The Ghostwriter’s Process: Six Tips
If you’re reading this article, you might be considering hiring a ghostwriter to write your book. Perhaps you don’t have the time (or expertise) to complete the task. Yet, working with a ghostwriter may seem like a mysterious undertaking; you might have many questions. Over the years, I’ve noticed that several prospective clients have the same basic misconceptions and confusions about a ghostwriter’s process.
To clarify one basic point: If you hire me, you and I will form a powerful partnership and together we’ll create a book. However, you are the author of your book and will always retain all the rights for the work that we create together. You are a vital part of my ghostwriter’s process.
Having over two decades of experience in this area, I want to share with you a few tips about working with a ghostwriter that will help make the project a success.
Tip #1: Ask about your ghostwriter’s process
People are naturally curious about a ghostwriter’s process. The truth is that the procedure varies depending on the writer you hire. Make sure to discuss the ghostwriter’s process with any potential ghost before you begin to prevent unpleasant surprises later.
I break down most projects into four major milestones:
- 1: Researching and outlining
- 2 and 3: Writing the first draft
- 4: Editing
Over the last twenty years, I’ve talked to several ghosts and have noticed that no two follow the same procedure. Some will interview exclusively over the phone, while others (like me) prefer to receive the bulk of the information in writing. Some ghostwriters will submit the first draft of the manuscript to the author only after it is complete, while I prefer to send each section as I write it. I often hire an outside editor, as I wish to have an objective set of eyes review each manuscript I write, while others never hire anyone.
Tip #2: Don’t rush your ghostwriter’s process
If you rush your ghostwriter, you’ll wind up with a rushed book that will be subpar.
Having said that, it’s important to hold your ghostwriter to the agreed-upon contract, which should clearly state the exact timeframe for each milestone. However, if she comes to you and asks for more time because she needs to do more research or add new segments, it’s a good idea to allow her the time she needs to complete your book.
I usually ask my clients for one year to eighteen months to complete a book. This gives me time to do the proper research, create an outline, write a first draft, edit, hire an outside editor, and review the clients’ notes about the final draft.
Sometimes a client requests that I complete their book in a shorter time period. If I can accommodate the author, I will; but I’ll also be honest if I can’t. There are times when I’m fully booked months in advance and can’t start his or her project right away. I’ll never sign a contract when I know I can’t make the target dates. I prefer to deliver ahead of schedule.
Your turnaround time
One way you can help speed up the ghostwriter’s process is to give a quick turnaround on your end. I need to be able to communicate with you and get feedback throughout the project. You will also need to read what I’ve written and contribute your thoughts. I’ll give you advance notice so that you can review a few chapters within two or three days.
However, there are times when I’ve had a client who has pushed off a project for a few months or even a year. Life happens and you can’t always predict these unfortunate delays; however, this situation can be very difficult for any ghostwriter. Any long interruptions can add more than the lost time to the project because I lose momentum and need to re-immerse myself into the story or information. As a result, the project can suffer.
Tip #3: Don’t haggle too much with your ghostwriter
Some authors who approach me ask for a discount. Over the years I’ve realized that negotiating my fee isn’t workable. I charge what I charge. I’m usually booked out into the future so I’m not desperate for work and prefer to work with clients who value my time and expertise.
Some ghostwriters aren’t in that position. They will slash their proposed price out of an eagerness to work with you. You may want to examine that practice. Why did they quote one price when they’re willing to work for half-pay?
If you’re shopping around and know that your book should probably cost $40,000 to write and you receive a quote for $5,000, please take a moment to consider this offer. If you were buying a luxury car, would you really feel comfortable even taking it for a test drive if it had a $5,000 price tag? You might not make it two miles down the road without a problem. A lowball quote might get you 50,000 words written, but those words won’t form a book. The manuscript will be riddled with problems no editor can handle without completely rewriting it.
It’s best to know your budget and be upfront about it.
When prospective clients who can’t afford me write in, I always try to give them advice to meet their needs. Perhaps we can write a shorter book, or maybe I can help them find another writer who charges less. I do want to help, but I must know the bottom line of your budget.
Please never ask a ghostwriter to work for a percentage of the profits. This is a common request from people who don’t understand the industry. No matter how brilliant your book may be, selling copies always comes down to marketing skill—and that isn’t within the scope of your ghostwriter’s job description. We all need to get paid upfront. Trust me, most ghostwriters are working on their own books as well and don’t wish to write your book for free.
Tip #4: Read up on your ghostwriter
I’m always impressed when prospective clients contact me and have done their homework. Reading through some of my blog articles or glancing at one of the books I’ve written will give you a sense for my writing style. Yes, a ghostwriter’s style and voice will change to reflect each author’s personality, but it’s a good idea to gain a feel for her writing before you hire her. The last thing you want is to discover is that you don’t enjoy her writing after she’s halfway through your book.
Some ghostwriters won’t have a book title with their name on it because they haven’t written their own books, and none of their clients have gifted them with a cover credit. If that is the case, ask for samples of their work so you can vet them. If they can’t give you an appropriate sample, similar to the book you want written, know they are not experienced in that genre. For instance, if you asked me for a sample of a steamy romance novel, I’d be hard-pressed to create one, since that is not a genre I could write.
Tip #5: Communicate openly with your ghostwriter
Your ghostwriter will need a lot of details from you. If you aren’t open and honest about your material, she can’t write a brilliant book for you. One ghostwriter I recently talked to commented that his client wasn’t forthcoming about his personal life. He rightly commented that every memoir needs to show the author’s vulnerability; he can’t be perfect in every way. If the author isn’t authentic with his readers, they won’t identify with him and won’t give the book good reviews.
Likewise, if you’re writing a prescriptive nonfiction book, and you don’t share the details of your successful action, the book will read like a rehashed series of blog articles that anyone can research for themselves on the internet. Amazon doesn’t need another book like that in its catalogue.
A ghostwriter will also need to ask you questions as they come up. Plan to provide these answers within a reasonable turnaround time. Again, this will speed up the ghostwriter’s process tremendously.
Tip #6: Expect your ghostwriter to rewrite what you have written
There are times when clients have handed me a very rough draft of a manuscript for a book they want me to write. They sometimes ask for a “little polish” to ready it for publication. I can tell you from experience that this draft is rarely in a condition that simply requires a quick edit.
If you hire a ghostwriter and present her with a rough draft manuscript, expect that it will need to be completely rewritten. Don’t be offended by this; it’s why you’re hiring a ghostwriter in the first place.
Unless you have experience writing books, the structure will probably need work, as will the prose. Remember, you’re not hiring an editor. You’re hiring an experienced writer.
Now, I will say that I do appreciate receiving a first draft in any condition. This helps me write a good book for my client. Although I’ll still need to rewrite it from scratch, I can get a feel for some of the themes and messages the author wishes to communicate.
So you see, the ghostwriter’s process isn’t a mystery at all. It’s filled with common sense principles. And if you follow my tips, it should be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience that results in a well-written book.