What Is Ghostwriting? The Ultimate Guide

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What is ghostwriting?You’ve accomplished a lot in your life. Maybe you’ve demonstrated resilience after surviving a unique and trying childhood or got an unconventional business off the ground. Now you’re a successful adult with a story to tell, and you’re ready to share it with the world in the form of a non-fiction book, memoir, or novel.

Writing takes time, however, and that’s the one resource you’re lacking. Even if you’ve managed to start your book, you might be struggling to finish it.

You wonder if it might be time to hire a ghostwriter to help put your incredible ideas on paper—but what is ghostwriting, and will the process be as satisfying as putting pen to paper yourself?

My name is Laura Sherman, a ghostwriter with 20 years of successful experience crafting novels, memoirs, and non-fiction texts. I’ll be your companion as we address your concerns and ensure your story gets told. I’ve created this guide to help writers like you understand the process so you can finally hold your incredible book in your hands.

Read on to learn everything there is to know about how to find a ghostwriter and ensure the book in your brain becomes a reality.

What Is Ghostwriting?

You might believe you know what a ghostwriter does, but the actual definition might be more expansive than you think.

When you hire a ghostwriter, you’re not hiring someone to “do the work for you and disappear.” You’re choosing a collaborator with the skills and experience necessary to help support you as you complete your writing project.

A Customized Experience

The work a ghostwriter does is fully customized to meet the client’s needs. For example, you might enjoy the writing process and wish to do most of the work on your novel. Your ghostwriter can help you outline and structure your story, preemptively fixing plot problems so you can forge ahead without worry.

Furthermore, you’re the expert when it comes to your book, especially in the case of memoirs and non-fiction texts. If you provide the research, your ghostwriter can suggest ways to break it down and make the narrative flow.

Clients sometimes need help gathering research in the form of interviews. A ghostwriter can handle that aspect while you focus on sharing your wisdom and perspective.

Starting From Scratch?

A blank page is not a prerequisite! Rather, it’s common for first-time authors to approach a ghostwriter with a complete (or nearly complete) manuscript. Often, the client feels the book isn’t yet ready for the world.

Your ghostwriter can help you revamp and revise what you have so you can achieve the perfect final product without starting from scratch. A great ghostwriter might take on the role of a developmental editor early in the process or a line editor later on.

Ultimately, it can be helpful to think of your ghostwriter as a writing consultant, assistant, or book doctor. You aren’t hiring someone to do the job for you, and there’s no need to surrender control of your story. A great ghostwriter is a collaborator who wants to help you succeed.

Stories and Stigma

I realize that there is some stigma involved in hiring a ghostwriter. Most people are unaware of the fundamentally collaborative nature of the relationship. Don’t let the stigma prevent you from getting the help you need.

Think about all the stories that have gone untold because an author got stuck, ran out of time, or lacked the technical skills necessary to proceed. What might have happened if they’d reached out and connected with a professional before calling it quits?

Writing is a skill like any other, and writing a book is a monumental task. Working with a ghostwriter is a way to borrow their knowledge and wisdom. Would you rather abandon your book or learn from an experienced writer who shares your goals and knows how to apply technical strategies to salvage your project?

Historical Precedent 

People often work with a team of people to finish their books. Believe it or not, the concept of sole attribution for books is a relatively modern idea. You might have heard of one famous book written by committee: the bible! Before the Age of Enlightenment, nearly every great book was a communal effort.

I assure you that, in the words of poet John Donne, “no man is an island.” The concept of the lonely author laboring alone is a construction of the romantic imagination. There is no shame in asking for and receiving help when your goal is to do something hard for the first time.

You are not cheating or selling out. You are choosing to move forward with support. The more “shameful” option would be to give up!

Ghostwriting Success Stories

When you hear that a ghostwriter worked on a celebrity’s new book, you don’t judge them. After all, those actors, politicians, and creatives are busy doing their day jobs. If they stopped to write full-time, the public would lose out on their inspiring, essential work.

You may not be the President of the United States or an award-winning actor, but you work hard. Your wisdom and ideas were hard-earned. If you can forgive Barack Obama for hiring a speechwriter, give yourself the same grace as you move forward with your book.

Famous Fiction

Here are a few high-profile fiction projects that involved the work of professional ghostwriters:

  • The Babysitter’s Club Series
  • The Animorphs Series
  • Jason Bourne
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • James Bond novels
  • James Patterson novels
  • Michael Crichton novels

Quite a few famous book series have authors who never existed! Instead, a group of ghostwriters who shared one pen name wrote the books. They include The Hardy Boys, Sweet Valley High, and the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories.

Successful Non-Fiction

Several best-selling non-fiction and business books also involved ghostwriters. You might find it inspiring to learn that The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey was ghostwritten with Ken Shelton. When it comes to optimizing your time, hiring an experienced book ghostwriter makes sense.

Here are a few non-fiction and business titles that involved professional ghostwriters:

  • Where Have All the Leaders Gone by Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca
  • The Art of the Deal by former President Donald J. Trump
  • Onward by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz
  • The Pursuit of Happyness by Rich & Co-Founder Chris Gardner
  • Made in America by Walmart CEO Sam Walton
  • An American Life by former President Ronald Regan
  • Inside Out by actress Demi Moore
  • The Secrets of My Life by TV personality Caitlyn Jenner

Studying the book covers will reveal that many of these books weren’t ghostwritten in secret. The stigma of hiring ghostwriters is becoming less prevalent as more high-profile individuals openly pursue these collaborations. You can always credit your ghostwriter if you don’t want to keep your partnership a secret.

Sharing your writing method with honesty and openness can help eliminate stigma, too!

Hiring Your Ghostwriter

What is ghostwriting? It's a collaboration between you and the experienced ghost.

Every book is unique, so the ghostwriting process looks a little different for everyone. A memoir and a fiction novel have distinct requirements, for example. Since every ghostwritten book is a bespoke collaboration, the first step is requesting a quote and a consultation.

When hiring a ghostwriter, you’re hiring someone to collaborate on something incredibly personal. You’ll want to ask questions about how they work and what they offer.

You can ask to see a portfolio of successful ghostwriting projects before you commit. Make sure they have experience in the genre of your project. You wouldn’t want to hire a memoir ghostwriter for your fantasy novel or a business ghostwriter for your children’s book!

It’s also important to make sure you get along. Do you find them easy to talk to? Do you enjoy their personality and their company?

It can take a long time to finish a book, so choose a friendly ghostwriter you can see yourself working with long-term!

It’s natural to have trust issues when sharing a personal story, whether it’s a memoir or a fictional world you’ve built from scratch. You can avoid problems by choosing a trustworthy professional with documented experience in the industry. Check out their testimonials from past clients before hiring them.

Demystifying the Ghostwriting Process

Once you’ve hired your ideal collaborator, the great work can begin! While there is no “standard” process, you can expect your professional to follow a few general steps.

These are the steps I follow when working with a client on a new project.

The Outline

I cannot overemphasize the importance of structure when writing a book. A non-fiction book or memoir needs an interesting but logical organizational structure. A novel needs an internal story structure, which requires an understanding of stakes, tension, and genre expectations.

That’s why I begin nearly every project by creating an outline. The process begins with an interview in which we’ll discuss the shape of your story. We’ll talk about what’s going well and where you’re having problems.

Once I have the information I need, I’ll begin crafting an outline that addresses your needs and solves any lingering structural problems. I will involve you every step of the way. I usually connect with my authors through email so we can correspond quickly and efficiently during the research process.

The First Draft

What is ghostwriting? It's a process that takes you from outlining to the final product. Once you’ve approved the outline, the writing process can begin. This process can differ based on whether I’m starting with a blank page or incorporating your extant writing. Either way, I’ll begin from page one and send you snippets of my work so you can let me know if I’m on the right track.

Remember, this is your book, so your feedback matters. I promise you won’t hurt my feelings by offering notes or suggestions. I’ll refine my writing until I get it right, and we’ll both feel proud of the finished product.

The Editing Process

The editing process involves two passes. First, I’ll ask you to read the manuscript and provide feedback on the overall product. I’ll go back in and make revisions that address your initial concerns.

From there, I’ll send the book to an outside editor. I find that another set of eyes is helpful at this stage. They can help catch any problems or inconsistencies that we might have missed.

I’ll address the editor’s notes and get the manuscript in perfect shape.

The Final Product

When the revisions are complete, I’ll be ready to send you a finished manuscript. It will be polished and ready for publication. You’ll officially be able to say that you saw your idea to fruition, and we’ll celebrate!

The Cost of Hiring a Ghostwriter

The cost of hiring a ghostwriter varies. Consider your ghostwriter’s education, experience level, and level of customization when determining if the price is right for you.

Writing a book can be emotional, time-consuming, and labor-intensive. You want your ghostwriter to commit 100% to your project. When you compensate a professional writer for their labor, you know you’re investing in the focused attention your project deserves.

With that said, trust is the foundation of the work I do, and it’s important to me to be transparent about my pricing. In general, projects tend to come out to about $1.00 per word.

A small business book, short memoir, or novella (100-150 pages) will generally cost between $25,000 and $37,000.

A full-length memoir, how-to book, or standard novel (150-250 pages) will generally cost between $37,000 and $50,000.

An epic memoir, large business book, or longer novel (250+ pages) will generally cost between $50,000 and $75,000.

A book worth writing is worth perfecting. When you choose to work with a professional ghostwriter, you’re ensuring a high level of personalization and professionalism. You really do get what you pay for, so take the time to hire the right writer for the job.

You Don’t Have to Write Your Book Alone

So, what is ghostwriting? It’s the key to ensuring that your incredible story finally gets told.

Writing can be difficult, lonely business. I’m here to help you move your story from your mind to the page without compromising your unique vision. We’ll work together to see your dream realized.

The sooner you reach out to request a quote, the sooner you’ll be holding your book in your hands. I can’t wait to work with you!

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