Estimated reading time: 14 minutes
“How do I hire a ghostwriter? I don’t even know where to begin!”
We’re asked that a lot. We—Nadine and Barry—have been ghostwriting books for years, and have heard all kinds of stories about hiring a writer.
There are some bad stories, like the woman who wanted to write a memoir and spent a year looking up ghosts on the internet. She sent emails to thirty of them, interviewed twenty, read twenty-two of the memoirs they had ghostwritten, and wound up not hiring any of them.
Or how about the attorney who hired three ghostwriters before finding one he could work with, and the doctor who worked with a total of seven on one book?
But we’ve also heard some good stories, like the businesswoman who spent few days researching ghostwriters for hire, read their websites carefully, made a short list of the ones she liked, and developed a list of questions to ask each. She hired a ghostwriter in no time at all, and ten months later had a finished book in her hands that was professional, engaging, and just what she wanted!
In this article, we’ll talk about the most effective approach to hiring a ghostwriter for your memoir, business book, health book, history book, or work in another genre.
Writing a book is an art. Hiring a ghostwriter is both an art and a science. Here’s a nine-step approach to finding and hiring the absolute best ghostwriter for your book:
- Step #1 – Know What You Want
- Step #2 – Study Up
- Step #3 – Focus Your Search
- Step #4 – Take Names, Looking at Just the Facts
- Step #5 – Use Price to Refine Your List
- Step #6 – Use Additional Services to Refine Further
- Step #7 – Interview the “Short-Listers”
- Step #8 – Beware of the “Samples Trap”
- Step #9 – Wait for the “Click”
Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.
Step #1 – Know What You Want
Figuring out how to hire a ghostwriter should not be your first step. Instead, think about what you need from a ghostwriter.
Just as ghostwriters have varying skill sets and approaches, authors—and that means you—are, themselves, unique. Some take a business-like approach to writing a book, while others have a devil-may-care or by-the-numbers style. There’s no right or wrong approach. The key is to think about who you are and the things you need from a ghostwriter.
For example, do you want:
- A “cheerleader ghostwriter” who is super enthusiastic about both you and your book idea?
- A “devil’s advocate ghostwriter” who will probe for the weaknesses in your story or ideas, then help you revise the book to make it stronger?
- A “subject expert ghostwriter” who has written many books like yours, and knows your topic backwards and forwards?
- A “do-it-without-you ghostwriter” who will take your very basic idea or storyline, then develop and write it entirely on his own?
- A “collaborative ghostwriter” who will work closely with you, passing drafts back and forth, exchanging ideas, and otherwise collaborate with you?
- A “best buddy ghostwriter” you’ll like hanging with?
- A “storyteller ghostwriter” who’s especially skilled at crafting stories?
- A “simplifier ghostwriter” who has perfected the art of explaining difficult concepts in simple terms?
- A bestselling ghostwriter with lots of impressive credits on her resume?
We were once hired to ghostwrite a book based on a lengthy article that was published in a legal magazine, one that had hundreds of footnotes. The client didn’t want to hear from us until the manuscript had been completed, which made this a true “do-it-without-you” project.
Another time, we were hired to write a memoir by a woman who flew us by private jet to the various places she had lived. It was important that her ghostwriter had first-hand knowledge about her life and was also someone she enjoyed spending time with.
There is no right or wrong choice. Just be aware that problems can arise if you hire the wrong type of ghostwriter. If you zero in on what you really want from a ghostwriter, you’ll know when you’ve found that person.
Step #2 – Study Up
Several years ago, we got a call from a man who wanted us to ghostwrite his novel.
“It’s a great story; a futuristic political thriller,” he told us before launching into a detailed explanation of the plot. There was just one problem, which was that he had never looked at our website. He probably got our name off a list somewhere and immediately gave us a call. If he’d checked our website, he would have known we don’t do novels; we specialize in nonfiction books. It was a big waste of his time and energy (not to mention ours).
It will be worth your while to study up a bit in advance: Go online, google “hire a ghostwriter,” “hire a writer for a book,” “ghostwriters for hire,” or something similar. Then click on numerous ghostwriters’ websites and read them carefully.
Yes, it’s a lot easier to just get a list of ghostwriters and start calling, but you’ll be flying blind. You won’t know what the ghostwriter specializes in, which books he’s written, his background or his price range. You also won’t know if he handles the kind of book you want to write.
Hiring a ghostwriter is a major investment, and not just in terms of money. You’ll be trusting the ghost with your stories and ideas, as well as the finished product that you’ll be presenting to the world. So you’ll need to do some research before you decide to hire a ghostwriter. Here’s how:
- Google “I want to hire a ghostwriter,” “ghostwriter for hire,” “hire a writer for a book,” or something similar.
- Pick ten different ghostwriters’ websites and read through them. You don’t have to read every page, but focus on the sections on the ghost’s background (often on the “About” page), services offered, and books she has ghostwritten.
- Find out if she ghosts the kind of book you want to write.
- Try to determine if she’s the kind of ghostwriter you want; i.e. a “devil’s advocate ghostwriter,” “collaborative ghostwriter,” etc. (See Step #1 above.)
- See if you can get a feel for what kind of person she is and whether or not you’d be comfortable working with her. (If the website seems amateurish or is essentially a big sales pitch, you may want to move on.)
- Look at the additional services the ghost may offer. (See Step #6 below.)
Once you’ve read through the websites, you’re ready to start creating a list of potential ghostwriters for hire.
Step #3 – Focus Your Search
Make a list of the ghosts you found on your “study up” website search who seem like good candidates. Then continue your search for good ghostwriters, increasing your list to between ten and twenty possible ghostwriters, by doing the following:
- Narrow your search terms, getting more specific than you were in Step #2. Instead of googling “ghostwriter,” try “expert ghostwriter” or “bestselling book ghostwriter.” If you’re writing a memoir, try “memoir ghostwriter” or “bestselling memoir ghostwriter.” If you’re writing a business book, search for “business book ghostwriter,” or “bestselling business book ghostwriter,” or something similar.
- You can make your search even more specific by adding words related to location, price, and other matters. For example, you might try “memoir ghostwriter in Los Angeles,” or “inexpensive health book ghostwriter in Chicago.”
- Consider other ways of finding ghostwriters, such as:
- Checking the acknowledgment pages in books you like to see if a writer has been thanked. You may be able to find him or her on the internet.
If you find a ghostwriter’s name on an acknowledgement page, or through a literary agent or writing organization, be sure to read his or her website before adding the ghost to your list.
Step #4 – Take Names, Looking at Just the Facts
Another way to fill out your list of ten to twenty possible ghostwriters is to focus on the “factual aspects” of ghostwriting. Zero in on ghostwriters who:
- Write the kind of book you’re interested in – Be aware that some ghostwriters write in many genres, while others specialize and may not offer the genre you want.
- Have the track record you feel is necessary – You may, for example, want a ghostwriter who has written at least twenty published books, or has a New York Times bestseller to her credit, or has an advanced degree from a prestigious university. Or none of these may be important to you.
- Have specialized knowledge that’s necessary to write your book – If you’re writing a book about electronics, neuroscience or anything highly technical, you’ll probably want a ghostwriter with at least some knowledge of, or experience in, the field.
- Live nearby, if in-person contact is necessary – For most books, you won’t need to hire a ghostwriter who lives near you. Today’s technology allows face-to-face meetings via Skype, WhatsApp, etcetera. Working this way or via phone or email is fine for most projects. We’ve worked with authors in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Alabama, Spain, Norway, Japan, and other parts of the world. But if you want to regularly meet with your ghostwriter in person, look for one who lives nearby.
You can usually find all of this information on a ghostwriter’s website. If not, the ghost may not be as skilled at presenting information as she or he should be.
Step #5 – Use Price to Refine Your List
Hiring a ghostwriter to write a full-length book requires a substantial monetary investment.
Although it’s possible to pay very little for a writer-for-hire, you’ll probably get what you pay for. Ghosts with experience, solid resumes, and the ability to handle complex projects charge more because they are worth more.
It’s important to understand that top-notch ghostwriters will not write your book “on spec”—that is, write your book for free in exchange for a percent of the profits. No matter how wonderful the finished book, if the author isn’t a great marketer, there will be no profit to split. Thus, ghostwriters are paid for their work during the writing process.
The fee for hiring a ghostwriter to write a full-length manuscript ranges from a couple of thousand dollars to a couple of hundred thousand dollars. The range is wide because much depends on the expertise, experience, and track record of the ghost, as well as on the desired length of the manuscript, research required, timeline, and other factors.
Consider the cost of ghostwriting a book carefully, and decide what you are willing to spend. This will do much to narrow the list of a candidates you created in Step #4. Look for a “Fees and Services” page on the ghost’s website. Some provide this information; other don’t because they prefer to talk with the author to get a better idea of the scope of the project. If you’re truly interested in a ghost who doesn’t post his fees, it’s worth your time to call him and find out.
Step #6 – Use Additional Services to Refine Further
Many of our clients have asked us for services above and beyond ghostwriting their manuscripts.
They want to know if we can write their book proposals, help them secure agents, find book cover and book interior designers, manage the printing process, create a website for their book, and more.
We provide a number of additional services to our clients, but not all ghostwriters do. Some, including some very good ghosts, prefer to focus on writing.
So if additional services are important to you, check the websites of the ghostwriters on your list. See if they offer the services you need. If not, strike them from the list and move on.
Step #7 – Interview the “Short-Listers”
By now, you’ve probably narrowed your list to a handful of ghostwriters for hire, and it’s time to speak with them.
This is an important step! Don’t assume that because a ghostwriter looks good on paper, she’ll be the one for you. Take the time to talk to her.
Arrange a call via phone or Skype, or schedule an in-person visit, if possible. You’ll be looking for some factual information, naturally, but also a general feeling as to whether or not you’d feel comfortable with this person writing your book. Ask about:
- Her approaches to writing a book – You already know from Step #1 what you want in a ghostwriter, so see if she matches.
- How difficulties between ghostwriter and client will be handled – For example, if the author and ghost disagree on the book’s tone, their styles don’t match, or they’re having scheduling difficulties, how will they deal with these problems?
- Information gathering – Who will provide the initial information to get the book started and who will gather the rest?
- The ghostwriting procedure – Will the ghost send you rough drafts of chapters as they are produced, or will you receive the nearly-completed manuscript all at once?
- Availability – How soon can the ghost start and how often will you meet?
- The fee – How much will it cost and what’s the pay schedule?
- Additional services – The cost and procedure for these services, should you require any.
You’ll already know the answers to some of these questions because you’ve studied the websites. But you’ll want to hear it confirmed and listen to how the ghost explains it so you can get a feel for him.
During these exploratory meetings, you’ll be gathering information and developing a sense of how the ghostwriter works, how he views his relationship with you, and how comfortable you feel with this person.
Will you be willing to take his advice? To trust him to select the right content and tone for your book? To speak for you, in your voice? If so, great! If not, move on to the next step.
Step #8 – Beware of the “Samples Trap”
Many authors ask ghostwriters for samples of their work, which
seems like a reasonable request. But don’t be surprised if they turn you down.
Ghostwriting is a secretive business. Many clients don’t want anyone to know they hired a ghost, so ghostwriters are often contractually prohibited from showing samples of their best work—or even talking about the books they’ve worked on.
If the ghostwriter is able to provide samples, don’t get caught up in the hunt for the “perfect sample.” This happens a lot, with authors insisting on finding a ghostwriter who has already written in the style they’re seeking.
It’s important to remember that your book’s style has not yet been created. While you may have something in mind, experienced ghostwriters will tell you that a book’s style often evolves during the writing process. That is, she begins with one approach—the one the author requested—but as she writes, something better emerges. (For more on this, see our “How to Find Your Memoir Writer’s Voice.”)
There’s an excellent chance that the style and tone of your book will develop during the writing process. So don’t fall into the “samples trap” and lock yourself into a pre-set style and tone. Be willing to let your book grow and evolve. You’ll end up with a better book. If you do want to read a ghostwriter’s samples, instead of looking for a specific style, look for the markers of a good ghostwriter. These vary from book to book, but they include:
- Clarity in writing
- Good storytelling
- A “voice” that is appropriate to the book’s material
- Arguments that are as sound as they are easy to follow
- Research that supports but does not overwhelm the text
- Strong and logical organization
Remember: you want to hire a ghostwriter who is an expert in crafting and writing books. One who can also help you discover and enhance your personal style, rather than mimicking someone else’s.
Step #9 – Wait for the “Click”
At this point, you’ve narrowed your list to a small number of talented ghostwriters, any one of whom would do a very good job on your book, and have completed your interviews.
So how do you choose?
The best idea is to go with the one you feel most comfortable with, the one who really seems to “get” you, the one with whom you feel a personality “click.” What you’re really looking for is the feeling that you and the ghostwriter understand and trust each other.
This is important, because you’ll be entrusting your story and your thoughts to a person you’ll be working closely with for quite a while. Be sure the two of you see eye-to-eye and respect each other’s ideas and approaches. Wait for that “click” before you hire.
What matters most?
All nine of these steps are important, so don’t skip any. When taken together, they will help you answer these essential questions: Can I trust this ghostwriter with my idea or story? Does she have the know-how, experience, professionalism, and that hard-to-define “wow factor” that are needed to turn my idea into a great book?
This, in a nutshell, is what the “how to hire a ghostwriter” quest comes down to: Do you genuinely believe this person has what it takes?
IF YOU’D LIKE HELP WRITING YOUR BOOK…
We’re Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor, professional ghostwriters and authors 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!