Some conclude that the process is easy: Just slap together a list of candidates, have a quick chat with each on the phone, then pick the winner.
Yes, you could do it that way.
Or you can dig deeper in order to boost your odds of finding exactly the right ghostwriter for you.
It’s tempting to rush through the ghostwriter hiring process, or have your assistant do it for you. But it is well worth the time and effort to find and hire exactly the right ghostwriter. Here’s a nine-step, in-depth approach to hiring a ghostwriter:
1. Learn about ghostwriting
Go online and search for book ghostwriters, then click on the links and read through the ghostwriters’ websites.
Study what they say about their ability to handle different genres, how they interact with clients, and their approach to the creation of a book. Look for items such as experience, the kinds of clients they’ve had, and their fees (if listed).
Do this with as many as 15 ghostwriter websites, learning all you can about ghostwriters, how they present themselves, how they describe their services, how they work with clients, and so on. Keep track of the websites you like so you can find them again.
Consider this to be part of your education. The more you know about ghostwriters and the business of ghostwriting, the better able you will be to select the right one.
2. Decide what you want in a ghostwriter
It’s important to consider what you need from your ghostwriter.
Not all ghosts are the same. Some specialize in a specific genre, while others are generalists, “specializing” in presenting stories and ideas in a compelling manner.
Some will work very closely with you, while others prefer to work independently.
Some enjoy helping you build your concept from scratch, while others prefer to limit themselves solely to the writing phase.
Some offer additional services above and beyond writing your manuscript, others do not.
Which of these approaches suits you best? Knowing this will help you winnow down the candidates. Knowing how to hire a ghostwriter begins with knowing exactly what you’re looking for.
3. Gather names
A Google search is a great way to start gathering names. But don’t just search for “ghostwriter,” for you’ll get way too many results.
Instead, narrow your search by Googling “bestselling memoir ghostwriter,” “business ghostwriter,” “art book ghostwriter,” or something similar. You can make your search even more specific by adding in words relating to location, price, and other matters.
There are other ways to find ghosts, including checking the acknowledgment pages in books that you like to see if a writer has been thanked, asking for recommendations from literary agents, and contacting organizations such as the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
Your goal at this point is to make a list of 10 or 12 ghostwriters who seem more or less right for your book.
See “Looking for a Ghostwriter” for a more detailed discussion of how to find a ghostwriter.
4. Make a “short list” of candidates
Once you’ve made your list of 10 to 12 candidates, go back to their websites and read them carefully.
There are objective items you can look for, such as books they’ve worked on, testimonials from clients, how long they generally take to write a book, and fees.
Equally important is the subjective “feel” of the website. Does the ghostwriter seem professional and worthy of your trust? Is the site amateurish, or is it so slick that it doesn’t seem like there’s a real person behind it? It’s hard to explain exactly what to look for, but if something doesn’t feel right, move on.
Once you’ve studied their websites, make a short list of the five to seven ghosts who seem best suited for your book.
5. Interview the “short-listers”
Contact those who made it on to your short list via phone or Skype, or see them in person, if possible. Ask them about:
- their approaches to writing a book
- how they handle difficulties that may arise between ghostwriter and client
- whether or not they are available
- the fee and how it is paid
Yes, you already know the answers to some of these items because you studied their websites. But you want to hear how they explain it, so you get a feel for them, the person behind the website.
Some people, especially executives, assign this task to an assistant. Don’t. What you’re really looking for in this initial conversation is a “click,” a feeling that you and the ghostwriter understand and trust each other. Naturally, you won’t know if there’s a “click” if your assistant made the call.
If you find there isn’t a click, move on to the next name on your list.
6. Be sure to ask all candidates, “How does ghostwriting work?”
In other words, dig into that person’s working style.
Find out who provides the initial information and who gathers the rest. Will working sessions take place in person, via phone or Skype, or through emails? Will the ghostwriter send you rough drafts of chapters as they are produced, or will you receive the nearly-completed manuscript all at once?
Make sure you are comfortable with the ghost’s style and fully understand what your responsibilities will be.
For more, see “How Does Ghostwriting Work? Here are 5 Ways.”
7. Probe to get a sense of how he views his relationship with you
You want a ghostwriter who feels comfortable enough to challenge you and politely tell you that your idea is not going to work or your favorite anecdote doesn’t fit into this part of the book—or maybe not into any part!
Collaborating on a book is a give-and-take process. A “Yes, sir!” ghostwriter who just does everything you want does not serve you well. If you just want someone to write down your golden words without comment, you’re better off hiring a typist.
8. Beware the “samples trap”
Many aspiring 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 books they’ve worked on
If you do get samples from a ghostwriter, it’s important to remember that the style for your book has not yet been created.
Unless you want a cookie-cutter book, the tone of your book will be unique and will probably emerge during the writing process. A ghostwriter may not produce a sample that has the exact tone you imagine is right for your book, but that doesn’t mean he or she will be unable to do your book justice.
So look for a ghostwriter who is adept at handling a variety of styles.
9. The ultimate “how to hire a ghostwriter” secret: Wait for the “click”
You’ve narrowed your list down to a small group of talented ghostwriters, any one of whom would do a very good job on your memoir.
How do you choose? Go for the one you feel most comfortable with, the one who “gets” you, the one with whom you feel a personality “click.”
You’re entrusting your story and your thoughts to a person you have only recently met, who is going to be working closely with you for quite a while. Make sure you see eye-to-eye and the two of you respect the other’s ideas and approaches. You don’t have to become best buddies, but the more you can trust and respect your ghostwriter and the more comfortable you feel with him or her, the better.
What matters most?
All nine steps are important; don’t skip any. They’re all important because when taken together, they help you answer that essential question: Can I trust this ghostwriter with my idea or story? Has she got the know-how, experience, and professionalism, plus that hard-to-define “wow factor,” necessary to turn my idea into a great book?
That’s what the whole “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…
Contact Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor. Use the contact form on this page to send us a message, or call us at 818-917-5362.