Estimated reading time: 14 minutes
A book ghostwriter is a writer-for-hire who specializes in writing books. These include memoirs, business books, novels, history books, and books in other genres. The book ghostwriter can work on manuscripts designed for the popular press, as well as those intended for academics or other specialty areas.
Any subject or story that works as a book—whether hardback, paperback, e-book, or audiobook—can be written by the ghostwriter who focuses on books.
What does a book ghostwriter know that other ghosts don’t?
All top-of-the-line ghostwriters excel at turning the author’s ideas into written words—whether they specialize in books, speeches, web copy, magazine articles, or something else.
But writing books is a unique form of ghostwriting. Ideally, the ghostwriter concentrating on books:
- Is able to sustain a storyline or topic presentation over the course of many pages – The typical book for the popular audience runs between 150 and 250 pages, and many go longer.
- Understands the mindset of the book’s audience – This ensures that he or she knows how deeply to delve into a story or idea. The expectations of those who read books are not the same as those reading articles, web copy, or other material.
- Knows how to write material intended to be read from beginning to end – It’s different than writing material that is skimmed through from heading to heading or bullet point to bullet point, as in web copy or a white paper.
- Understands the various ways that books are utilized – For example, some authors want to sell a lot of copies of the book, others want to use it to establish themselves as experts or burnish their resumes, and still others simply want to record a story or idea for personal reasons. Knowing how the book will be used is vital, as it guides the writing.
- Is familiar with the publishing process – This includes both standard publishing and self-publishing. The book ghostwriter doesn’t need to be an expert but must know enough to help the author match the written material to the “right” publishing method.
- Is a long-distance runner as opposed to a sprinter – It takes many months to write a full-length book. Even more time is necessary for lengthy books, or those requiring a lot of conceptualizing, research, or interviewing. It also demands maintaining a relationship with the author over many months. Some ghosts are comfortable with long-term projects, while others are not.
What’s the book ghostwriting process?
This depends on the ghost. Some book ghostwriters follow a well-defined set of steps, while others prefer a more free-form approach.
Here’s what a formal process might entail:
- Initial interviews – Over the course of three, four, or five interviews, the ghostwriter asks the author questions designed to elicit an overview of the story or idea. More detailed questions are saved for later. These interviews can last from a half-hour to two hours and can be conducted in person, or via phone, Skype, or other platforms. Ideally, they are recorded so they can be transcribed and referred to often.
- Preparation of book outline – After reviewing the tapes, and perhaps doing a modest amount of research, the ghostwriter prepares an outline of the book. Most outlines are between 2 to 15 pages long, depending on the type and complexity of the book.
- Perfecting the outline – The author and ghostwriter discuss and refine the outline, passing it back and forth a couple of times to get it right. The perfected outline becomes the book’s “blueprint,” containing all the information about style, tone, and content necessary to write the manuscript.
- In-depth interviews – Once the ghostwriter and author know exactly where they’re headed, they begin another round of interviews. Depending on the type of book being written, and how much material will be supplied by the author, there may be 20 to 80 hours of interviews. The interviews should be recorded and transcribed as they will contain much, if not all, of the material the ghostwriter needs to complete the book. They may also reflect the author’s voice as well as favorite phrases and figures of speech. For more on the author’s voice, see “Find Your Memoir Writer’s Voice.”
- Additional research – If necessary, the ghostwriter interviews other people, tracks down quotes, and statistics, and gathers information that the author does not supply.
- First draft – Working on his or her own, the ghostwriter writes the first draft of the manuscript. This can take anywhere from a few months to a year, depending on the length and complexity of the book.
- Author edits – The author carefully reviews the first draft, making careful notes of items to be corrected, expanded, cut, etcetera.
- Second draft – The ghostwriter revises the book according to the author’s notes and comments.
- Final author edits – The author reads the entire manuscript once again, ensuring that all notes and comments have been addressed. In the process, the author may find a few more small items that need revising.
- Perfected manuscript – The book ghostwriter makes the final changes, and the manuscript is finished.
- Polished manuscript – Depending upon the author’s needs, the ghostwriter may send the manuscript to an editor and/or proofreader. For more on editing and proofreading, see “Copyeditor or Proofreader: Which Do You Need?”
Ghostwriters and authors who enjoy a formal, scheduled approach might decide to work this way.
But it’s not the only approach. We—Barry and Nadine, ghostwriters of memoirs, business books, and more—often work informally.
That’s because some projects work better when more time is devoted to exploring and experimenting with different ideas in the beginning.
We recently ghosted a book that combines the author’s life story with her political philosophy, and explored different approaches such as combining the life story with the philosophy from the get-go, writing chapters that alternate between the two, and so on. Once we discovered what worked best, we locked in the outline—but not before.
We’ve also worked with authors whose ideas evolved during the writing process, which meant we needed to be flexible about the book’s themes, structure, and content as we went along. It simply wasn’t possible to work from a set outline.
What’s important to remember is that there is no best ghostwriting process. There’s only the process that works best for your book.
How long does it take for a ghostwriter to complete a book?
It’s impossible to say precisely, because each book, ghostwriter, and author will be different. As a general rule, a full-length book intended for the popular press is completed in six months to a year.
However, many factors can influence how long it takes, including:
- Book length – Typical non-fiction books range anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 words.
- How well thought-out the idea is at the beginning – Many of the books we’ve worked on have evolved significantly during the writing process. Generally speaking, program-driven books such as health books and how-to books can be firmly outlined before starting to write. But memoirs and other books with story arcs can be difficult to describe in an initial outline, because they often change as the writing progresses
- Research required – For some of our books, the authors were able to give us all the information we needed. They spent a few hours answering our questions, sent us an article or two, and that’s it. For other books, we’ve spent scores of hours on independent research. For still others, we’ve literally flown across the country to visit certain sites and conduct interviews.
- Author availability – Many of the authors we write for are working professionals. They often tell us that they’ll be unavailable for a few weeks, or months, and that can slow the process. One of our books was put on hold for an entire year while the author transitioned to a new job, moving across the country to head up a large enterprise.
- Interviewee availability – Sometimes we have to wait weeks or months to conduct an interview with a key resource for a book.
These are just a few of the items that can slow the writing process. Some of them can be anticipated and worked around, others cannot.
What does it cost to hire a book ghostwriter?
Fees vary depending on the ghostwriter, type and length of the project, and other factors.
As a general rule, for a full-length book you can expect to pay:
- Under $25,000 for a ghostwriter who is new – Or one who is inexperienced, lacking credits, or simply not very good. For this fee, you’ll also get non-native writers whose grasp of the English language is suspect.
- $25,000 to $125,000 for a ghostwriter with experience –This means she has published books to her credit, as well as testimonials from satisfied clients. Expect to pay at the higher end of this range for ghosts with many books published by standard publishers such as Simon & Schuster, quotable praise from editors at major publishing houses, and a resume that includes New York Times bestsellers, or books on other major bestseller lists.
- $125,000 for celebrity ghostwriters – Or those with track records of bestselling success in big-money genres, such as political memoirs.
If you’re on a budget, you might consider hiring a book coach to guide you through the process of writing your book yourself, and/or a developmental editor to assist you once you’ve completed your first draft.
Should you hire a book ghostwriter, or do it yourself?
It is possible to use a book coach or developmental editor instead of a ghostwriter. It’s also possible to write your manuscript entirely on your own, then hire a line editor and a copy editor to tidy things up, as well as a proofreader to find and correct typos and other little errors and omissions.
Which approach you take depends on how comfortable you are developing your idea and writing the book, as well as how much time you have to devote to the project.
If you’re so inclined, there’s nothing wrong with trying it on your own. If it works, or you only need a little assistance to perfect your book, great! If not, well, consider it time well spent in demonstrating that you need to use a book ghostwriter.
Will a ghostwriter get your book published?
That depends on the ghost, as well as on what you mean by “published.” Let’s start with the meaning of published.
There are two primary ways to publish a book: standard publishing, and self-publishing.
In standard publishing, your goal is to convince a publishing house, such as Macmillan or HarperCollins, to publish your book. This means they will invest time and money in your book and expect to make a profit for doing so. To persuade them, you begin with a query letter explaining the gist of your book. This is sent to literary agents and you’ll need one, for major publishers typically refuse to look at unagented submissions. If an agent is interested in your book, he or she will ask you to send a book proposal—a formal document explaining the book and its marketing potential in detail.
If the agent decides to represent you, she or he will present your book proposal to the appropriate publishers. A publishing company that agrees to publish your work will then handle the editing, cover and interior design, printing, marketing, and distribution of your work. It may also find other ways to monetize your work, by translating your book into different languages, recording it as an audiobook, and so on.
In self-publishing, you serve as your own publisher. You won’t need a query letter, a book proposal, or a literary agent. Once your manuscript is polished and perfected, you will handle the book’s interior and cover design, printing, marketing, and distribution.
You can do this in one of three ways: 1) entirely on your own, if you happen to be adept at designing and marketing and can keep track of a lot of details; 2) by hiring various experts, such as a cover designer and a PR company, to do various tasks for you; or 3) by hiring a “turnkey” self-publisher like AuthorHouse or BookBaby, which can handle all the publishing chores for you.
All three of these self-publishing options are viable. It’s just a matter of what suits your needs and budget.
With this brief background on standard versus self-publishing out of the way, let’s return to the initial question: will a ghostwriter get your book published?
The answer depends on the ghostwriter. Some will write the manuscript and nothing more, while others will guide you through the standard or self-publication process for an additional fee.
We—Barry and Nadine—fall into the latter group. We’ve written book proposals and interfaced with agents on behalf of clients interested in standard publication. We’ve also handled the self-publication process completely. For one of our clients, we even produced a two-volume set, with the books snuggled in a box whose lining was selected to complement the book’s cover color.
If you’re looking for ghostwriters who can help you with book publication, check their websites to see if they offer publication assistance.
How do you find a book ghostwriter?
There are many ways to find one:
- Google “hire a ghostwriter,” “find a ghostwriter” or something similar – You can narrow your search by being more specific, typing in, for example, “find a memoir ghostwriter,” or “hire a business book ghostwriter in Los Angeles.”
- Contact writers’ organizations that maintain a database of writers for hire – These include the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Editorial Freelancers Association, and the National Writers Union.
- Ask a literary agent for recommendations – You can find a list of agents at “100 Literary Agents to Contact.”
- Check the acknowledgments sections of books you like to see if a ghostwriter or writer is mentioned
- Looks for ghosts on sites such as Reedsy and Fiverr – But remember, you get what you pay for.
For more on finding a ghostwriter, see “How to Find a Ghostwriter.”
Is it cheating to use a ghostwriter?
There’s no reason to have any qualms about hiring a ghostwriter. The idea and, often, much of the information is yours. And you have developed the concept or basic storyline.
Perhaps you’ve literally lived the story you want to tell, or struggled through a learning process that you now want to explain. Maybe you’ve devoted months or years to researching or testing a process, or have worked with thousands of clients or patients. You may have had experiences most of us have not, whether good or bad.
The story or concept belongs to you. You simply need help developing, structuring, and writing it. That’s what book ghostwriters are for. It’s not cheating.
What’s in a book ghostwriting contract?
There’s no such thing as a standard ghostwriting contract; many ghosts have developed their own contracts, and some use contracts offered by writers’ organizations. However, several items should be included in any ghostwriting contract, including:
- A description of the book to be written – This can be as brief as a sentence or two, or as complex as a 10-page outline appended to the contract.
- A summary of duties – Will the ghostwriter do all of the research and create all of the material herself, or use some of the material the author has written? How many times will the author be allowed to edit the manuscript? How many drafts will the ghost be required to write? All of this, and more, should be clearly spelled out.
- The schedule – Among the questions to be answered: When will the work commence? When is it expected to be finished? How much time will the author allot to interviews and editing?
- The fee and payment schedule – Will the author pay the ghostwriter monthly, or in installments pegged to certain benchmarks like completing the first draft? How much are the payments, and when are they due?
- Authorship credit – Will the ghostwriter be completely invisible or receive some credit? This could include being thanked in the acknowledgments or given a “with” credit on the book’s cover.
- Copyright – Who owns it? Entirely, or in part? And when is ownership vested?
- Confidentiality – Does the author require complete confidentiality from the ghostwriter, or will she allow the ghostwriter to talk about her work on the project when seeking future clients.
- Expenses – How will expenses for travel, photocopies, research, and other matters be handled?
For more on the ghostwriter’s contract see our “Working with a Professional Ghostwriter.”
What are the pros and cons of using a book ghostwriter?
When considering the advantages and disadvantages of using a top-notch ghostwriter—and we believe that top-notch is the only way to go—you’ll find several items on each side of the ledger.
- Your book will be completed, and won’t end up as a forgotten, half-written manuscript shoved into a desk drawer.
- Your story or idea will be fleshed out and written in an appealing, understandable manner.
- The book’s language and tone will be appropriate for the intended audience.
- The project will be completed in a timely manner.
- If your ghostwriter is an expert in your subject, you may appear to have added expertise.
- You’ll save yourself a lot of time and heartache. (Creating a professionally-written book on your own is hard; maybe even impossible!)
- It costs money.
- You have to go through the process of finding and hiring a ghost.
- At some point, you have to be able to let go of your idea and trust your ghost to turn out a sterling product.
- You’ll be in charge of managing a writer who is accustomed to working on her own.
- If you select the wrong ghostwriter or have trouble working with him, the project may collapse.
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR HELP WITH YOUR BOOK…
We’re Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor, ghostwriters and book coaches with a long list of satisfied clients and editors at major publishing houses.
Check out our Testimonials Page to read their comments.
Then call us at 818-917-5362, or use our contact form to send an email. We’d love to talk to you about your exciting book project!