Working with a ghostwriter is a delicate art, for you are entrusting your idea or life story to a stranger, hoping she’ll turn it into a marvelous book.
Here’s a little advice on maintaining a good relationship with your ghostwriter, from the ghost’s point of view…or, more specifically, from this ghostwriter’s point of view.
1. Know why you are writing your book
Do you want to make money, introduce a new idea, create a legacy, or something else? It’s a good idea to address this issue with your ghost. You really need to have a clear focus before you begin writing, for your answer will help determine the book’s style, layout, and content.
For more, see “Questions to Ask Before Working With a Ghostwriter.”
2. Don’t expect the first draft to be perfect
I look upon the first draft as a “best guess.” It’s my way of getting the client to think long and hard about what he wants. If it happens to be just right, great. If not, we just moved closer to the target by bringing up a discussion on content, style, and tone.
Working with a ghostwriter goes much smoother if you understand that the first draft is rarely perfect, and that the imperfections are not a reason to become upset. Instead, they’re signposts for you and your ghostwriter, showing you where you’ve gone off track and giving you an early opportunity to make corrections.
3. Once you set a direction, stick with it
It’s fine to make adjustments as you go; in fact, expect to do so. But be aware that problems will arise if you make major changes in focus or structure down the line.
I once had a client who kept changing his mind as to what the book was about. First it was a health book, then a call for reforming the health system, then a look at the health habits of famous people, then an examination of how notable people support social causes, and so on.
As you might expect, the project eventually withered and died. We never even finished a synopsis because the idea wouldn’t stand still long enough to be written down.
4. Don’t set up conflicting goals for your ghost
I had one client who wanted his book to be a fun and easy read for laypeople, and a highly detailed discussion that demonstrated his expertise to professionals in his field. And he didn’t want to relegate the technical stuff to appendices; he wanted it all blended into the main text. Every time we spoke and every time he reviewed the material I wrote, he would cram in more dry, technical stuff, then he’d complain that the manuscript was boring.
Working with a ghostwriter was clearly a challenge for him!
5. Read the draft chapters and/or drafts of the manuscript as they are produced
I know this sounds odd, but I’ve had clients who wouldn’t read the material as I wrote and sent it to them.
One of my clients neglected to read the manuscript, even though I had sent him drafts of each chapter all along. Making matters worse, his idea of what the book was about evolved during the months I was writing it. When he finally read the finished, edited manuscript, he was astonished to discover that it was based on the original outline he had given me, not on the totally new book he had created in his mind.
6. Don’t expect your ghostwriter to incorporate critiques offered by your spouse, six best friends, hairdresser, and gardener
Too many uninvited editors will spoil the manuscript-in-progress, so don’t show it around to everyone you know, collect their conflicting opinions, and expect your ghostwriter to sort them all out. You’re not going to please everyone, so don’t try. Besides, these people are not usually qualified to give opinions on a work-in-progress.
For one editor’s take on this, see “Too Many Eyes: When Editing is Second-Guessed.”
7. Treat your professional ghostwriter as an expert
Your ghostwriter is much more than just someone who takes down your words and tells you how brilliant you are. Remember that you’re paying good money for his advice and expertise. His suggestions regarding book structure, style, what to include, and what to put where are well worth considering. If you just want someone to put your words and thoughts on paper without changing anything, hire a typist. It’s a lot cheaper!
For more on what a ghostwriter can do for you, see “What Does a Ghostwriter Do?”
8. Be professional when working with a ghostwriter!
When you set an appointment with your ghost, stick to it! When you promise to jot down a few ideas or a couple of pages, do it! When you’re sent material to review, review it! Your professional ghostwriter may be working on more than one book at once, and even if he is only working on yours, he must wrap it up at a certain point and move on to the next project. Behaving unprofessionally can mess up the ghost’s schedule and cause problems for your book.
You get the idea. Remember that you’re working with an experienced, professional book ghostwriter. Use his expertise, trust his judgment, and respect his time. In return, you’ll get the best he has to offer.
If you’d like help writing your book…
Contact ghostwriters Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor. Use the contact form on this page to send us a message, or call us at 818-917-5362.
You can learn more about ghostwriters and ghostwriting in general on our “Finding and Working With a Ghostwriter” page.