Choosing and Working With a Ghostwriter

touch-1369968-mI’m currently ghostwriting a project for a client and thought I’d share some quick tips on selecting and working with someone like me. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia defines it as follows: “A ghostwriter is a writer who writes books, articles, stories, reports, or other texts that are officially credited to another person.”

First, let’s look at why you might want to hire a ghostwriter:

1. You have a great idea, but don’t know the first thing about writing a book. You see something in the news that sparks your interest, and you think, “That would make a great book.” But when you put fingers to keyboard, you learn how hard it is to organize your thoughts into a 300 page manuscript with a coherent story line.

2. You have a great idea, but you’re too busy to execute it yourself. Perhaps you’re already writing in another genre and making money there. If you slow down for a side project outside your genre, you might lose money or focus or time. Or all three.

3. You have a great idea, but you’re not proficient within a particular genre. Your book, The Definitive Guide to Motorcycle Maintenance, is at the top of the charts. But you really want to publish the middle grade novel, The Adventures of Hurley Davidson! Problem is, the non-fiction voice that served your other project doesn’t fly with ten-year-olds.

Notice that every sentence starts with: “You have a great idea…”? That’s because the book-to-be really starts with you, the client. Ideally, you should come to the process with a concept in mind. Be prepared to give a little, however, during the pre-writing phase.

So how do you choose a ghostwriter?

1. Look at quotes or references from clients. If a writer hesitates to give you this information, look elsewhere.

2.  If the ghostwriter is published, read through their reviews and see what readers are saying about their work. Chances are, if the public likes the ghostwriter’s other books, they’ll probably like yours, too, provided the idea is solid. Good writing can’t save a lousy premise. I can’t stress this enough.

3. Read a sample of their work. This is a no-brainer. The ghostwriter may be very, very talented. But if you don’t like the voice and style of their writing, it’s not a match. Keep looking.

After choosing someone to write your book, what next? Every ghostwriter has his or her own process for beginning a project. But here’s mine:

1. Project Overview: I send a questionnaire to the client that uncovers the heart of what the book is “really about,” who the target audience is, potential length and complexity of the project, etc. Even if you have these things firmly in mind, be prepared to bend a little. For instance, you might want a ghostwriter to write a young adult novel for you. But to save costs, you ask them to keep the length to 20,000 words. At this point, a good ghostwriter would probably try to persuade you to a longer length since most young adult books are 50,000 words and up. Anything less would severely hinder market viability and plot complexity. This is where it’s helpful to rely on a pro’s advice. Remember, you hired them for a reason.

2. Plot Overview: Once the overarching goals are discussed, we move on to the plot overview. If you have a general sense of “how you want the story to go,” this is where it’s communicated. The ghostwriter will take all of your plot points and lay them out to make a cohesive and compelling plot line. He or she may also add sub-plots, additional turning points, etc. If you have no pre-conceived story lines, that’s okay, too. The ghostwriter is there to help!

3. Chapter Overview: After the high-level plot is agreed upon, we move on to a chapter by chapter outline. This not only saves the writer later headaches, it saves you, the client, the anxiety of not knowing exactly how the project is going to turn out. If there’s anything you don’t like about the story arc, now is the time to change it.

Once all the “pre-writing” activities are completed, we move on to the actual writing. Again, what follows is my process.

1. The Chapter One Test. I write out the entire first chapter and submit it to my client so they can comment on the character’s voice, the style, the tone, etc. Once all kinks are worked out…

2. The Hard Work Begins. At long last, writing can begin! This may take anywhere from weeks to months, depending on the complexity of the project.

After the book is finished, now what? Well, you have two options:

1. Keep everything as is. Don’t touch a word. Send it off to a freelance editor for proofing before indie publication (or small press submission), and start looking for a cover artist.

2. Put your own unique stamp on the book. If you’ve been writing a while (and know what you’re doing), you may want to comb through and do a little word smithing to make the work sound more like your own. This is not only okay, but encouraged. This is YOUR book now. BUT! If you’re just not sure, then leave. it. alone.

If you’ve been thinking about writing a book in 2015 but the work terrifies or mystifies you, there are plenty of pros who can help you on your path to publication.

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Questions about ghostwriting or editing? I’d love to answer them! I don’t bite, promise. 🙂

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5 thoughts on “Choosing and Working With a Ghostwriter

    • It all depends on the length and complexity of the project. A picture book or chapter book might run in the hundreds of dollars. A novel-length book will run in the thousands. Some people will “write” your book for a laughably small amount, but you get what you pay for. 🙂 If you want something you’ll be proud to call your own, stick with a professional.

      Here’s a link to an interesting site: http://www.writersmarket.com/assets/pdf/how_much_should_i_charge.pdf The information is several years old, but it provides a good base from which to start.

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