How to Hire a Ghostwriter

19 Jun 2020


There’s a story brewing inside you. Admit it.

Maybe you’ve had the idea for a great adventure tale for years, or maybe you just recently decided to go after a professional goal of getting published. Regardless, the words are there… but you’re just not sure how to form them into the next great work.

Enter the ghostwriter.

A ghostwriter is a professional writer hired to help you create your story. As the name implies, this individual is invisible to the public.

In most cases, authors who work with ghostwriters retain all rights to the intellectual property and income derived from the publication itself. You can choose to acknowledge the ghostwriter or not. Remember, it’s your story. Your ghostwriter is simply helping you tell it.

But because it is your story, it’s a very personal matter. How do you go about selecting the person to share it with?

Start by deciding how much writing you intend to do – and be honest with yourself.

Ghostwriters offer a wide variety of service levels, depending on the author’s expectations. Some authors provide the synopsis, then leave the craft of writing entirely to the ghostwriter. On the other end of the spectrum are the authors who enjoy the writing process and just want the ghostwriter to provide guidance and review.

Each ghostwriter might employ a different strategy, but here are some general steps to expect when creating your story with a ghostwriter.

Step 1. Check out your options.

Ghostwriting services abound. In today’s marketplace, a quick internet search might be your launching point, from which you can narrow down your top candidates. Things to consider might include: The writer’s credentials (what similar works have they ghostwritten?)

  • The writer’s affiliation (are they an independent writer or part of a consortium of multiple writers at your disposal?)
  • The writer’s specialty or unique qualifications (can they understand your niche and help you create a compelling story?

You’ll be spending many, many hours working with your ghostwriting partner – you’ll want to be comfortable with each other. This is key. Remember, your story is very personal (even a financial dossier can stir up feelings if you’re close enough to it). The last thing you want is to share it in discomfort.

Step 2. Sign your contract.

Read the proposal thoroughly, and make sure you understand everything it contains. Of course, your contract needs to include payment details and payment schedule: What amount will you pay, when will you be required to pay, and how will you deliver payment? In addition, you’ll likely want to retain the rights to all intellectual property, so be sure that this spelled out if this is important to you.

Some other important considerations your contract should include:

  • The scope of the project: Is this an article for publication in a trade magazine or an autobiography? Narrowing down the specific nature and desired length of the project will impact everything about your contract.
  • The responsibilities of each party: Who will be writing and researching the details? Your ghostwriter needs to know what you intend to bring to the table, and what tasks are on their plate.
  • The final deliverable: What are you expecting at the end of the project? A simple Word document that you can reproduce as needed is a big difference from a hardcover volume.
  • The final deadline: When do you want it in hand? If you have a specific deadline, you must convey this from the beginning of your relationship so you can set a schedule that works for both of you.
  • The escape clause: Can you (or your ghostwriter) terminate the project if it’s just not right? An escape clause allows either party to end the contract amicably.

Step 3. Hold a kick-off meeting.

Schedule a phone call or online conference to discuss the particulars of your project, and thoroughly cover your expectations of the project. This discussion is vital to the success of the writing partnership.

An initial kick-off is the time to confirm “the little things” like how you’d like to work together with your ghostwriter. (You might prefer regular phone calls or teleconferences, occasional face-to-face meetings, communicating through email. Whatever your preference, be sure to confirm your expectations at the onset.)

But it’s also the time to begin discussing the bigger-picture details. Even if you and your ghostwriter talked extensively about the project before, you still need a kick-off meeting to re-iterate project scope, expectations (yours and your ghostwriter’s), style preferences, tone and voice, your target audience, and especially the main takeaways you’d like your readers to come away with.

Step 4. Convey Your Story.

If your project is a short manuscript, you might not need a personal sit-down. But if your story is better delivered in narrative, or if you have photographs and other visuals you’d like to discuss, a face-to-face meeting is often preferable for show-and-tell.

Even if your selected writing partner is from a different state (or country), you can usually arrange to have your ghostwriter travel to you, and the expenses are typically handled in your contract. If in-person meetings are cost-prohibitive or otherwise unfeasible, there are a variety of live-stream video conferencing apps that are almost as good as the real thing.

Your ghostwriter understands that multiple meetings might be necessary to really get to the meat of your story. These personal interviews are often recorded and transcribed, and the ghostwriter then crafts a detailed outline. You will work together to mold the outline into your vision of the project.

Step 5. Write your story.

Now comes the fun part: Create your story. But this is also a spot where many would-be authors get tripped up. There is A LOT that goes into each publication – before you begin, it’s important to remember that it’s not a short process. Going into your book project with an understanding of the typical timelines will help establish reasonable expectations.

In very general terms, an efficient turnaround time from idea to final draft is around six to 12 months. Of course, each project has its own nuances – some very motivated authors can crank something out in a few months, while other books hit snags that cause several-year delays.

And that’s just the writing portion. The finalized draft then goes through editing, revising, and publishing. If you intend to get it published in a traditional hard-copy format, tack on additional time for layout, design, and printing. An ebook will often be faster, but the design stage is still necessary if you want to give readers more than a fancified Word document.

Ghostwriting often doesn’t include a cover design, interior design, or specific formatting for print production. Keep in mind, though, that many ghostwriters have connections to publishers and design firms that can help with these services. Ask your ghostwriter at the start of the project if they will be able help you navigate the publishing waters when the “heavy lifting” of the story is complete.

Erin Larson 
With a Bachelor of Science in Language Arts from Georgetown University and 20 years of editorial experience, Erin brings a passion for words and well-crafted writing to every project. As a writer, she revels in the opportunity to create vibrant original copy and rejuvenate tired text. She has written on a range of topics, in a variety of styles, and for an array of platforms. As an editor, proofreader, translator, and trusted second set of eyes, she has helped clients from around the world enhance their writing. A self-proclaimed editorial perfectionist, Erin once canceled a credit card because of a grammatically incorrect form letter, which she edited and promptly sent back to the company. (Incidentally, she wasn’t surprised to receive no response.)

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