8 TIPS FOR WORKING WITH YOUR GHOSTWRITER TO GET GREAT CONTENT
8 TIPS FOR WORKING WITH YOUR GHOSTWRITER TO GET GREAT CONTENT
You have a terrific idea for a book, but maybe you don’t have the writing skills or the time to make it happen. Instead of letting that stop you, you’ve gone the extra mile and found a ghostwriter.
Now that you’ve signed the contract, how can you make the most of your investment? Learn how to collaborate with your ghostwriter and produce great content from the experienced professional ghostwriters of The Writers for Hire. These top nine tips will get you started on the road to success.
- TIP #1: UNDERSTAND THAT IT’S A PARTNERSHIP
“It’s a collaborative relationship. That’s super important. Some clients think that the ghostwriter’s going to magically write the book on their own, but that’s not really how it works. You have to work very closely with your ghostwriter to provide all the subject matter expertise. It’s a real process, and you as the author have to put a ton of work in yourself by providing the information and also reviewing the content.” – Wintress Odom, Owner
Although you’re hiring someone to do the actual word-slinging, your expertise fuels the book, and you still have some heavy lifting to do in order to make it a success. Setting expectations is important. You’ll more than likely be on tap for hours of interviews as well as feedback on each round of drafts to make sure that you’re happy with the direction your ghostwriter is going.
It might be tempting to just give these drafts a glance and approve them. After all, if you’re not completely happy with them, you can catch it later. However, the longer you wait to address problems, the longer it will take for your ghostwriter to correct them. Think about your book like a layered cake. The more layers you pile on top, the longer it will take to reconstruct.
Be a good partner and make your corrections when it’s a single layer cake if you can.
- TIP #2: READ STRATEGICALLY
“Read books. When you read a lot, you know what you want to sound like, and you know what you like and what you don’t like. This gives us some kind of starting point. Without that, it’s a lot easier to miss the mark the first time around. If you read a lot, and you have some idea of what you’re looking for in a writing style, it just gets us that much ahead.” – Stephanie Hashagen, Senior Editor
Your ghostwriter needs more than just content ideas from you. They need to know how you want your material to sound. How you want it to be organized. Communicating that clearly is the key to a final product that sounds like you.
The easiest way to communicate your ideal voice is to read a lot of books, and not just in your field of study. Find books and authors that you like and use them to describe how you want to sound to your ghostwriter.
For example, you might say, “I like the way Neil DeGrasse Tyson breaks down difficult concepts in simple English,” or “I like how each chapter of this Mary Roach book reads like a miniature story.”
This approach provides your ghostwriter with much more usable information than telling them that you prefer a casual style, for example. The word “casual” might mean something very different to you than it does to them. Communicating style is often one of the most difficult parts of the process, and the more information and comparative titles you can provide, the better. It will mean fewer drafts in the long run.
But what if you don’t like to read?
You don’t need to finish every book, but at least get through a few chapters and find some things that you like—or don’t—and tell your ghostwriter about them.
What if you found your inspiration elsewhere?
Maybe you were watching The Godfather and came up with a twist on a mob story that hasn’t been done before, but that doesn’t mean that you get to skip this step. Movies (or television shows, etc.) aren’t books, and your ghostwriter still needs some guidance on the writing style you prefer.
- TIP #3: FOCUS ON YOUR GOALS
“My most successful clients are writing for reasons other than the fact that they want to publish a novel and make a lot of money. They know something and want to convey it. They have an audience in mind, and the audience is interested in what they want to say. They don’t expect that they’re going to go on Oprah and make a million dollars.” – Stephanie Hashagen, Senior Editor
In order to meet your needs and help you reach your goals, your ghostwriter needs a clear understanding of exactly what you want to achieve. This means that you need to understand what you want, too.
These goals should be attainable and realistic. For example, you might be starting a new business venture and want to use your book to establish your credibility in the field. You might develop a book to support your lecture series and allow attendees to further engage with the material you present. Or you might want to create a cherished family keepsake.
Understanding these goals can help you and your ghostwriter craft a project that meets your needs. If your overall vision doesn’t match with your ghostwriter’s, you won’t be happy with the end result.
What if you don’t know exactly what your goals are?
Sometimes, you might not know exactly what you’re looking for. We’ve all been there. It’s on the tip of our tongue, we might say, and we’ll know it when we’ll see it. If this is the case, sit down and discuss this with your ghostwriter before you initiate the project.
You’re investing time and money into this book, and you need to know that it’s well spent.
Ensure that this will happen by workshopping some actionable goals that will bring you benefits worth investing in. Take your vague goals to your ghostwriter and discuss how your book might realistically help you reach them.
For example, if you’re looking to start a life coaching business, your book could profile people you’ve helped in the past and how working with you has improved their lives, or it could speak directly to your potential clients, giving them a taste of the kind of advice that you offer. Or you could talk about how your own experience has made you passionate about life coaching, and how this makes you uniquely able to connect with your clients.
Each of these approaches says something different about you and your business. If you’re not entirely sure what message you want to send, talk about this with your ghostwriter. Explain that you want to support your business (or whatever your goal is), but you need help figuring out how best to do that. They can help you hone those vague goals into something helpful.
- TIP#4: KEEP THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION OPEN
“I love it when clients are chatty because, in a lot of cases, they offer insights that help make their copy better. Chatty clients also give me a better feel for their communication style, so I can produce copy that sounds like them.” – Flori Meeks, Copywriter
To put it simply: talk to your ghostwriter. They want to hear from you. They want you to email them; they want to discuss your project on the phone or on Skype. They want to know what you think about it and how you envision it. They want to know how the pages they sent make you feel.
They want you to communicate throughout the project. It is their job to channel you—your ideas, your thoughts, your voice. In order to do that well, they need to hear your ideas, thoughts, and voice.
Over time, most of our ghostwriters said that they developed strong working relationships with their clients, especially for projects with a strong emotional component such as memoirs or family histories.
It’s important to tailor the style of communication to the type of project. If you’re writing about a business topic, more formal communications might be fine. However, if you’re writing something with personal significance, the ghostwriter/client relationship typically becomes much deeper in these circumstances.
Communication in more personal projects
“I know going in that this will be a long-term relationship. I know that we are going to get very close before it’s all over, and the client has to really trust me if we are ever going to get to where we need to go, where they feel comfortable sharing thoughts, feelings, and motivations. We aren’t going to get there the first day, so I settle in.” – Dana Robinson, Copywriter
Our ghostwriters did note that, while the basic process stays the same, the relationship between ghostwriter and client does change in more personal projects. To put it plainly, there aren’t often tears when discussing how to drill an oil rig, but memoir interview sessions are very different.
For family history and memoir projects, ghostwriters were more likely to say that their clients felt like family or that their connection felt deeper. Interview sessions were more emotionally draining for clients, and communication tended to be more frequent and in person. When approaching these projects, it is important to be prepared for a more emotional process.
- TIP #5: OPEN DOORS WHEN NECESSARY
“Access and, for lack of a better word, attention are important. Dream clients make time for calls and meetings, and they are really present during them. I usually send questions in advance of an interview, and I can tell when they’ve thought about their answers ahead of time. That little bit of extra prep saves both of us time in the long run. They also provide easy access to others in the organization whose input is important.” – Barbara Adams, Copywriter
Not only do you know things that your ghostwriter needs to know, but you may also have access to resources that your ghostwriter could benefit from.
While you might think that you’re helping your ghostwriter by interviewing people for them, it can turn into a bit of a telephone game. Your ghostwriter asks you a question, and then you ask your relative or colleague. Sometimes things get lost in the transmission. Follow up questions take ages.
Rather than complicating things in this manner, ask your ghostwriter how you can help. More often than not, they will likely ask you to put them in contact with your resource. By facilitating the interview process, you can get the information directly to your ghostwriter and insure that your resource is comfortable at the same time.
- TIP #6: BE WILLING TO LEARN
“Clients who are not open to suggestions from the ghostwriting team can make a project difficult. A ghostwriter can offer guidance based on their expertise and steer a client away from poor decisions, but only if the client values the writer’s advice.” – Flori Meeks, Copywriter
Your ghostwriter’s job is to help you produce a great book. You hired them because they are skilled writers who know their craft and the business of writing. Take advantage of that expertise.
Sometimes, the process might not make sense to you. For example, your ghostwriter might send you a chapter and ask that you read it for voice and style and ignore any typos or grammatical errors. If you’re a stickler for grammar, this process might not sit well with you. After all, if you publish a book full of comma errors, you won’t make the stellar impression you’re counting on.
However, if you ask, you’ll learn that your writing team follows a very specific process designed to protect your time—and theirs. Often, they start with big picture items such as voice and organization so that you don’t waste time workshopping small details like commas and word choice only to scrap the entire piece and start over because the voice isn’t right.
Listening and learning about the process will help you navigate it—and feel better about it, too.
Although you’re not writing the book, you are truly becoming a writer, and it makes sense to learn as much about that process as you can. You have resources at your disposal who can teach you. Take advantage of them as much as possible.
- TIP #7: GIVE YOURSELF ENOUGH TIME
“If you say, ‘Here, review this chapter for content,’ and the client doesn’t read it, that’s a problem. Or they get back to you in ten minutes and say, ‘Yeah, it’s great,’ and didn’t really read it at all, that can cause problems down the road.” – Wintress Odom, Owner
We’re all adults here. We’re not suggesting that ghostwriters need to manage clients or that clients are ever difficult on purpose. We’re all busy, and we understand that all too well. When you’re swamped, you’re more likely to miss something. Plain and simple.
So as with other important work projects, if you’re struggling to keep your head above water, discuss this with your ghostwriter. Adjust the writing and feedback schedule to give yourself a little breathing room and avoid creating situations where you’re likely to push something through instead of giving yourself the necessary time to consider it.
When you receive a request from your ghostwriter, double check that the instructions are clear. Sometimes, what’s obvious to them might not make sense to you because they’ve done this many times before and you’re new to the process, so ask for clarification if necessary. It can save you and your entire team time and effort in the long run.
- TIP #8: PROVIDE QUALITY FEEDBACK
“Read and provide us with helpful feedback. Actually read when you say that you are, or tell us that you’re busy and don’t have time to read so we don’t keep on going and thinking that things are fine. It gets harder to fix if we keep going.” – Stephanie Hashagen, Senior Editor
Timely and honest feedback makes a difference on ghostwriting projects, because again, your ghostwriting team is building layers upon layers like a tiered cake. They think the bottom layers meet with your approval, because you said so.
As you can probably already see, honest feedback is essential to producing a project that will make you happy. Perhaps you’re hesitant to tell your writer that you don’t like the pages because you don’t want to hurt their feelings. But this isn’t about your writer’s skill. This is about your style preferences, and that is the kind of thing your ghostwriter absolutely wants to hear from you.
Specific, high quality feedback only makes your ghostwriter’s job easier. They will tell you when something is helpful to them. When you find a feedback style that works for you both, give them more of that.
If you follow the above tips, you can make the most of your relationship with your ghostwriter.
Note that our ghostwriting pros didn’t bring up anything about your expertise, or how prepared you needed to be in order to initiate your project.
In fact, as Wintress Odom pointed out, prep work isn’t necessarily a prerequisite to being an ideal client. “Everything else can be worked through,” she said. “It’s nice if you’re prepared, but we can help you get organized. We can help you get prepared.”
At the end of the day, a successful ghostwriting relationship is about collaboration. Ensuring effective communication, opening doors, and providing useful feedback all are elements of a good partnership. Focus on developing these skills, and your project is sure to be a success!
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