Hiring a ghostwriter is a major undertaking. You are about to enter into a long-term relationship with someone who will step into your shoes and learn to write with your voice. Because writing a book together with a ghostwriter is such a personal journey, it’s important that you compile a good list of interview questions for a ghostwriter to help you find the best match for you.
I recommend writing down the questions ahead of time; however, as with any great interview, you’ll need to ask follow-up questions on the fly. Make sure to take notes, so that after you’ve spoken to a few writers, you can remember who said what. Notes will also help you formulate follow-up questions.
Potential interview questions for a ghostwriter
Through your questions, you should work to determine the experience and ability of each ghostwriter you interview. Here are a few topics you might consider covering:
The number of books she has written
Writing a book is not an easy task. There are many steps involved in producing a high-quality product. If your prospective ghostwriter has never written a book, you can expect that she will likely have trouble completing your project.
Having said that, if you’re on a tight budget, a ghostwriter with no prior experience should give you a great price on your book because she will be eager to fill in her resume. It’s a bit of a gamble for you, but if you check out her writing samples and talk to her extensively, you might find a hidden gem. Make sure to pay her enough so that she can invest the time to deliver a quality manuscript to you.
A professional ghostwriter will have a few dozen books under her belt. All the same, if a writer has written at least three books, she is experienced enough to help you with your project.
Testimonials from past clients
Someone once told me that what other people say about you counts far more than what you say about yourself. I like that tidbit of advice because it is so very true.
Any professional freelance writer should have collected quite a few testimonials from prior clients. Now, the only problem is that these will need to be semi-anonymous because all ghostwriters are sworn to secrecy. Even so, an established ghostwriter won’t have any trouble getting a few clients to write a few lines of praise.
Check out my testimonial page. You’ll see some clients proudly share their name and company name, while others prefer to share only initials. Still, you can see that I have worked with many people over the last twenty years. Make sure your ghostwriter has similar credentials.
Her writing forte
Some of the interview questions for a ghostwriter should revolve around what she likes to write. Also ask about her experience. This will help you determine if the ghostwriter is a good match for you.
A few writers only write fiction. Others love to pen memoirs, while some prefer to stick to small business books.
Personally, I enjoy writing uplifting stories, helping record a family’s history or compiling educational non-fiction material. I wouldn’t be comfortable writing a memoir centered around abuse; it would be too painful.
However, I can write a fictional novel, a non-fiction how-to book (sometimes called prescriptive non-fiction), or a memoir. I love all classifications and genres, as long as the overall message is positive.
Her current schedule
When you interview a ghostwriter, ask about his schedule. You need to have some prediction about when he can deliver a finished manuscript to you.
If the writer you select has a full-time job and is going to try to write your book in his spare time, I’ll tell you right now, that’s a recipe for disaster. You can predict that scheduling conflicts will prevent him from completing your story in a timely manner. Plus, he will be tired after his day job and will have trouble giving you his best effort.
Find a writer who has the time to work with you. You might also ask him how many projects he has on his plate at the moment. As for me, I’m comfortable working on many projects at the same time and always strive to come in ahead of schedule. However, I’m upfront about the time it takes to write a book. Eight months is a minimum requirement, but some can take up to 18 months. It really depends upon the amount of research required.
A few additional steps
Sometimes you might find that you instantly click with a ghostwriter and just know she is perfect for your project. However, there might be times when you’re not as confident and feel like you need more information. That’s understandable. If you have a good first interview with a ghostwriter, but aren’t 100% sure about hiring her, there are a few additional actions you can take.
Test your writer before hiring her
It is a good idea to test your top ghostwriting candidates by requesting a sample of their writing. This will allow you to see how you work with them.
You’ll need to pay for the samples you request. Please never ask a candidate to write for free. No professional ghostwriter should agree to that (if he does, he’s far too desperate, which should be a red flag). However, I highly recommend that you ask her to write a few pages for you—for a fee. Most writers have a per word fee. For instance, I charge a dollar per word. If asked to write a sample, I can produce any length desired.
Keep in mind that there are about 250 words per page. So, four- to eight- pages is a good-sized sample. This will help you determine the skill of the ghostwriter.
Yet you are not only checking out the ghostwriter’s ability to write, but evaluating his process as well. How much time does he take to write the piece? Make sure he gives you a deadline. Then observe if he meets it. If he is late (for any reason), know that he will probably be frequently tardy if you hire him.
How does the writer respond to your feedback? If he bristles at your suggestions, that doesn’t bode well for the future. On the other hand, if he accepts all your suggestions without any discussion, this could be equally problematic.
A good ghostwriter/client relationship involves a healthy amount of give and take. That’s what will produce the best-possible book. I will always give my clients my honest opinion and thoughts, but in the end, remind them that “you are the boss.”
Communication is key
After you ask your interview questions for a ghostwriter, observe how she handles subsequent communication with you. How quickly does she answer your emails? Does she respond to your texts in a timely manner?
My policy is to handle all communications within 24 hours. In actuality, I’m much faster. I’ve had a few clients comment on how fast I am. “It’s like you’re sitting there waiting for my email!” Well, no, I’m not. But I do check my email frequently. When I see a client query pop up, I like to handle it quickly.
Most ghostwriters offer a free consultation. Take them up on that. It’s a great opportunity to get their take on your project. See if you can get them to give you some insight into how they’d tackle the project. How would they approach the opening chapter? For instance, if you’re writing your memoir, I’d advise you not to start with the day you were born. It’s much better to find an exciting incident to begin your book and drop the reader headfirst into that scene!
Take action to avoid scammers
It’s unfortunate, but true; there are those who will try to scam you in this industry. Over the years I’ve had many people report being ripped off through Craigslist. That’s why I don’t recommend finding your writer through that source.
When vetting a writer, try putting her name into a search engine and see what comes up. If she is a successful writer, her books, interviews and articles should pop up. If the proverbial crickets chirp (dead silence), you know she isn’t very well established (or she has chosen to keep off the internet). Most professional writers have their own websites.
If a ghostwriter asks for the entire fee upfront, she is probably trying to con you. Typically, professional writers will ask for a deposit of 25% to 50%. The rest of the payments should be made as the pages are produced. I ask for 25% at the signing of the contract, then another 25% after the detailed outline is approved. The third installment is due after I complete the first half of the first draft, and the final payment is made when I’ve given the client the completed first draft. After that, I make all the edits (hiring an outside editor) and deliver the final manuscript.
The process of hiring a ghostwriter should be quite enjoyable. If you ask your interview questions for a ghostwriter and bond with her, it bodes well for a successful working relationship. After all, writing a book with a professional can be a fun and fulfilling adventure. Take the time to pick the right writer for you!
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