Finding & Working With a Ghostwriter
Are you looking for a ghostwriter, but are not sure how to find the right one? Or how to work with him/her to produce a great book?
On this page, you’ll find everything you need to know about professional ghostwriters. The topics include:
- Looking for a ghostwriter
- Finding the best ghostwriter
- What a book ghostwriter does
- A look at professional book ghostwriting services
- The cost of hiring a professional ghostwriter
…and much more. Let’s begin!
1. Looking for a ghostwriter
Finding a ghostwriter is easy. Simply Google “professional ghostwriter,” “best ghostwriter,” “expert ghostwriter,” or something similar, and you’ll be rewarded with hundreds of thousands of possibilities.
Unfortunately, sorting through that haystack would take forever. So here are seven ways of making your search more specific, and much easier. These are fully explained in our article on “Looking for a Ghostwriter – 8 Great Ways.”
- Focus your search: use keywords and the Advanced Search Page to hone in on exactly the ghosts you’re looking for.
- Look at other books: the name of the ghostwriter you’re looking for may be on the cover of an already-published book.
- Check with writers’ organizations: groups like the American Society of Journalists and Authors have directories of ghostwriters and editors.
Contact literary agencies: most agents know ghostwriters.
- Ask your author friends: they may have used a ghost they can recommend.
- Post an ad: there are many places to do so online.
- Check with your local university: an eager writing student can be a good way to go for those on a budget. (Barry wrote his first book, a national bestseller, while still in school.)
2. Finding the best ghost
Looking for a ghostwriter is easy, but finding one who’s just right for you will take a bit of effort. The best approach is to make a list of experienced ghostwriters who can handle the kind of book you want to write, and who charge fees that are within your range.
Then, talk to each one. Choose the one you feel most comfortable with—the ghost who has the personal characteristics that are most important to you.
For example, you might want someone who is sympathetic and empathetic, has a good sense of humor, behaves professionally, is organized, and so on. This is crucial, for you must feel that you can trust this person to help craft your message to the world.
Equally important, look for a ghostwriter who will challenge you to make your book even better—the one who is eager to improve your concept and can actually do so. That’s a top ghostwriter!
For a nine-step approach to hiring a book ghostwriter, see “How to Hire a Ghostwriter in 9 Steps.”
And for a video on 5 Great Ways to Google for a ghostwriter, click on the video below:
3. What types of books does a ghostwriter write?
All types—from memoirs to historical books, novels to children’s books, cook books to art books. If you can think of a type of book, you can be sure a ghostwriter has worked in that genre.
Early in our careers we specialized in health and inspirational books. Today, we focus on memoirs, business books, and books on history, politics, and art.
4. Can a professional ghostwriter really be qualified to write on more than one topic?
Yes. Remember, the ghost is an expert at converting information and ideas into a book; he/she doesn’t have to be an expert in the particular topic. The truly professional ghostwriter’s expertise is the ability to understand the material and explain it clearly to the average person.
5. What do ghostwriting services include?
When we began ghostwriting books, the service was simple: we ghostwrite books and book proposals. Today, thanks to major changes in the publishing industry, as well as the advent of self-publishing, the range of ghostwriter services had increased tremendously.
In addition to creating the manuscript, clients often request that we:
- help them decide what to do with their books
- handle editing and proofreading
- write their book proposals
- find literary agents
- facilitate self-publication
- supervise the design of their book covers and interiors
- oversee the printing process
- handle the marketing and pubic relations
6. What is the ghostwriting process?
In other words, how do you work with your ghostwriter?
That depends on you.
You and your ghostwriter may sit down together to create your book from scratch. Or, the ghostwriter may do all of the conceptualizing and writing, while you simply provide some initial ideas and information. The ghostwriter may also work from material that’s already prepared, turning a rough first draft into a polished manuscript. For more, see “How Does Ghostwriting Work? Here Are Five Ways.”
And be sure to ask your ghostwriter practical questions, such as who is in charge, how long it will take, how you will communicate, who will actually do the writing, and more. See “Questions to Ask Before Working With a Ghostwriter.”
For a full discussion of these items, see our “What Does a Ghostwriter Do?”
7. Who gets the credit?
Generally speaking, only your name appears on the book. The ghostwriter is “invisible” and fades away once the work is complete. Depending on the contract, the ghostwriter may or may not receive an acknowledgement in the book.
You always have the option, of course, of giving the ghostwriter “with” or “as told to” credit on the cover. This issue should be addressed in your ghostwriting agreement.
8. Is the ghostwriter allowed to tell people that he/she wrote my book?
That depends on your agreement.
You may agree that your book can be listed on the ghostwriter’s website and résumé as a ghostwritten project. You may stipulate that it can only be listed as “edited,” not “ghostwritten.” Or you may request complete confidentiality, which means the ghostwriter must remain silent.
9. How is a ghostwriter paid?
Experienced ghostwriters almost always work on a fee-only basis. They rarely write on spec, which is writing your manuscript without charging an upfront fee, in exchange for a percentage of the royalties you anticipate earning.
That’s because books are always a gamble; even the most professionally-written manuscript about an incredibly “hot” topic and created by a top ghostwriter may not earn a lot of money.
For a discussion of ghostwriting fees, see “What Does It Cost to Hire a Ghostwriter?”
10. How do I get the most out of my ghostwriter?
That is, how do you establish a great working relationship? This is important, for you want your ghostwriter to be enthusiastic about working on your project, speaking with you, interviewing others, reviewing the manuscript over and over again, and going the extra mile to ensure that your book is as good as it can be.
Beyond treating your ghostwriter with courtesy and respect, remember to:
- Regard the first draft as a first draft; don’t despair if you don’t love it. Ghostwriters often make guesses in the initial drafts, just to see how you’ll respond. This is your opportunity to adjust course.
- Don’t keep changing your mind about your book’s content and tone. Yes, there’s time for experimentation early on, but once you’ve set your book’s parameters, stick with them unless there’s a compelling reason not to. Randomly ricocheting from one approach to another slows things down.
- Read each draft of the material as it is sent to you. Read it carefully, and respond with your critique punctually.
For more, see “Working with a Ghostwriter.”
11. Do I need a ghostwriter who lives nearby?
No, it’s not necessary to work with a ghostwriter who lives in your neighborhood.
We are based in Los Angeles, California and we work with people and companies across the U.S. and around the world. We often begin by meeting with clients in person, but after the initial meeting, we generally communicate via phone, Skype, email, and so on.
This means that you are able to search the world to find the best ghostwriter for you.
12. Is it cheating to use a professional book ghostwriter?
No. Readers of non-fiction books are interested in your ideas; they don’t really care whether you wrote every word by yourself, or had help. In fact, many people automatically assume that books authored by athletes, entertainers, and business figures are ghostwritten.
For a quick look at celebrities and their professional ghostwriters, see NPR’s article, “So You Need A Celebrity Book. Who You Gonna Call? Ghostwriters.”
Even politicians use ghostwriters. Senator Hillary Clinton, President John F. Kennedy, and First Lady Laura Bush are just a few of the politicians mentioned in the Washington Post’s article, “Who Wrote That Political Memoir? No, Who Actually Wrote It?”
You might enjoy reading this article, “Fantastic Ghostwriters and Where to Find Them,” which mentions some of the well-known people who have used ghostwriters.
13. Will a ghostwriter get me a literary agent?
If you intend to pursue traditional publishing you’ll need a literary agent, and many professional ghostwriters know agents who handle different genres: memoirs, art books, business books, and so on.
While a ghostwriter cannot guarantee that an agent will agree to represent your work, she/he can certainly put you in touch with appropriate agents. We’ve prepared a list of “100 Literary Agents to Contact,” as well as lists of “68 Agents Who Represent Memoirs & Biographies” and “30 Agents Who Represent Health Books.”
If you do approach a literary agent, be sure to read “11 Mistakes to Avoid When Approaching Literary Agents.”
14. Is there a difference between a ghostwriter and editor?
Yes! Your ghostwriter is a skilled professional, but she/he is not always the one you need to assist you. It depends on what stage you’re at in the book-writing process.
A book coach can guide you through the process of conceptualizing and creating your manuscript on your own.
If you’ve already written your manuscript, you may want to have a developmental editor review it and make suggestions for “big” changes, such as eliminating or moving sections or whole chapters around, improving character and story arcs, and so on.
Once the manuscript is complete and any “big” changes made, you may wish to work with a line and copy editor to improve the word choice, grammar, etc.
You’ll certainly need a proofreader to make sure the manuscript is perfectly “clean,” with not a comma out of place.
15. What does a book ghostwriting contract look like?
There is no set format for a professional ghostwriting contract.
There are, however, several items that should be covered, including exactly what is to be written, who handles the research, who does the “main” writing, who gets authorship credit, when work is to begin, which benchmarks are to be met by certain dates, and more.
The contract is important; it sets the terms of your relationship, so read it carefully. And don’t be afraid to express your concerns or ask for changes.
Here are some of the issues to consider:
- What is to be written? – This is a description of the book to be ghostwritten. It could be as brief as a line or two within the contract, or as lengthy as several pages in an attachment. Among other things, the description should include the projected length of the book, usually in terms of the number of words.
- Who does what? – This is a summary of how the client and ghostwriter will work together; that is, who will do what. Will the ghostwriter do it all herself? If so, will she work from scratch? From an existing manuscript? From interview transcripts or previously published articles? Will the client and ghostwriter sit together to create the manuscript? Will the client review chapters as they are written, or wait until a first draft of the entire work has been completed? How much time will be allotted for the client to complete the reviews? How does the client formally acknowledge approval of the drafts and, later, that the work has been completed?
- Additional requirements – If there are any other duties for either party, these should also be described. They might include being available for working sessions or interviews, handling research, and coordinating with a graphic artist or proofreader.
- Schedule – This spells out the dates for beginning and completing the work, with perhaps other dates included for certain benchmarks, e.g. dates for completion of each chapter if you’re working chapter-by-chapter, or dates for submission of the first and second drafts of the manuscript.
- Fee – This is a statement of the full amount the ghostwriter will be paid, the way the payments will be divided (installments), and when each installment must be paid. If the ghostwriter is given a “piece” of the book, there should be a description of the division of royalties and how they will be paid.
- Who owns the copyright? – This is a clear statement of who owns the rights to the work, and when these rights become fully vested.
- Who gets authorship credit? – This states who will be given credit for authoring the book. Since the work is ghostwritten, the client is generally the sole author. Sometimes, however, the ghostwriter is given a “with” or “as told to” credit, or a nice mention in the acknowledgements. However it is handled, it should be spelled out clearly in the contract.
- Confidentiality – This is a description of what the ghostwriter can say about his role in creating the work. For example, can he list the book on his resume and website and discuss it with potential clients? If so, what can be said about his contribution to the work? This clause also covers whether or not the ghostwriter is required to keep some or all of the information confidential.
- Indemnity – To indemnify means to protect another against possible loss, damage, or liability. Since the ghostwriter is using material provided by the client, and the client is reviewing and signing off on the manuscript, the ghost should be indemnified against claims for libel, slander and other issues.
- Warranties – This spells out any promises the parties are making. For the ghostwriter, there may be a warranty that all material she contributes will be original, and for the client, that any case histories provided are accurate and non-libelous.
- Expenses – This details how any expenses, such as those for copying, dictation, and travel, if any, will be handled.
- Termination – This section lays out when and how either party can back out of the contract. If, for example, the ghostwriter backs out, must she finish the chapter currently in progress or reach some other benchmark? If the client backs out, does he owe money for the work in progress? And if the project falls apart, may the ghostwriter use material she’s already written for other work?
- Legalese – This provides information about handling legal notice, disputes (where and how will they be handled), severability, changes to the contract, and the possibility of the demise of one party before the project is complete, among other things.
Pay close attention to the ghostwriting contract!
The process is not always quick and easy, and you may be tempted to sign the contract without looking.
Don’t! Read it carefully. The points I’ve listed are certainly not the only issues that may be addressed in a ghostwriter’s contract, but you should make sure that all of them are included, at the very least.
What you’ve just read is a ghostwriter’s look at the contract. To see what an attorney has to say about this, read “The Ghostwriter Agreement” by Ivan Hoffman, J.D.
16. Should I start looking for ghostwriting assistance as soon as I get my idea?
It may be wise to hold off on finding a ghostwriter until you’ve thought through some important questions, such as why you are writing your book, what you want from a ghostwriter, and whether you prefer standard or self-publishing.
Thinking through these issues will prepare you to hire the best ghostwriter for you. Then you can go ahead and search for “professional ghostwriter,” “best ghostwriter,” “top ghostwriter,” “experienced ghostwriter,” or something similar, put together a list of candidates, and start interviewing them.
17. How do I know if I really need a ghostwriter?
If you don’t have enough time to write your book, you need a ghostwriter.
If you have a great idea but aren’t sure how to turn it into a full-fledged book, you need a ghostwriter.
If you’ve written or dictated a first draft, but it’s not up to snuff, you need a ghostwriter.
If your writing is too technical for the layperson; if you have a wealth of knowledge and practical experience, but can’t figure out how to organize and present it; if you want to make sure your message is delivered clearly, concisely, and in a manner that appeals to the reading public, you need a professional ghostwriter. (See our “12 Rules for Readable Writing”)
18. What are some of the reasons the client-ghostwriter may flounder?
Every client-ghostwriter collaboration starts off with high hopes, but unfortunately, sometimes projects go off the rails. More often than not, it’s because someone loses interest.
Clients can lose interest for a number of reasons, including:
- Discovering that writing a book is much more work than anticipated
- Becoming very busy with family or work.
- Seeing the “objective reason” for writing the book vanish. One client hired me to ghost a book demonstrating his professional expertise. The book was designed to support his bid for a major promotion, but he unexpectedly got the promotion in the midst of our work. The need for the book instantly vanished.
- Seeing the “emotional reason” for writing the book vanish. I’ve seen this happen with memoir authors who begin the project eager to delve into the details of their unhappy early lives, or to get back an ex-spouse, parent, or others they feel have harmed them. Writing the early drafts helps them work through their pain, and they lose their desire to complete the book.
- Becoming ill. One of my clients suffered a stroke while we were working on the book, and another passed away.
- Running out of money, perhaps because he has lost his job or investments have gone sour.
Ghostwriters can also lose interest in the book for a number of reasons, including:
- The scope of the project changes. Well into the writing, clients have pressured me to write more chapters than agreed upon, perform genealogical research, serve as their agent, and even fly to China to conduct research, all without additional pay.
- The client can’t decide upon a theme. One of my fellow ghosts worked with a client who hired him to ghostwrite his autobiography. Midway through the project, the client decided it should be transformed into a “how to succeed” book based on his life story, then a comparison of the politics in the two countries in which he had spent his life. The ghostwriter really liked the first theme, but not the third, and the work suffered.
- The client misses scheduled calls, doesn’t read drafts of the material as promised, or otherwise behaves unprofessionally. For more on this, see “Working with a Ghostwriter.”
- A change in “status.” I once took on a project with the understanding that I was to be the uncredited ghostwriter. Halfway through the writing, the client decided to list me as the primary author on the book cover. Making me the sole author would shift a lot of responsibility for marketing and promoting the book onto my shoulders; radio, TV, and blog interviewers would naturally want to interview me. I declined and grew increasingly peeved as the client kept pressuring me to make the switch.
- The idea doesn’t pan out. Sometimes, both parties begin the project with high hopes. But as they work through the early drafts, they discover that the idea in which they placed so much faith simply won’t work. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.
- The ghostwriter is overbooked. This may be the result of taking on too many projects at once, or of having a project take much longer than expected and steal time from the next project.
As a client, you can’t prevent all of the problems mentioned above, but you can eliminate many by carefully considering why you want to write your book, what you intend to convey to your readers, and how you wish to work with your ghost. Be sure to think about the time and financial commitment carefully, and what you intend to do with the finished manuscript. Thinking through these issues before beginning work on the manuscript will help ensure that the project sails through to completion.
19. What should I say in my first call to a prospective ghost?
Start with a brief description of your book idea, being sure to mention why you wish to write the book, your budget, when you would like to begin and complete the writing, and whether you have already written anything or gathered research materials.
In other words, give the ghostwriter enough information to understand the nature and scope of the project, then move on. Specifically, move on to finding out about the ghost’s background, experience, working style, expectations of you, cost, availability, and more.
Remember that you are interviewing the ghostwriter to determine whether she or he has the skills, knowledge, interest, and time necessary to write a great book for you.
So don’t hog the conversation talking about you and your idea. Let the ghost talk. Listen carefully for the things that are unsaid that could determine whether you and this person have the “fit” that makes for a successful partnership.
20. What should I not say on the first call?
Beginning the call with a 20–30-minute description of your idea is not the best approach. It’s too early for this level of detail, especially when you don’t know if the ghostwriter is available or has any interest in your book.
Neither is it helpful to try and “sell” the ghost on your idea by insisting that the book “will write itself,” that “all my friends say it’s a great idea,” or that “working on this book will make you rich and famous.” Books don’t write themselves—writers write them; your friends are probably not qualified to make that assessment; and it’s the rare book that makes anyone rich and famous.
Additionally, you should avoid anything that screams, “I know nothing about you and didn’t even bother trying to find out.” For example, I list my ghostwriting fee twice on my website: once on the Home Page, and again on the Services & Fees page. When someone calls and tells me they have read my entire website, but then I discover they have no idea what my price is—not even the faintest—I wonder how careful and responsible a client they will be.
21. Do I want a ghostwriter who is absolutely crazy about my idea?
You certainly want your ghostwriter to be interested in your book idea or story, but beware of any who tell you that yours is the greatest idea they’ve ever heard, that the book is guaranteed to be a bestseller, or something similar.
Experienced ghostwriters know that there are very few genuinely novel ideas; most new books are variations on existing themes that will sink or swim on the basis of the writing and marketing. They understand that these two factors, as well as the relationship between the two of you, are vital. That’s why they want to assess your qualities as a client as much as they do your idea.
Are you ready to write?
If you’re ready to begin working with a professional ghostwriter to create your book, call Barry Fox or Nadine Taylor at 818-917-5362.
If you’d like more information on ghostwriting, feel free to read our blog articles on various aspects of writing and publishing.
You can also see what clients and publishing industry VIPs have said about our ghostwriting services on the Testimonials Page.
Think of us as your confidential “ghostwriters for hire” who will turn your ideas and experiences into an exciting, thought-provoking book. Our works include: