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The Professional Ghostwriter

An in-depth look at the professional ghostwriter.
Barry Fox & Nadine Taylor, professional ghostwriters

Are you hoping to work with a professional ghostwriter, but are not sure how to find one? Or how to work with a ghost to produce a great book?

Bestselling authors and ghostwriters Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor show you how to find and work with a professional ghostwriter. Topics include:

  • How to find a professional ghostwriter
  • The ghostwriting process
  • A look at professional ghostwriting services
  • The cost of hiring a top-notch ghostwriter

…and much more. Let’s begin!

1. What types of books do ghostwriters write?

All kinds of books—from memoir to history, novels to children’s books, cookbooks to art books. If you can think of a type of book, you can be sure a ghostwriter is writing in that genre.

Early in our careers we – Barry and Nadine – specialized in health and inspirational books. Today, we focus on memoirs, business books, and works of history, politics, and art. Ghostwriters may also write book proposals and query letters to facilitate the publication process.

2. Is a professional ghostwriter really qualified to write on more than one topic?

Yes. Remember, the ghostwriter is an expert at converting information and ideas into a book. This means that he/she doesn’t have to be an expert in a particular topic.

The truly professional ghostwriter’s expertise is the ability to understand the material and explain it clearly to the average person.

3. What is the ghostwriting process?

The ghostwriting process depends on you (the client), your ghostwriter, and the working relationship you develop with each other.

You and your ghost 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 the material you’ve already prepared, turning a rough first draft into a polished manuscript.

There is no “best” process, only the one that works best for you and your ghostwriter.

Whatever process you decide upon, be sure to ask your ghostwriter questions such as how long it will take, how you will communicate, who will actually do the writing, and whether there are any additional fees.

4. 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 acknowledgment 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 services agreement.

5. Is the ghostwriter allowed to tell people that he/she wrote the book?

That depends on the agreement between you and the ghost.

You might agree that your book can be listed on the ghostwriter’s website and résumé as a ghostwritten project. You might stipulate that it can only be listed as “edited,” not “ghostwritten.” Or you may request complete confidentiality, which means the ghostwriter must remain silent.

6. How is a professional ghostwriter paid?

Experienced ghostwriters almost always work on a fee-only basis. They rarely work on spec, which is writing your manuscript without charging an upfront fee, in exchange for a percentage of the royalties you anticipate earning.

Books are always a gamble!

Even the most professionally-written manuscript, about an incredibly “hot” topic, created by an expert ghostwriter, may not earn a lot of money from book sales. That’s why most professional ghostwriters work on a fee-only basis. Payments are usually spread over the time the manuscript is being written. Some ghosts like to be paid monthly, while others are comfortable splitting the fee into two or three payments.

For a discussion of ghostwriting fees, see “What Does It Cost to Hire a Ghostwriter?”

7. How do I find a professional ghostwriter?

Looking for a ghostwriter is easy. Just google “professional ghostwriter,” “best ghostwriter,” “professional ghostwriting services,” or something similar. You’ll be rewarded with hundreds of thousands of possibilities.

Unfortunately, sorting through that haystack would take forever. Here are several ways of making your search more specific, and much easier:

  1. Focus your search: use keywords and the Advanced Search Page to hone in on exactly the ghosts you’re seeking.
  2. Look at other books: the name of the ghostwriter you’re looking for may be on the cover of an already-published book.
  3. Check with writers’ organizations: groups like the American Society of Journalists and Authors have directories of ghostwriters and editors.
  4. Contact literary agencies: most agents know ghostwriters.
  5. Ask your author friends: they may have used a ghost they can recommend.
  6. Post an ad: there are many places to do so online.
  7. 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.)

8. How do I find the best ghostwriter

Finding the ghostwriter who’s just right for you takes a bit of effort. Begin by making 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.

You might, for example, want someone who is sympathetic and empathetic. Then again, you may prefer a take-charge ghostwriter or one who has shared the experiences you are writing about.

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 professional ghostwriter, see “How to Hire a Ghostwriter: 9 Key Steps.”

9. What’s the best way of using a professional ghostwriter?

That is, how do you work with your ghostwriter? How do you establish a great working relationship?

This is important, for you want your ghostwriter to be enthusiastic about working on your book 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 ghost 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 the 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.

10. Will a professional ghostwriter get me a literary agent?

A ghostwriter cannot guarantee that an agent will agree to represent your work. However, she/he can certainly help you identify and get in touch with appropriate agents.

If you intend to pursue traditional publishing you’ll need a literary agent, and many professional ghostwriters know agents who handle different genres.

To help you in your search for an agent, we’ve prepared a list of “100 Literary Agents to Contact.”

Before contacting agents, you’ll need a query letter (or the equivalent) and a book proposal, both of which your ghostwriter can prepare for you.

11. Will a ghostwriter deal with the publisher for me?

Perhaps. It depends on whether or not you need the ghostwriter to complete your manuscript.

You may have sold your book to a publishing house on the basis of a book proposal only, without a completed manuscript. In that case, you may want your ghostwriter to work with you, or with you and the publishing house, to complete the work.

If, on the other hand, you sold your book to the publisher on the basis of a book proposal plus a completed manuscript, there may be no need for the ghostwriter anymore.

12. Is there a difference between a ghostwriter and an editor?

Yes! Your ghostwriter is a skilled professional offering valuable services, 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 all the “big” changes have been 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.

For more, see “Copy Editor or Proofreader? What’s the Difference?”

13. What does a book ghostwriting contract look like?

There is no set format for a professional ghostwriting contract and no set list of services offered. Agreements vary in length and complexity from ghostwriter to ghostwriter.

There are, however, several items that should be covered. These include 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:

#1 – 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 long 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.

#2 – 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?

#3 – 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.

#4 – 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.

#5 – 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.

#6 – Who owns the copyright?

This is a clear statement of who owns the rights to the work, and when these rights become fully vested.

#7 – 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 acknowledgments. However it is handled, it should be spelled out clearly in the contract.

#8 – 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 agents and potential customers? 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.

#9 – Indemnity

To indemnify means to protect another against possible loss, damage, or liability. Since the ghostwriter is using material provided by the client, who is reviewing and signing off on the manuscript, the ghost should be indemnified against claims for libel, slander, and other issues.

#10 – 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.

#11 – Expenses

This details how any expenses, such as those for copying, dictation, and travel, if any, will be handled.

#12 – 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?

#13 – Legalese

This provides information about handling legal notice, disputes (where and how they will 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!

You may be tempted to sign the contract without looking.

Don’t! Read it carefully.

The points I’ve listed are 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.

Be sure to read all contracts!

If you intend to publish the book, scrutinize the publishing contract carefully. For more, see “A Look at Self-Publishing Contracts” and “Beware the Competing Works Clause in Book Publishing Contracts.”

14. Should I start looking for writing assistance as soon as I get my idea?

It may be wise to hold off on finding professional ghostwriting services until you’ve thought through some important questions.

These include 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.

15. 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.

Likewise, you need a ghost if you have a great idea but aren’t sure how to turn it into a full-fledged book.

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.

16. Do I need a professional ghostwriter who lives nearby?

No, it’s not necessary to work with a ghostwriting professional who lives in your neighborhood.

We are based in Los Angeles, California, yet we work with clients across the U.S. and around the world. We often begin by meeting with clients in person, but after the initial series of meetings, 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.

17. Why might the client-ghostwriter relationship flounder?

Every client-ghostwriter collaboration starts off with high hopes, but unfortunately, sometimes book 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. If time is an issue, consider ways to save time when working with a ghostwriter.
  • Seeing the “objective reason” for writing the book vanish. One client hired me to ghost a book demonstrating his professional expertise. He wanted the book to support his bid for a major promotion but 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 compensation.
  • 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 second or third, and the work suffered.
  • The client misses scheduled calls, doesn’t read drafts of the material as promised, or otherwise behaves unprofessionally.
  • 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. 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.

Minimize to protect the 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 create 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.

18. What should I say during 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 pen a great book for you.

So don’t hog the conversation, talking only 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.

19. 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 incredibly rare book that makes a ghostwriter rich and famous.

20. 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.

21. Is it cheating to use professional ghostwriting services for your book?

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?”

Are you ready to write?

Check out our Home Page to learn how ghostwriters Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor can help you create your masterpiece. If you’d like to get started on your book, call us at 818-917-5362. Or use the form at the bottom of this page to send us a message.

If you’d like more information on ghostwriting, feel free to read our blog articles on various aspects of writing and publishing.

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:

Make Your Best Life, professional ghostwriter Barry FoxAn inspirational memoir by the former C.O.O. of Toys “R” Us.
Diana & Dodi: A Love Story, by bestselling author and ghostwriter Barry FoxAn eyewitness account of Princess Diana’s last romance and final days.
The Arthritis CureA New York Times #1 bestseller that sold over a million copies.
Daughter of ApartheidA fearless account of growing up under apartheid, then pushing on to tremendous success.
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Although based in Los Angeles, California, we often travel to work with our clients.