Ghostwriting: A Detailed Look at the Ghostwriting Process

07 Nov 2023


Ghostwriting is the process of paying a professional ghostwriter to write your content for you, with the understanding that it will be published under your byline, and you will retain all rights to the finished work. 

Generally speaking, a client works closely with their ghostwriter throughout the process to ensure the final product aligns with their needs and expectations. 

The time it takes for a ghostwritten work to go from nothing to published depends on a variety of factors, and as such there is no simple answer. These factors include how much prep work the client has already done, the size and scope of the project, and the number of interviews and any research required. And that’s just the initial phases. 

The time needed to write each chapter, edit, revise, and do the final proofing will also vary, depending on the above factors and any challenges that may pop up. These can include schedule conflicts that make interviews difficult to book, a lack of information and sources, and miscommunications about the project. 

Below, we’ll break down each step of the process in order, as well as what portion of the 20 to 36-plus weeks they might take.

What are the steps of the ghostwriting process?

1. Prep Work (4-6 Weeks)

The initial prep work for any ghostwriting project includes initial meetings and discussions, as well as any necessary interviews and research.

The initial meetings will help your ghostwriter understand the scope of your project and what your expectations are.

It will also help them understand the correct style, tone, and voice to be used, and help you sort out more complicated questions like:

  • Do you need any specialty research?
  • Will you need any photos and/or infographics?
  • What are your publishing options?
  • Do you have any style preferences?

Research is the second part of the prep work stage, and there are several ways to handle this stage.

You may have already done some preliminary research yourself and your ghostwriter can expand on it. Going the extra distance to curate some information ahead of time also helps them get a sense of your vision. This option typically saves time because your ghostwriter has a solid foundation of both information and direction to build off. 

If you don’t have time, you can instead just leave the research to your ghostwriter and give them some ideas and guidelines to focus on. This can, of course, lengthen the time needed for the project. 

Interviews, if any are required (and they often are), can also impact the project timeline heavily. The subject may be difficult to get a hold of, or you may need multiple interviews with different subjects. Conversations may also veer off course or drag on if your ghostwriter lacks proper interviewing skills or the interview subject is prone to meandering from topic to topic.

2. Outline (1-2 Weeks)

The outline stage is where the framework of your book is erected. Both you and your ghostwriter should collaborate at this stage to make sure everyone stays on the same page.

An outline is a necessary tool in the creation of any long-form work because it provides those making it with a roadmap of how ideas are to be organized and flow from one to another as the project progresses. Having a good outline cuts down on needless communication over minor questions and lets the ghostwriter work more efficiently. 

Don’t worry though, your ghostwriter will do most of the heavy lifting, using the information from the completed research and interviews to compose a rough outline for you to review. From there, revisions can be made accordingly until the direction is clear. 

3. Writing (1-2 Weeks per Chapter)

The writing phase is where the ghostwriter will take over, using the collected information to compose a coherent narrative. This is easily the most variable phase of the ghostwriting process and is heavily influenced by the complexity of your book. 

Chapters are written one at a time, typically taking one to two weeks, depending on the scope of the content. It’s not uncommon for a book to take six months to a year just to write all the chapters.

Once the writer has finished writing and editing, they will send the chapter draft to you for review. During this time, additional services, like adding images and graphics, are also completed. 

4. Front-To-Back Editing (2-4 Weeks)

Once all the chapters are finished, editors will do a thorough cover-to-cover review of your book to ensure it’s free of issues like narrative inconsistencies, poor pacing, and ineffective prose. This audit can take from two to four weeks and requires ample amounts of reading and analysis. It is, however, an essential step for quality assurance. 

Once the edits are complete, you’ll be given the opportunity to review the manuscript yourself and give feedback or approve it as the final product.

It’s far too easy to get sidetracked by life, and many ghostwriting projects stall in the final parts of the editing phase due to clients becoming overwhelmed.

For this reason, you would be better off dedicating an entire weekend or two to complete this final review in one or two sittings, rather than splitting it up into smaller chunks over several weeks. 

5. Final Proofreading (2 Weeks)

The final stage of the actual writing process is proofreading, which is the process of going through a written work after all the edits have been completed to ensure there are no lingering spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors.

An ideal proofreader is someone who hasn’t contributed to or reviewed the book thus far, as it’s much harder to proofread your own work than someone else’s. Bringing in a writer or editor who hasn’t been involved up to that point ensures that you’ll have a fresh pair of eyes to spot anything that was missed on previous passes. 

Once the proofreading is finished, it’s finally time to publish your work.

6. Publishing (12-20 Weeks)

The nonfiction ghostwriter or the ghostwriting company agency you partner with for your book may or may not offer full-service options for publishing. It’s wise to factor printing time into your overall timeframe to account for this. 

For example, The Writers For Hire works with a publisher that needs a minimum of three months to process a manuscript into a published work. Some agencies lack such partnerships, however, leaving you to search for a publisher of your choice. This search time can easily extend the publishing phase. 

Regardless of whether the agency took care of it, or you found your own publisher, the publisher will need time to format and do photo work, client reviews, and approvals before your book will be ready for the final print run. This can easily take a few months to over a year.


Preserve your legacy

What are some of the challenges I might face?

Now that you have an idea of how the process works, it’s a good idea to also learn some of the challenges you might face along the way.

  • Difficulty scheduling interviews. As mentioned in the prep work section, interviews can easily cause a project to drag on due to conflicting schedules and the need to coordinate between multiple subjects. One way to alleviate this is to put together a list of subjects you may want or need insight from for your book and let them know ahead of time so they can clear a space in their schedule.
  • Not having enough information or sources available. Sometimes interviews alone may not shed enough light on a given subject. Or perhaps the initial research and sources you provided weren’t quite enough and it’s proving more difficult than anticipated to find more. Sadly, there’s no fast and hard rule to alleviate this issue, besides communicating the difficulties clearly and promptly so you and your ghostwriter can work out an appropriate change in course. You may even need to extend the project schedule by a few weeks to allow more time for research and follow-up interviews.
  • Insufficient communication. Poor communication can be the bane of any project, especially one as involved as writing a book. It can lead to ghostwriters and clients having misunderstandings about the scope or requested revisions, among numerous other logistical issues. This goes doubly so when days or weeks can pass between responses or drafts being ready for review. The best way to mitigate the problem is to set up a regular schedule of check-ins during the initial prep work phase, including giving the ghostwriter a chance to touch base with you and provide updates on their progress, even if they don’t have anything ready for review yet. 

As a final note, be sure to discuss your projected timeline with your ghostwriter before you start working. What may seem reasonable for you may not be as realistic as you thought it was. It’s always best to adjust your schedule sooner rather than later. 

Devin Lawrence 

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