Ghostwriting? How Does That Work?

Cheerful woman talking on phone at desk.

Are you new to the concept of ghostwriting? You’re not alone. When I introduce myself as a ghostwriter, I get a mix of reactions from quizzical looks to outright confusion to excited exclamations of “I have so many questions!”

But before I jump into explaining my ghostwriting process, let’s clear the air. No, you don’t need to be suspicious about the author of your favorite books. Yes, most celebrities and politicians don’t write their books all on their own. The truth is, the more popular you become, the less time you have to write a book and the more people want to hear from you. 

This creates a dilemma for public figures and those hoping to build their personal brands: how do you create quality content that keeps your audience engaged without sacrificing every minute of free time and forgetting what your family looks like? Quite often, the answer lies in finding a ghostwriter.

How ghostwriting works:

While every project is unique and I have been known to write entire books for people with no input and little more than a rough plan to start, I prefer to work collaboratively with authors

Here’s how the process usually works:

  • Initial phone consultation: I talk with the author to hear about the project and get a feel for whether we are a good fit to work together. I ask a bunch of questions and listen actively to get an overview of the author’s vision and goals for the book.
  • Proposal and contract: I send a ghostwriting proposal putting into writing the key points discussed during the initial call. Each proposal is specific to the book project at hand. After the proposal is accepted, I send the contract over to be signed.
  • Book outline and review of materials: Once the project is a “go,” I ask authors to send me any relevant materials (e.g., case studies, blog posts, articles, talk notes) they have already created, along with their working outline. Reviewing this material gives me crucial information about the author’s voice and clues about the content. I may make suggestions about the outline at this point.
  • Weekly check-in calls and the editorial calendar: My ghostwriting process is designed to take 16 weeks (give or take 2 weeks or so). To write 40,000-50,000 words in such a short time requires cooperation, collaboration, and a little bit of luck. I create an editorial calendar to keep us on track and schedule weekly check-in calls.
  • Book draft: I draft each chapter or section of the book according to the editorial calendar and content plan we’ve developed together. I prefer to share a draft of each complete chapter as it is written so that the author can see the progress being made, make any course corrections as we go, and stay with me as I make any tweaks to the outline or direction of the book. 
  • Author revisions: At this point, the author reviews the draft of the entire manuscript and asks for any revisions. I encourage authors to be as critical as they want at this stage. An important part of taking ownership over the book is making sure it sounds like them. If I’ve written something the author would never say, then I need to know that, so we can make the change. Now is not the time to pull punches. 
  • Editing: Once the author has reviewed the draft, I will make any edits based on the feedback I receive. Each ghostwriting project includes two rounds of revisions in the price. I want every author to be satisfied with the book we write together. From here the author is free to self-publish or begin the often arduous process of finding an agent to play the traditional publishing game. 

Assuming everything goes smoothly, this process can yield a complete manuscript ready to be published in about 4 months. Of course, there are a lot of variables and project needs can shift during the process. I have recently added a “pause clause” to my contract for this reason. Because I only work on one ghostwriting book project at a time, scheduling and sticking to deadlines is key.

Should I hire a ghostwriter or DIY my book?

If you’re on the fence about hiring a ghostwriter or going the DIY road, here are some crucial questions to ask yourself:

1. How long have I had writing a book on my list of goals?

If your answer is more than a year or two, you may want to consider hiring a ghostwriter. Many of my clients have wanted to write their books for decades, but keep telling themselves, “I’ll start next year.” Don’t fall into this trap.

Ideas evolve quickly, so if you wait even a few months to put a timely idea out there, you risk getting scooped or your idea being irrelevant by the time you publish it. And while writing a book on an evergreen topic means you can put off getting your manuscript finished, I don’t recommend writing any book over the course of years.

When you put down and pick up a piece of writing months later, you’ll need to re-read what you have written each time. Because your thoughts are constantly shifting, your perspective on what you have written will also shift, which means you’ll be tempted to rewrite instead of making progress on the first draft.

Ideally, your book should be a snapshot of an innovative idea. So, you want to capture that idea as quickly as possible.

2. Does the investment make sense for me?

For high-level experts, executives, entrepreneurs, coaches, or anyone with more money than time, investing in a ghostwriter is a no-brainer. For others, you will want to weigh your options. I have been known to talk more than a few prospects out of writing their books now—to my credit or detriment depending on your perspective. But, hey, no one wants to make a bad investment.

The bottom line here is if publishing a book will skyrocket your brand or business, invest in a ghostwriter.

3. Do I enjoy the process of writing? Am I a good writer?

In some people, the thought, “I have a book in me,” invokes a feeling of excitement. In others, the thought invokes a feeling of dread. Which camp are you in?

If you love writing, value the pride that comes with having written your own book, are good at writing, and have the time, by all means DIY your book. You may want to take an online course or find a book coach to guide you through the process. And once your draft is complete, a developmental editor can really help you make sure you’re connecting with your readers.

Not sure what type of writer you are? Take my writer profile quiz to get your writer profile and find out your next best steps.

4. How much time do I have really?

The biggest advantage of hiring a ghostwriter—even if you love writing and are perfectly capable of DIY-ing this thing—is the hundreds of hours saved. But I also want to point out that hiring a ghostwriter doesn’t totally obliterate your own time commitment. I work closely with my ghostwriting clients to ensure what I write on their behalf truly represents their thoughts and ideas.

As with all things in life, you get what you give. So how does the time commitment shake out? For every 20 hours per week I spend writing for you, you’ll likely need to spend 2 or 3 hours per week reading, editing, and talking through your ideas with me. If you don’t have 2 or 3 hours per week to spare, writing a book may not be for you.

5. Am I mentally prepared for the challenge of writing solo?

The job of writing a book can be isolating. If you’re the kind of person who likes to brainstorm with others when you’re coming up with ideas, you may find DIY-ing a book more of a challenge than you bargained for.

My collaborative ghostwriting process really helps with this challenge. It’s good to know someone else is on your side rooting for you and as the saying goes, two heads are definitely better than one in this case.

Now that you know more about the ghostwriting process, are you ready to talk? I LOVE chatting with authors about their book ideas. Contact me and let me know you’d like to schedule a content consultation and I’ll help you figure out what will work best for you.

Photo credit: stokkete