Working With a Ghostwriter: What You Need to Know

Find out everything you need to know about hiring a ghostwriter to write your fiction or non-fiction book for you.

Published Categorized as Writing

If you’ve always wanted to write a book but can’t find the time or don’t have the writing skills to do so, one of the best ways to make it happen is hiring a ghostwriter.

A ghostwriter is someone who creates content for other people and does not take credit for the work. Since they write in someone else’s name, they also adapt the tone of voice and style of writing to match their personality.

In the United States, ghostwriters are usually called “author’s collaborators” or “collaborators,” and they’re not typically identified as the actual authors. In other English-speaking countries, like Canada and Australia, ghostwriters are called “literary assistants.”

The debate of whether or not ghostwriting is ethical aside; it’s a more common practice among politicians, celebrities, and entrepreneurs who publish memoirs, biographies, or non-fiction books than most people think.

It’s an open secret that some of the world’s best-selling authors have collaborated with ghostwriters on their best pieces of work. Take the late Tom Clancy, who practically invented the military thriller, as an example.

In the early 2000s, the demand for his novels exceeded his ability to produce them. So his publisher hired other authors to collaborate with him. This is why you’ll see two names on the covers of most of Tom Clancy’s books; his and another author’s name in fine print.

Why Work With a Ghostwriter

If you’re a busy person who wants to share your story in writing, there are definite advantages of working with a ghostwriter.

A ghostwriter will work with you to produce a manuscript that is uniquely yours without you having to put in the hours of drafting, editing, and rewriting. You tell them your story—and they turn it into words on paper for you.

Perhaps the most significant advantage of working with one is that they’ve done this before, and they know how to write a book from start to finish. As any published writer will tell you, starting a book is hard enough; more often than not, the real challenge is finishing it.

When you work with a ghostwriter, you’re essentially telling your story to someone else who does the heavy lifting for you. In that process, you have complete control over what goes into the story and what stays out of it and in the tone and style it’s written in.

Unlike an unauthorized biography, where someone else decides what to write about you, you have complete control over the story when you’re working with a ghostwriter. This is especially important for personalities with large followings, who need to control the public image they project.

The process of ghostwriting is similar to the way a film director guides a screenwriter. The writer helps you tell the story and works with you on shaping it into something impactful for your readers.

What ends up surprising most people is that the finished product will be indistinguishable from your voice if you select a good collaborator.

They’re not just going to write down what you say—they’ll edit it and make the story flow while emulating your tone and voice. The experience is very different from working with an editor who’s there to suggest changes to a draft that you’ve already written.

In recent years, the ghostwriting profession has expanded beyond the book publishing industry and has become a popular service for online content creators.

This includes podcasters or YouTubers who want to delegate the researching and drafting of scripts to someone else. And influencers or bloggers want to engage their audience with their own voice but don’t necessarily have the time to produce all of the content by themselves.

The Process of Working With a Ghostwriter

So what should you expect when you get started working with a ghostwriter? The answer depends on the type of work that you’ve hired them to do.

If you’re writing a non-fiction book or research paper, you will have to provide the information and facts to your ghostwriter. Next, they will conduct interviews with you and anyone else involved in your book and turn their notes into a compelling narrative for the reader.

If you’re writing a fiction book, you basically have two options:

  1. You can control the entire story yourself by deciding what goes into every chapter, delegating only the telling of that story to your ghostwriter;
  2. You can share your vision with your ghostwriter, giving them creative freedom over the rest and influencing the story and character development only where you see fit.

Both of these approaches are legitimate on their own, and neither is necessarily better than the other. The one you pick depends on how much control you prefer to have over the final product and how involved you like to be in the details of the work.

Some fiction authors see ghostwriters as assistants who are only there to type out their vision. Others consider them co-pilots who can take the rudder whenever they feel like taking a break from flying the plane.

The important thing is to know:

  1. What you want.
  2. How involved you want to be.
  3. How much freedom you’re willing to give to your ghostwriter.

Depending on these three factors, your experience of working with them will be different.

If you’re more hands-on, your work together will probably feel like a series of workshops. You’ll read drafts, make edits, write on whiteboards, and discuss the individual bits and pieces of the story as it develops.

If you’re more high-level and only want to have the bird’s eye view, your work process will feel more like a series of interviews, the final product of which is a book written with your words, in your tone and voice.

Either way, you’ll want to be prepared by having a clear idea of the book’s genre, story, characters, and key message. Before seeking out a ghostwriter, describe these elements in the form of a project brief or one-pager.

An important consideration to make is whether or not you want to make the fact that you’re working with a ghostwriter public. This determines the terms and conditions of your contract with them, as well as how strict of a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) you’ll ask them to sign.

Whether you’re planning to make it public or not, you should always consider how your audience will react to the fact that you’re doing it. We live in an age of transparency and exposure. For better or worse, and thanks largely to technology, few secrets can be kept for long.

What to Look For in a Ghostwriter

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to look for a ghostwriter who has experience in the type of work (fiction vs. non-fiction) and the subject you’re looking for help with. Writing a romance novel is one thing; producing a business book is another.

Suppose the ghostwriter lives in a different country from yours (for example, you’re based in the United States, and they live in Australia). In that case, you should also consider how to work around potential geographical or cultural barriers.

Will they be able to understand your requirements? Is it possible for them to contact you whenever needed, or will communication problems arise? What about their time zone and work hours: do these align well enough with your schedule?

Finally, look for someone with references, ideally from people you know and whom you can trust. While ghostwriters will offer a sample of their work, keep in mind that most of them keep a low profile and have strict NDAs with some of their other clients, which will prohibit them from sharing too much with you.

Do some initial research and narrow down your list to two or three ghostwriters. Then have conversations with each of them about their work process and your preferences, and choose the one with which you have the best mutual fit.

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