, and quality doesn’t come cheap or in a hurry.
Pros and cons of hiring a ghostwriter
If there’s no time or way for you to undertake the writing of your book, and you’re adamant it must be written, you have no option but to hire a ghostwriter. Whether you ask around, search online or contact someone like Jane for help, don’t rush the process of hiring a ghostwriter. Dig until you have a solid shortlist of potential candidates.
Once there, pick three and describe your project to each. Be ready with samples of your story in whatever form you have it, so they can get an idea of what they’ve got to work with and how long it might take.
If you want a low-risk taste of what one can do, ask them to write a sample for you. Insist on paying a decent sum for it, while also accepting that they may not agree to this. If they say no, it doesn’t mean they’re not your ghostwriter. They might just be busy or unsure of your credibility.
Client credibility is key to a ghostwriter. For the assiduous scribe, your being rich, important or famous may not be enough. Many such people have been known not to pay their bills or to be difficult to work with.
Prepare yourself for a new type of intimacy
Once you’ve chosen your ghostwriter, you’re entering a most unusual relationship. It’s close. It’s intense. It’s personal. You’ll need patience. You may not be aware of the hours, attention, energy and sweat that go into ghostwriting a book – by writer and client. It can be immense. Good writing is a hard slog, even for the best of us. Hence the price tag.
Discuss lead times
If in demand, the writer you select may be too busy to start immediately. This is a good sign. Don’t let it drive you away. The one you hire will likely need a year or longer to finish your book anyway.
Trust your gut when hiring a ghostwriter
You’ll have to devote a lot of hours to this project in person, over the phone and via email. If, after a time, you find you don’t like the ghostwriter’s abilities, personality, attitude or work habits, pay a kill fee and exit the deal. You need to be sure right off the bat that you’re working with someone mature, emotionally stable, consistently professional and dedicated to the task. As do they. Once trust erodes, things start to derail. Avoid that by being honest with yourself and your ghostwriter from the get-go.
Beware of the reprehensible cons offering ghostwriting services online. I’ve looked around, sometimes just reading the first few lines of text on their sites. After encountering the first few typos I wondered, “Who’d hire a ghostwriter so incompetent they didn’t proofread their own marketing copy?”
Another phenomenon I’ve encountered that screams for a better word than ironic is the sub-mediocre quality of writing used by certain ghostwriters to explain what great talents they possess.
Still one more warning sign is a lack of writing samples from alleged work completed. If a ghostwriter isn’t willing to provide these on their site, what are they hiding?
My adventure into ghostwriting
I began ghostwriting for Land Rover Southeast Asia, producing a quarterly magazine for Land Rover owners. It consisted of long and short pieces on travel and offroading adventures, races, 4WD driving techniques & tricks, aftermarket products and much else. I’d be given a few badly-written bullet points, a photo or two, and then have to spin it all into a multi-page epic. I even wrote / answered letters to the editor.
I was simultaneously handling a heavy volume of annual reports from international regional banks, tech companies, infrastructure firms, property developers – and penning dozens of chairman’s statements in the process. In fact, everything I’ve done as a copywriter has served as my training ground for ghostwriting.
What have I ghostwritten?
My first commissioned book, a biography is called “Last of the Great Swashbucklers”. Full disclosure: It’s not technically ghostwritten; I am the credited author. However, it could just as easily have been a ghostwritten book, had the client wished to affix his name to it instead of mine. He kindly insisted I should be listed as its author.
It’s a biography about a remarkable man, relatively short, at around 25,000 words, to be published in late 2019. I put in one month doing research and a second month of 12-hour days writing an initial draft. The entire process of researching and writing it was identical to ghostwriting.
I worked from supplied texts, conducted multiple interviews, researched various historical threads for context, visited European locations key to the story, transcribed interviews, created a tone, wrote and rewrote the whole thing several times, as new information continuously surfaced, until I had a client-ready first draft. Two revisions followed that, as still more stories poured forth.
Here’s a sample of the manuscript. (Peter/Taylor: I will provide this)
Got a ghostwriting project? I’m interested and energized – the crazier your story, the better. Email me here to get talking about it.