One of my favorite parts of writing a book for new clients is that very first meeting- people never seem to know what to expect when they hire a ghostwriter.
While I’m usually a little bit nervous, the aspiring author at the other side of the table (or on other end of the phone) is like a caged lion that’s allowed to run free for the very first time. They’re filled with excitement, confusion and dozens of other feelings all at once.
Want to know a little secret?
In almost every single interview, clients ask me all the wrong questions.
Not that’s it’s their fault, mind you- people hire ghostwriters for the same reason they seek out accountants, lawyers or golf club pros. They need guidance from someone that’s been there and thrived at the professional level.
After all, how could they possibly know what to expect from a ghostwriter if they’re not a writer themselves?
Know that the actual writing is only about half the equation when hiring a ghostwriter. You do want someone that’s great with words and has the confidence to write about 70,000 of them on your behalf. That’s a given.
The actual hard part…the place where most ghostwriters struggle the most…is reaching the point where they’re turned loose to write your manuscript. It takes dozens of unique skills to capture your story, organize the details and frame it in a way that will sell.
So let’s talk about those various traits and how they’ll factor into creating a bestselling story.
Personally, I was a restaurant owner that eventually ran an entire franchise in my 20’s. From there, I moved into the world of copywriting; first with local business clients and eventually in the corporate world. Along the way, I became an expert in things like search optimization and online marketing.
Those experiences make me completely unique from any other ghostwriter on the planet.
But are my experiences an actual benefit to the book you want to write? That’s the million dollar question. Every ghostwriter specializes in the things in life they already know well, so look for one that can relate to your story and understand why your personal experiences made you who you are today.
You’d be absolutely amazed at how many ghostwriters can crank out 10,000 or more words per day, yet it takes them a week to answer a simple email or return a phone call. And this doesn’t mean that they’re lousy professionals by any means- they are simply lousy communicators.
How can a ghostwriter end up being a poor communicator?
It’s actually more common than you might think. Almost every artistic type of person will tell you that once they get into a creative zone where thoughts and ideas are flowing at light speed, the last thing they want to do is answer a phone or check email. It feels counter-productive to break that natural rhythm.
So when you’re talking to a ghostwriter about your project, be sure to pay close attention to how quickly they respond over the first few conversations. If they seem slow up-front then they are going to be impossible to communicate with when it really matters.
Whenever I speak to a potential client for the first time, my only initial goal is to decide whether or not I would enjoy working on the project. And here me out for a moment- this isn’t about things like subject matter, writing style or potential profit. I’m only concerned whether or not I actually like the person I’m speaking with. Are they someone that I could eventually consider a friend?
That may sound a bit silly, but how I get along with a client will ultimately decide how good or bad the final product is.
Think about it- I will be asking this person to trust me with their deepest thoughts and desires; sometimes with information that they’ve never even told their spouse. So if a natural comfort level is not there in our conversations, it’s possible that many of the most important details will never make it to print. And that’s ultimately cheating everyone from the client to the publisher to the end reader.
Ghostwriting is a very personal experience, so take your time in the interview process and choose the writer you feel the most comfortable with. This very simple advice is often overlooked, even though it means EVERYTHING for your project’s success.
Believe it or not, all but two of my former ghostwriting clients have cried at one point during the interview process. For instance, one politician realized during our conversations that he has resented his father for 30+ years. An NBA star discovered that he had sabotaged every relationship he’d ever been in. A model/actress realized that she had absolutely no clue what she was doing in life- and then she had what I can only describe as a nervous breakdown.
But in every case, we got through it and moved on. That’s what happens when you really dig deep for answers about your life- sometimes a new truth finds its way to the surface.
Of course, I’m not a licensed psychiatrist- and I’ve never met a ghostwriter that was. Yet, these are the types of experiences that are common in our world as we search for deeper meanings as you share your story. Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes we cry. It’s all part of the process.
So when I say that you have to have an amazing relationship with your ghostwriter, know that it’s not just empty words. We are expert writers, organizers, motivators, therapists and listeners all rolled into one.
Two of the three clients from my last example are household names. And to be completely honest, I have a few stories to tell that would make the media absolutely salivate…if I was the type of person to ignore my client’s wishes and share their dirt with the world.
And then I’d be unemployable about 15 minutes later.
People hire ghostwriters with the expectation of complete privacy. So you should give your ghostwriter credit for being a contributing editor in your book, and in turn that ghost will quietly whisper that they helped you when they’re speaking to potential clients. But that’s as far as your working relationship should ever be shared among the masses unless you decide otherwise.
At least once a week, I receive an email that sounds a little something like, “My book will definitely be a NY Times Bestseller! You’re going to be blown away with what I went through to get to where I am today!”
I’ll admit that most of the time, that person on the other end of the phone has an awesome story to tell. I’ve heard about government conspiracies, overcoming an exotic illness, rags to riches transformations, incredible survival stories, etc. Yet none of these book ideas are a guarantee for the NY Times list.
That’s not how the publishing game works.
For you to have an incredibly popular book, it takes the right combination of a great agent, great marketing and a great publishing house. And in order to obtain any of those things, you have to have a great story with the right angle that would make it attractive to the masses.
An honest ghostwriter should provide you with an initial opinion and a realistic expectation of how your book would do on the market. Stay clear of the writers that over-hype your chances of success though; those stories rarely have a happy ending.
On the other hand, you also have to be wary of ghostwriters that make claims of having extensive resources for getting you published. For instance, I am on a first name basis with a senior editor at Harper Collins, and we chat at least once a month about the projects we work on.
But that doesn’t mean I have an ounce of influence when it comes to guaranteeing you an advance or even having your query letter read.
As a ghostwriter, I want you to hire me…as does every single one of my colleagues. So we’re naturally going to say things to try to impress you and gain your trust. Yet, very few will be bold enough to make promises on publishing and book deals.
You’ll want to stay clear of those types- especially the ones who are quick to recommend agents.
Likewise, keep a wary eye on companies that draw from a large pool of ghostwriters to write your manuscript. That approach may be fine at a nail salon or a driving school, but it doesn’t work very well when you’re telling your life story to someone that you need to have complete trust in.
To be clear, I’m not just talking about content mills and organizations where your name gets thrown into a pool of starving writers with very little experience. This refers to any company where you pay first and meet your writer later.
Why? Just think about it- would you buy a house or a car without actually seeing or knowing anything about it first? Of course not. Most of us wouldn’t even do that with our lunch order. So it goes without saying that you shouldn’t hire writers that way either.
One final word of caution- some companies will actually farm your ghostwriting out to foreigners in India or Pakistan for as little as 15 cents an hour. That’s why you should always insist on meeting your actual ghost and interviewing them on the phone before ever discussing business. Then follow up with an in-person interview.
If you’re looking to write a book about how you made millions in stock market trading, then it would definitely be helpful to hire a ghostwriter with experience in accounting, finance, business or Wall Street. But at the same time, you certainly don’t want to become obsessive with finding someone that you’d consider a peer in your industry.
I see this happen all the time as well.
An expert wants to tell his story, so he hires someone just as qualified to talk about the topic. But by the time they reach the end of the book, the writing is more about the ghostwriter’s viewpoints than the actual client’s. And what happens? Harsh words are shared, feelings are hurt and the entire project is scrapped. Everyone loses.
So be careful what you wish for in a ghostwriter during the hiring process. Some experience in your field is awesome, but too much can be just as bad as too little.
Most people reading this article came here wondering, “How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Ghostwriter?” And I could have told you right off the bat that $15,000 to $25,000 is the industry average for memoirs, while celebrity books can run up to ten times that amount.
But this should never be a conversation about price alone.
So if you skimmed this page looking for this section, I would highly advise you to slow your roll and read the other points listed here. Unless you actually understand what makes a ghostwriter valuable, then I guarantee that-
a) You’ll hire the wrong ghostwriter for the job
b) You’ll be unhappy with the final product
c) You’ll never actually get published
I cannot stress this enough- hiring a ghostwriter should be a very personal experience. I’m going to get to know your family, meet your colleagues, talk to your friends and likely play fetch with your dog. You have to be 100% comfortable with me invading your life and that can’t happen if you’re only focused on numbers.
Likewise, a lot of people have it in their minds that ghostwriters should work for free and then get a percentage of the profits once the book is a success. That’s wildly unrealistic though and there’s not a profession on Earth that works that way.
Why? Writing a book is about 50% of the total journey- I have zero control over what happens after your manuscript leaves my computer. You’ll still have to talk to an agent and/or find a publishing house, design a cover, format the book for different distribution models, and spend months promoting your book to have a successful title.
Ghostwriters work either on a flat rate or a flat rate plus commission. Some may even consider hourly rates for smaller projects. But you can’t expect someone to dedicate months of their lives with zero income and a possible chance at royalties if a dozen other people do their jobs correctly. We’d all be homeless if we worked that way.
Every ghostwriter has their own methodology on how to capture the information for your book. Most will schedule a series of telephone interviews, meet with you in person and/or send you weekly questionnaires. It is very important to remember, however, that I can’t write if I am missing pieces of your story.
When I first start a project with a new client, I want to sit down with them in person and hear their entire story from start to finish. I’ll sit silently and take notes during that first session, and then follow up with some questions to better shape the thoughts that aren’t ultra-clear.
I’ll also be organizing your story into rough chapter ideas so we have some semblance of a beginning, middle, and an end. This makes it easier for us to discuss the flow of the book and where I might need more information.
Finally, I want to sit down with my client and write the first few chapters as quickly as possible- just to have something on paper that we can judge. What we write may not even make it into the final manuscript, but it’s still helping us find your writing voice and shaping the story.
On average, this initial process takes 3-5 days with an experienced ghostwriter.
Know that gathering ideas and creating a chapter outline is easily the most difficult aspect of writing a novel- it’s where most amateurs will fail miserably after wasting far too much of your time. So be sure to ask lots of questions about shaping your story- this alone makes or breaks your ghostwriting project.
As a ghostwriter, I have to understand what your typical day is like and how to best communicate with you. And at the same time, you have to be sure to share information whenever it’s needed, keep up with suggestions for the written copy, and make sure that I’m staying on schedule.
It’s definitely a two-way street to stay at maximum productivity.
Now, this may not seem like a big deal if you fall a few weeks behind, but you have to look at it from the ghostwriter’s viewpoint. If they enter an estimate for 10 weeks of work and you’re entering month four, then one of two things will happen to make ends meet-
– The ghostwriter will ask for more money
– The ghostwriter will start on a new project
Neither of these scenarios benefits you (or your writing project) in the long run. That’s why it’s critical to find a healthy working relationship early that works for everyone.
Additionally, most ghostwriters expect to have to make a number of revisions while writing your book. Sometimes these changes come from something that happens later in the story, which creates a conflict with what’s already been shared. Other times, the writing may not be up to par or a point is not clearly articulated. There are many, many reasons to make a number of edits.
However, this is still something that has to be discussed beforehand so that the writer and author are on the same page. The last thing you want to do is to get ¾ of the way through the ghostwriting process only to have a colossal misunderstanding.
Also, you’ll want to resist the urge to over-edit your book. It is so incredibly easy to want to nit-pick every single word until you achieve absolute perfection, but I can tell you firsthand that you’ll never actually get there. Instead, you’ll waste massive amounts of time to make the book only marginally better (or possibly worse) overall.
It is much more efficient to perform a full round or two of editing once you have a full manuscript in hand. So go ahead and clean up the small stuff as you’re working through each chapter, but save the full edits for later- possibly with a fresh set of eyes that’s not already connected to the material.
Very rarely will you hear about an Olympic figure skater that’s also great at landscaping, cooking European cuisine and overhauling classic cars. That’s because they train their entire careers to be really, really good at one specific thing.
Ghostwriting is exactly the same deal- you should hire professional ghostwriters strictly to write.
Can I design a book cover for you? Definitely! It will take me about three days and it will be about 50% as good as what any first year graphic design student could produce. It’s also going to waste 20 hours that could have been spent making your book read better.
The moral here is to be wary of individuals that offer inclusive pricing. They will either farm out the work at a hefty markup or you’ll receive sub-standard quality. In either case, you’re much better off hiring someone inexpensive on Upwork or Fiverr that knows what they’re doing. This applies to formatting, marketing, graphic design, self-publishing packages, etc.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to bid against friends of friends that have absolutely no experience ghostwriting. For instance, a client called the other week and told me that his 20 year old English major nephew would write his book for $1,200. If I could beat that price, the job was mine.
Needless to say, I quickly passed on the project.
I would never say that the average writer couldn’t complete your manuscript since all of us had to start somewhere in this industry. But I can’t stress to you enough that it takes years of experience to turn an idea into a completed book though- and another decade of writing to deliver something actually worth reading. Then there are all the organizational skills that come through the actual repetition; other writing careers just don’t fully prepare you for it.
In fact, almost a third of my clients come to me with a partially completed book that failed with the first ghostwriter.
So how do you avoid this pitfall? Seek out actual ghostwriters that do this sort of work for a living.
The average memoir these days runs around 75,000 words, which will weigh in at 225-275 total pages (depending on the font, formatting, spacing, etc.). Some stories may encompass as much as 125,000 words or more, so you might think that you have to fall between those marks in order to have a sensational book on your hands.
That’s completely false.
Most ghostwriters determine their pricing by word count, so it’s in our best interests to convince you to write the next 206,052 word edition of Moby Dick. But this shouldn’t be about what’s best for you or the ghostwriter- the focus should be on what’s best for the eventual reader.
That’s the only opinion that really matters here.
Here is one thing to keep in mind though- a good editor will shave about 15-25% of your book in the first round of edits. So as long as you’re above the 60k word minimum most publishing houses aim for with new authors, don’t sweat the final word count too hard.
Your story should be as long as it needs to be in order to keep folks entertained- that’s the only hard-set rule.
Several of my recent clients have come to me with a book deal already in hand- they had set deadlines when they had to deliver a set number of chapters, the first draft and a final manuscript. Others simply had a date in their minds that they wanted to have the book completed by, maybe before a family trip during Spring Break or the start of a speaking tour.
Since you probably have a rough time-frame in mind as well, this part is really important.
When a ghostwriter gives you an estimate of the amount of time your book will require, they are factoring in dozens of different variables. That includes interviews and research time, tracking down sources you provide, organizing your notes and the actual writing. Any one of these things can add weeks or even months to the final deliverable.
So if time management is going to be a major issue in making your deadline, you’ll want to ensure that you hire a ghostwriter that thrives under pressure. This takes us back to earlier topics dealing with the ghostwriter’s process and their organizational skills.
Understand this- what you want to see out of your book is not necessarily what a publisher or a reader at a newsstand wants to see. So while a ghostwriter will be writing your story, they’ll also be helping you make decisions about what should make the final draft and what needs to be condensed.
For example, a client from almost five years ago wrote the first draft herself. Her first 33 pages were describing a brief conversation she had with her mother when she was six. From very single hand and facial movement to the smell of the kitchen and the shape of the pink flowers on the wallpaper, you heard about in vivid detail.
In my first edit, I trimmed that section down to a page and a half. The client was furious with me though and fired me on the spot. Yet in the months to come, publisher after publisher said what I shared originally- the book was dreadfully boring and needed extensive polishing.
To date, this client is still seeking an editor that can polish the story without really changing anything- I’ve heard that she’s fired over 20 ghostwriters total.
So know that a ghostwriter’s feedback is never to be overly critical or mean; it’s to help you deliver the best manuscript possible. The last thing you want is a “yes man” that will stroke your ego when you’re headed in the wrong direction- you’ll simply be throwing away money with no chance of ever being published.
By now you are probably starting to realize that there’s quite a bit involved with hiring a ghostwriter. So let me simplify things for you with one final piece of advice- don’t overthink this. The perfect ghost is out there and you’ll know him/her almost instantly once you speak with them. It will feel like a great conversation with an old friend.
There are five criteria that you need to check off in your mind in order to find the perfect ghostwriter-
– Your ghostwriter should be likable and easy to communicate with
– You should feel comfortable with the ghost’s writing abilities
– The ghost should have a highly organized writing process
– Your ideal ghostwriter will be quick to provide guidance/advice
– You should genuinely have fun working with your ghostwriter
While there are certainly other factors that could come into play, most professional ghostwriters will have the skills necessary to get you all the way to the finish line. Finding someone who fits your personality type will deliver a much more authentic final product, however, and they will also be better at understanding the real you.
So if you take only one fact away from all of this, it’s to hire a ghostwriter that understands the real you, appreciates the journey you’ve been on in life, and just feels like a natural fit. As long as they’re a decent writer as well, you should end up with an awesome book.
Feel free to message me by email or in the comments section below if you have any other questions.