How Does Ghostwriting Work?

03 Nov 2023


What is a ghostwriter, anyway?

The term has a mysterious sound, but there’s really nothing mystical about it. You could think of yourself and a ghostwriter as a relay team. 

You’re at the end of your supply of energy, time, inspiration, or whatever else is keeping you from completing your book, and the project has begun to seem like a long-distance marathon with no end in sight.

A ghostwriter or a professional ghostwriting team specializes in turning a literary marathon into an achievable relay race. They’ve trained for it, completed every stage successfully multiple times, understand the rules, and know the competition. 

Most importantly, they have the trophies (well-written books!) to show for their efforts—and each of those books has its author’s name on it, not the ghostwriter’s.

In fact, no one except the author and ghostwriter knows the ghostwriter helped—they’ll never know, and the author receives all the credit, rights, and privileges for the book.

Why and when would you want to hire a professional ghostwriter?

Let’s address the “why” question first by taking a closer at some of the qualifications of ghostwriters:

  • The best ghostwriters follow a tried-and-proven system to complete your book on schedule. Your project is their job, so they’re using a system that has worked with previous books, and they’re communicating with you as needed, with an eye toward completion.
  • A ghostwriter can be objective about your project. They haven’t agonized over it, staring at the same ideas and phrases until they’re cross-eyed. In short, they bring fresh perspectives on everything—from your concept to your book’s structure, research requirements, and any writing you’ve done.
  • Ghostwriting allows you to stay in control. When you use a ghostwriter, you remain in complete control of what goes into your book and what doesn’t. You can always ask for stylistic changes, or that certain material be omitted because it’s your book. (This may not be the case with a co-author, who has their own opinions about your content.)
  • A ghostwriter is also an editor who can probably connect you with a publisher. Your book needs an editor; even professional writers need them to catch errors and ensure their work reads smoothly. And, when your book is completed, you’ll need a publisher. Seasoned ghostwriters are likely to have publishers they work with regularly on their clients’ books.                              

Now, concerning the “when” question—when to look for ghostwriters for hire. The answers are all about which stage you may find yourself stuck in, and what a ghostwriter can do to get you unstuck:

  1. You can’t get started. You know have a story worth telling, but you’re just not a writer or are too close to the subject, overwhelmed by how massive the project looks, or simply too busy to do the work. A ghostwriter can bring much-needed moral and practical support at this stage by explaining the process they’ll use to get you to your goal, from concept to organization to writing.
  1. You’ve made a start, but that’s all. You have ideas and notes, or maybe you’ve done some initial writing, but you need to define the scope of the book, you’re not sure about the quality of the writing, and you’ve got a long way to go. Ghostwriters are expert conceptors who can help you think through the purpose and breadth of your book, do any necessary research or interviews, organize your material logically, and write or improve the content in line with your wishes.
  1. You have a complete manuscript, but you know it needs to be polished professionally. It might be lacking some important content, background, or context, and may need transitions added and the general flow of its content improved. There may be grammar and spelling errors. A ghostwriter can tackle all these areas using their well-honed research, writing, and editing skills.
  1. You need a publisher. Experienced ghostwriters “know people” in the business and some of those people are publishers. The more experienced a ghostwriter or the writing company they work for, the better the chances they have a working relationship with one or more publishing companies. As part of that relationship, the ghostwriter knows exactly what kind of shape your manuscript needs to be in before it’s submitted for publication.


Preserve your legacy

What kinds of books are ghostwriters hired to write?

  • Autobiography and memoir. Tell the story of your life in an autobiography or tell the story of your involvement in a particular event or period of time in a memoir.
  • Family history and genealogy. Connect your family or a wider audience to your ancestors, their lives, loves, and impacts. A family history puts the details of family history research together in a narrative (story), whereas a genealogy is a summary of dates, places, and relationships. Genealogy can be considered a part of family history.
  • Thought Leadership. This type of book is a vehicle for CEOs, politicians, faith and nonprofit leaders, and others to share their wealth of expertise, knowledge, and informed perspectives.
  • Subject matter books and guidebooks. Recount the history of a neighborhood, city, or organization; explain a philosophy; tell how to survive and thrive off the grid; provide detailed information on travel in Australia, mountain bike riding, hiking, or getting your product to market—the possibilities are endless.
  • Self-help. These books broach subjects such as weight control, diet, exercise, improving or finding relationships, coping with your own or a loved one’s illness, natural healing, career development, retiring well, and much more. 
  • Books for creatives and DIYers. This category is for any type of talent or skill you’ve developed that you want to teach to others—painting, pottery, Middle Eastern cooking, improving your vocal range or your guitar skills, building a tiny house, a screened-in porch, raised-bed gardening, quilting, installing tile expertly. 

How do you hire and work with a ghostwriter?

It’s worth taking a little time to explore ghostwriting options. You’ll want to find a reputable ghostwriter or, better yet, connect with a reputable ghostwriting team (a writer plus an editor/proofer/project manager) through an established writing company with a record of quality work. 

You should be able to view samples from the company’s completed books and testimonials from satisfied clients.

A skilled ghostwriting company will facilitate the signing of all necessary confidentiality and non-disclosure documents and copyright claims waivers. 

When it comes to working with your ghostwriting team, there are a couple of mistaken ideas clients may have, and it is important to dispel them upfront.

“One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that if a book is ghostwritten, it won’t sound like the prospective author,” says Jennifer Rizzo, a genealogist and ghostwriter with The Writers for Hire. “While this may be true for some ghostwriters, a quality ghostwriter is skilled at tuning into the author’s unique voice and style of speaking and will be able to emulate those things in the writing.”

Another common misunderstanding about ghostwriting, says Rizzo, concerns how active the author will be in the process.

“It’s true that the ghostwriter will do the bulk of the heavy lifting,” she says, “but having a book ghostwritten is a team effort. The ghostwriter will need to spend a good deal of time interviewing the author to get content for the book. Then, once the chapters are written, the author will need to review them to ensure the content—as well as the voice and tone—are accurate.”

The bottom line: It’s your book, so you will be involved throughout the process of creating it. 

Shelley Carpenter 

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