A Proofreader’s Checklist

Proofreading can be scary at times because it carries so much responsibility.

The proofreader must deliver a product that is as perfect as humanly possible.

In some businesses, the proofreader is the last person to touch a document, making the final changes before it is published.

Like editing, proofreading can require a light or a heavy hand, depending on the subject matter and the complexity of the text.

Some drafts require only minor fixes – typos, missing punctuation, misspellings – while others require extensive fact-checking in addition to correcting grammatical errors.

The Writers for Hire team has worked through a few kinks in its own processes, and shares the results here.

These tips, which focus on generally accepted best practices, are intended to ease most – but perhaps not all – of the anxiety sometimes surrounding the proofreading process.

1. Begin with a Discussion.

The proofreading process should begin with you, the proofreader, and the editor or client talking through how the project will proceed.

At the outset, you should agree on the preferred style guide and any deviations from or in-house exceptions to the preferred guide.

Most companies use a preferred style guide.

The Associated Press (AP) Style Guide, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), and the Chicago Manual of Style are the most common.

Despite the preferred style, some documents may require adherence to different guidelines, such as a client’s own style guide.

  • Project-specific guidelines could include:
  • Using European date format (day/month/year)
  • Using 24-hour clock time (0930 versus 9:30 a.m.)
  • Using only words or only symbols for monetary units
  • Abbreviating or spelling out titles
  • Keeping industry-specific usage, capitalization, or punctuation
  • Using specific transliterations or spellings of foreign names and places
  • Making exceptions to AP style, such as using the Oxford comma

But, of course, these are only a few of the various elements that you, the editor, and your client must agree on up front.

Otherwise, you could end up in a vicious cycle of editing each other’s changes back and forth.

2. Print and Read Out Loud

Proofreading the hard copy of a text and pronouncing or mouthing each word can catch many more errors than reading it on a computer screen.

Reading each word out loud identifies missing and repeated words – a very common occurrence.

Checking for consistency in formatting is also easier when you page through a printed document.

  • Other mistakes this best practice helps identify include:
  • Incorrect subject verb agreement
  • Incorrect antecedents
  • Complex sentences that are confusing or too long
  • Commonly misused homonyms and other words (their/there, its/it’s, and affect/effect, for example)

3. Check the Facts

Not all drafts require fact-checking, but for those that do, this is a critical step in proofreading. At a minimum, you should fact-check the following:

  • Official country names and names of individuals, places, and organizations. Enter each into Google to confirm the correct spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.
  • Ages, birth dates, and death dates. Check for errors such as someone turning different ages in the same year, or an event involving someone before they were born or after they died.
  • Dates of events. Check all references to a specific day and date in a specific month and year to make sure they are accurate.
  • Captions of photos and graphics. Make sure they match the text exactly, paying close attention to names, dates, places, and subject matter.
  • Math in tables and graphics. Check what you can calculate using simple math, such as percentages and totals.

4. Look for Internal Inconsistences

Consistency in longer documents can be especially challenging because of the human tendency to read what should be on the page instead of what is there.

As you read, make a list of items to check for consistency against the agreed guidelines. Such a list might include:

  • Formatting, grammar, and punctuation of bullets, headings, and subheadings
  • Capitalization and use of titles
  • Use of first names, last names, or both
  • Capitalization of captions
  • Chronological consistency
  • Use of colons, semi colons, en dashes, and em dashes
  • Formatting of dates and time
  • Symbols or words for numbers and currencies

5. Use the Spell Check and Find Functions

The Spell Check and Find functions are very helpful, but a proofreader cannot rely on them to catch everything.

“ABC Spelling and Grammar” in Microsoft Word, for example, automatically identifies misspelled words, sentence fragments, and common grammatical errors, but it also can suggest changes that are wrong in the context of a document.

Spell-checking will, however, catch all unusual names and terms – because it doesn’t recognize them.

After you have confirmed that the spelling of a word is correct, click the “Ignore All” option.

If spell-checking catches another version of the word, then that word is spelled different ways in the document.

When proofreading on a PDF, use CNTRL A (to highlight all) and CNTRL V (to paste all) into a Word document.

Word will identify misspellings, but it also will catch words that aren’t misspelled because of the way it cuts and pastes in.

This is still better than no spell check at all, however!

Along with spell-checking, the Find function helps ensure consistency by checking for all instances of style choices in spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, and punctuation.

Searching for specific word and editing choices is easier using Microsoft Word’s “Advanced Find,” which has several options, including “Match case” and “Find whole words only.”

On a PC, click “Find,” then “Advanced Find,” and then “More” to see all the search options:

The “Navigation” pane in Find offers the choice of searching “Headings,” “Pages,” and “Results.”

Searching “Results” returns a list of results within their surrounding text; this option could be useful when checking for consistency in long, complex, documents.

On a Mac, be sure that your Standard Toolbar is open. Do that through “View” at the top, then scroll down to Toolbars > Standard:

The “Advanced Find” can be accessed from the top right “Search” box:

Click on “List Matches in Sidebar” to call up the “Find and Replace” window down the left-hand side of your document. Insert the word you’re looking for into the “Search Document” field:

Choose the gear icon to access a pull-down menu of advanced search options:

Once you’ve entered all your changes, spell-check the entire document a final time to uncover any glitches that escaped your attention.

Take Your Time

Proofreading takes time.

If your client only has a limited amount of time – or budget – to complete the proofreading phase, be sure to find out what the most important elements are, so you know how to focus your time.

And be sure to let the client know if the expectations aren’t reasonable. A rushed proofing job inevitably leads to further corrections

End with a Discussion

Once you are done proofing, be sure to review the changes you made with the editor or client, and discuss any remaining areas of concern that require your attention.

If the document contained tracked changes and comments, bracketed text, or highlights, make sure to remove them if you have addressed the issues.

If not, insert your own comments and raise them with the client or editor.

Write Your Book Without Writing a Word! How to Hire a Ghostwriter to Get Your Book Written

There’s a fairly well known saying, attributed to the influential journalist, Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), that states, “Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”

Whether he meant the idea or story isn’t actually worth telling, or not everyone has the ability to tell the idea or story in a compelling way, or both, is hard to say.

Many people believe they have a book inside them just waiting to come out. You may be one of them.

If you have always dreamed of writing a book or seeing your ideas in print with your name on the cover, yet you aren’t a writer and don’t know the first thing about the process of writing a book, do you have options?

Can you still see your book completed and in print with your story written in a compelling, interesting way?

If you are reading this, you have a book in you and you just need to know how to move it from idea to the written page, all without having to learn the necessary writing skills and the months (even years) it could take to produce it.

Getting Your Book Written

The most obvious way to write your book is to pen it yourself.

Writing your book on your own is a great option if you are a hands-on person and you want full control of your book.

But it does require having the knowhow, time (a book can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more to complete), and desire to write and complete your project.

You also have to enjoy writing.

The benefit of writing your book yourself is certainly the pride you gain from accomplishing the task.

It also helps build your skills as a writer and you get full control of the words and how the book turns out.

It is also the least expensive route.

The alternative is to hire someone else to write your book – a ghostwriter.

This is a professional writer (or group of writers) who will organize and outline, write, and edit your book from beginning to end.

Ghostwriting is a great option: you get your book written by a professional who knows the process and will work with you to make sure you get the book you’re envisioning.

You get your name on the book, and the ghostwriter takes no credit.

How to Hire a Ghostwriter

Once you’ve decided to go the ghostwriting route, the next step is finding the right ghostwriter.

Your choice will depend on several factors, including your budget, timeline, goals, and even your personality and preferred working style.

There are several ways to find the right ghostwriter:

1. Use a Freelance Bidding Website

There are many freelance bidding websites where you can hire anyone for just about anything.

Writers are a particularly popular commodity on sites like Upwork, Guru, and even Fiverr.

On Upwork alone there are an estimated 12 million registered freelancers (in various industries, not just writing) with only an estimated three million jobs posted annually.

Just type “ghostwriter” in the search bar and you’ll get tens of thousands of writers from all over the world, ready to bid on your project to write your book for you.

This option allows you to be as involved as you want: You can simply give your ghostwriter an idea and let them run with it, or you can provide detailed information and direction.

Using a bidding site is a cheaper option, with many writers available to ghostwrite books for as little as $100.

You can pay by the hour or by the project, and you can often put the project fee into escrow to ensure the project will get done or you won’t have to pay, with milestone check-ins along the way.

Remember, though, that most of the time you also get what you pay for.

Quality can be an issue when hiring freelance ghostwriters from such sites.

There is no guarantee that the writer can actually write, or that they can write your project in the way you envision it.

There might be more limited contact with the writer and you might be hiring someone who speaks and writes English as a second language.

If you choose this option, it’s important to perform a bit of due diligence to make sure that you don’t get an end product that’s unusable, or in need of extensive editing and rewriting.

Always check writer’s reviews from past clients and request a writer with experience fluent in your native language.

If you want to be more involved, make sure the writer is easy to meet or have contact with.

And get periodic updates using the milestone features on the site, scheduling to get sample chapters to review before going too far into the project.

2. Hiring a Turnkey Book Writing Service

A step up from a freelance bidding site, this option is ideal for people who know what they want in their book and who can explain their ideas clearly and easily.

From this option, you have two choices.

You can handle much of the work yourself by organizing your information and then dictating your book into an audio or video recorder.

Once done, you can hand your recording over to a service company; they’ll take your recordings, transcribe them into written form, and send you a book.

If you’d like more of a back-and-forth working relationship, you can hire a service company that offers a more personalized book writing experience.

You meet with one of the company’s ghostwriters and they familiarize themselves with your book idea and the style of book you want.

They then do in-depth, recorded interviews with you to not only get all the information you want in your book, but also to get a sense of your voice.

From there, they transcribe the information they collected on audio and edit the recordings, completing the transcription of your book into written form.

Companies like Scribe Writing or Radius Book Group are examples of this option.

And some of these types of companies not only provide the interview, transcribe, and provide you with a written book, but they will take your finished project all the way through to the layout and printing and offer a marketing plan as well.

Keep in mind, in this process, the service company is basically transcribing the words you speak with minimal or limited editing or revising.

3. Hiring a Professional Ghostwriter

The third option for writing your book is to hire a freelance ghostwriter.

A freelance ghostwriter is a single individual, dedicated to your book.

The right match with a good ghostwriter, can be a rewarding experience, and the arrangement carries a certain amount of romanticism.

Celebrities, political figures, athletes and VIPs from all walks of life are known to hire ghostwriters to write their memoirs or autobiographies.

Good freelancers can be hardworking and dedicated to your project.

Unfortunately, other freelancers can be fickle and peevish if things don’t go their own way, and you won’t necessarily know that until further down the road in your new relationship – sometimes after dozens of hours of interviews.

When choosing your freelancer, a good tip:  A freelancer’s ability to sell themselves to you has little to do with their ability to write your book.

So, don’t jump at the one that sounds the best simply because he or she gave you a good spiel.

Call their references.

Without proper due diligence, you can invest a lot of time and money before finding out the writer doesn’t fit your project or your own working style.

Another tip:  Be sure to ask how much time they can devote to your book, and if they have had success completely projects on deadline in the past.

Remember that when you hire an individual, you are at the whim of his or her timeline.

While some individual ghostwriters spend most of their time writing, others may consider it a part-time job, meaning your project will need to work around their life.

On the other hand, if your writer makes a living ghostwriting, you may have to wait for an opening in their schedule — and even then they may be juggling you and several other projects which can make for a long process.

4. Hiring a Ghostwriting Company

If you want a more hands-on experience with more options, hiring a ghostwriting company might be the best choice for you.

You will still have the opportunity to develop a one-on-one relationship with your writer (complete with frequent in-person interviews), but you’ll also have the safety net of company management if a problem ever arises.

Plus, with a senior editor available for all stages of your book, those closest to the book (you and your ghostwriter) will always receive objective editorial feedback.

When you are done, the firm will consult on all of your available publishing options – from traditional publishing to print-on-demand services – so you can choose the option that is best for your story.

A ghostwriting company allows for the ability to “go where the project takes you,” in a way that may be difficult with another writing model.

Want to scan hundreds of photos?

Need to track down hard-to-reach expert sources for interviews?

Maybe you want genealogy tracked back to 10 generations, or you are determined to find a needle-in-the-haystack research item only available on microfilm.

You might need a team to sort through hundreds of pages of old legal and medical documents, chronologically sort every piece of material, cross reference it against topic categories and cite it all.

Quality ghostwriting companies are used to receiving out-of-the box requests, and they have the manpower to make them happen, without distracting from your book’s progress.

Finally, because a writing team can share the workload, ghostwriting companies can often take on rush projects and maintain quality, in a way that is simply impossible for a one-man show.

If you’re looking for attentive, white-glove service, lots of interaction with your writers, and an end product limited only by your imagination, this last option may be the best for you.

Fast-Track Publishing: The Pros and Cons of Expediting the Publishing Process

“Publishing success isn’t about how talented you are; rather, it’s about what you do with how talented you are.” — Writing coach, Christina Katz

Taking a book idea from concept to print can be a long and arduous process. In some cases, it may take years for a book to reach the shelves. After all, the publishing industry has never been synonymous with speed.

However, for those looking to accelerate the process, there are options to consider.

In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of expediting the publishing process and will shed some light on the feasibility of “fast-track” publishing.

What Does Publishing Entail?

In a broad sense, publishing encompasses the issuance of books, journals, magazines, guides, and any other text-based material for distribution.

Traditionally, the publishing industry has focused on producing these text-based print materials. But with the advent of the digital age, publishing has slowly migrated to electronic formats as well.

The process of publishing a high-quality text is very meticulous and time consuming. As such, there are no pre-determined time blocks for each step. In some cases, the text can make it to publication in weeks. In other cases, the entire process can take years.

But what are these steps that cause the process to take so much time?


The first stage of the publishing process begins with an acquisition.

An acquisition occurs when a literary agent or book publisher agrees to sign an author or purchase a manuscript. In some instances, it may be a one-and-done deal. In others, a promising author may get a three-book deal.

At this point, there may or may not be a manuscript already written. In many cases, the only product is a concept for an unwritten book.

Editorial Review

The next step consists of meeting with the editorial team.

The editorial team will go over whatever the writer has produced. If it is only an outline, the editorial team will suggest changes and edits. In this situation, the writer would most likely need to pitch their idea to the editorial team.

If there is a manuscript, the editorial team might make an “editorial assessment” to refine it. Fiction works often see changes to plots and storylines, whereas nonfiction works may see structural changes related to topics and content.


The production stage encompasses the entire writing, editing, and publication process. This stage is the longest and can take years, depending on the writer’s speed and dedication.

More often than not, publishers acquire finished manuscripts. Therefore, structural edits are minimal. In this case, the bulk of the editing boils down to copyediting and proofreading.

In short, the more polished a manuscript is, the less time it will take to pass this stage.

Marketing and Distribution

Lastly, the distribution and marketing stage drives book sales.

While there is no specific timeframe for this stage, promoting a book typically ranges from several weeks to a few months. Best-selling authors generally do not require extensive marketing. However, up-and-coming authors usually need more exposure.

Overall, a book’s lifecycle depends almost entirely on its sales.

Publishers constantly seek the next bestseller. Thus, authors should understand that the publishing industry is a profit-driven one that prioritizes books that are most likely to bring in the most money.

“Fast-Track” Publishing

Considering that the publishing process may become extensive, writers and publishers may choose to engage in so-called “fast-track” publishing.

Fast-track publishing is a practice in which the overall publishing process happens at a much faster tempo.

The main question surrounding fast-track publication lies in establishing why authors, in particular, seek to reduce the publishing cycle’s timeframe.

For many, it is a matter of “publish or perish.”  Shortening the publishing cycle’s lifetime allows authors to get their work out there faster, thereby increasing their exposure.

In addition, publishers may seek to shrink the publishing cycle’s span as a means of improving profits. This assumption is valid when publishers seek to maximize their profits by flooding their respective markets with as many publications as possible.

Additionally, there are extenuating circumstances in which time is of the essence. For example, an urgent matter or event captures the public’s attention. Consequently, authors and publishers must hasten to get their works to print in as little time as reasonably possible, in order to capitalize on the event at hand.

Tools for “Fast-Tracking”

Photo by Daniel from Pexels

For authors or publishers looking to “fast-track” publishing, there are tools available to help. The following tools can reduce the time needed to publish content without compromising quality.

Artificial Intelligence

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) through programs such as Autocrit and Grammarly can significantly reduce the time needed to edit documents.

These programs have advanced AI algorithms that can go through a manuscript and find errors in much less time than human eyes, thus allowing human time to be allocated to other tasks.

Ghostwriting Companies

The writing process itself can become the most time-consuming portion of the entire publishing cycle. To help with this issue, some publishers hire professional ghostwriters to produce content.

And, in some cases, publishers will hire a whole team of professional ghostwriters. After all, a team of ghostwriters can increase output in much less time than a single one.


Some authors go the self-publishing route to bypass the traditional publishing process. Self-publishing cuts publishing time down significantly, as it removes many of the usual barriers.

This route enables authors to take a finished manuscript to publication in short order. Often, self-publishing can shorten the process from weeks or years to mere hours or days.

Additionally, self-publishing facilitates getting both digital and print publications to a mass audience quickly and at a fraction of the cost.

Pros of Fast-Track Publishing

Fast-tracking the publication process has its pros. Mainly, fast-track publishing cuts down the publishing cycle’s timeframe significantly. Consequently, this time reduction impacts cost. As a result, a publisher’s bottom line will also see a positive improvement.

In addition, expediting the writing process by hiring a ghostwriting company drastically cuts writing time.

As such, publishers can employ full-time, professional ghostwriters instead of waiting on regular writers to get through a manuscript.

Moreover, hiring dedicated ghostwriters allows publishers to order books on specific topics as opposed to scouring the landscape for viable proposals.

Also, using automated tools can drastically cut the editing process.

While AI cannot substitute an editorial assessment, it can cut down the copyediting and proofreading process. Therefore, publishers can employ an algorithm to go over grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes in minutes as opposed to days or even weeks.

The marriage between ghostwriters and automated tools can make self-publishing a feasible alternative and can help authors save time and money to polish up their manuscripts.

Indeed, saving time and money is at the forefront of fast-track publishing. Nevertheless, fast-track publishing’s upsides go beyond saving time and money.

Publishers seeking to expand their scope can utilize fast-tracking to test the market. Since fast-track publishing tools reduce time and cost, testing new markets is no longer a prohibitive endeavor. Publishers can test new niches without making a significant upfront investment.

Also, authors save a considerable amount of time in preparing a manuscript.

While a solid editorial assessment may still be necessary, the copyediting and proofreading process can take hours instead of weeks. Moreover, authors will not need to employ an editor to review the mechanical aspects of language (spelling, punctuation, and grammar). As a result, authors can submit highly polished manuscripts for consideration.

Fast-track publishing allows publishers to capitalize on emerging trends. Often, publishers miss these trends, as getting useful content to the public can take a long time. Publishers can profit from trends as they emerge.

Consequently, fast-tracking the publishing process allows authors and publishers to adapt to readers’ shifting preferences quickly. Ultimately, this increased flexibility has a profound impact on the bottom line.

Cons of Fast-Track Publishing

While fast-tracking the publishing process has its upside, there is a downside that authors and publishers must be cognizant of before implementing fast-track publishing as a standard practice.

First, the use of automation comes with its share of risks. Particularly, automated AI-based tools are far from perfect. Therefore, blind faith in these tools may lead to unwanted mistakes.

As such, it is necessary to have a human go through a finished text prior to its publication. After all, AI cannot interpret an author’s intent and feelings.

Second, all content creators are not equal. Some are extremely good at producing a specific type of content but may not be as adept at producing all types of content.

Moreover, some content creators (particularly those offering rock-bottom costs) produce low-quality materials.

Mainly, low-quality content is due to the speed at which they work. Hence, unreasonably short turnaround times should be a major red flag to keep in mind.

Thirdly, self-publishing is not a common practice in all areas. For example, academic publishing largely hinges on becoming featured in respected journals and magazines. So, self-publishing is not really an option in those cases.

Also, nonfiction writers may find skepticism if their work is self-published. After all, having the support of a mainstream publisher helps boost visibility and reader engagement.

Publishers should be wary of using fast-track publishing to produce content en masse. Even though publishing is very much a numbers game, flooding the market with content does not always represent the most effective profit-driving approach.

Above all, publishers should strive to produce high-quality materials at regular intervals. Setting up a publishing schedule, and sticking to it, can drive profits far more than merely inundating the market. Maintaining a consistent tempo creates a sense of expectation in readers.

Is Fast-Track Publishing Worth It?

In short, the time that can be saved by fast-track publishing can be worth the effort.

The drastic reduction in time and cost can greatly enhance profit margins while allowing more publications to reach the market within a reasonable timeframe.

Fast-tracking the publishing process yields a number of benefits for readers as well. Readers can improve the scope and quality of their selections while receiving a constant flow of fresh content. Therefore, publishers can certainly take advantage of this approach.

As for authors, there is a new sense of hope in seeing their work reach publication. Whether authors choose to go the traditional or self-publishing route, they now have improved chances of achieving their goals.

That being said, the potential pitfalls with fast-track publishing still do require attention.

Both publishers and authors must pay close attention to the risks of fast-tracking the publishing process.

Publishers may choose to prioritize speed over quality. In such circumstances, publishers may harm their brand more than benefitting it.

Writers may also wish to expand their output by employing automated tools. However, automation has its limitations.

Ultimately, maintaining an adequate balance is the most important factor in fast-track publishing. While the goal may be to maximize profits, publishers and authors should endeavor to balance quality with speed. Good-quality content with a reasonable publication schedule will always beat a glacial tempo.

The Truth About Ghostwriting Around the World

Imagine this scenario.

A CEO of an up-and-coming winery wants to get the word out about a new technique her company is using to fertilize grapes in their vineyard, creating new and amazing flavors in otherwise standard grapes. She knows the process inside and out. What she doesn’t know is how to craft an interesting and reader-friendly article that could get into some of the industry’s premier publications.

What does she do? She hires a professional writer. A wonderful article is crafted and makes it into the leading magazine in the wine industry. Despite not writing a single word, the CEO is given the byline and credit for the article and boosts her reputation in the vino community.

Wait. What? How can that be? Isn’t that lying? That poor writer! 

Slow down. It’s called ghostwriting and it’s a real thing. The writer knew the deal and accepted it. Ghostwriting is a practice that’s extremely common in the United States. Is it a purely U.S. anomaly or is the rest of the world onboard? Let’s take a look. 

What is Ghostwriting?

The Merriam-Webster definition of ghostwriting is “to write for and in the name of another.”

That’s the gist of it. You do the writing, and maybe even the research, and someone else gets the byline.

So, why would a writer do it? Believe it or not, not every writer is obsessed with getting credit for her work. For those who have the personality and right skill set, it can be a great way to make a living as a writer.

What skills do you need? Here are a few:

  • Ability to work with someone who is an expert in their field, use their ideas, and craft an article or book that reads like its coming directly from them.
  • Research skills to fill in the blanks.
  • Willingness to concede credit for the work.
  • Discretion to maintain that anonymity.

Ghostwriting projects can come in the form of professional articles, memoirs or autobiographies, and even novels.

Remember V.C. Andrews, author of Flowers in the Attic? Even though she passed away in 1986, she’s still churning out books to this day. How? A ghostwriter named Andrew Neiderman has taken over the writing. He does his best to stay in her style and it’s her name on the books, though from cover to cover they are really his stories.

There’s even debate that Alexandre Dumas didn’t do all of his own work but took credit for the work of Auguste Maquet.

If you really want to dig into the realities of ghostwriting, check out “The Truth About Ghostwriting.”

The Dark Side of Ghostwriting

While hiring a ghostwriter as I defined it above is a perfectly legitimate practice, there are some who link the idea to cheating.

For example, students in high school or college may hire someone to write their papers and essays for them. In fact, China has a significant issue with students who are looking to get into schools overseas. They hire writers to do their papers to give the impression that their language skills are more advanced than they really are.

Although this practice is considered cheating in the U.S. — and can result in harsh disciplinary penalties from schools — it’s so common in China that this type of ghostwriting has become an estimated $1.5 billion industry.

Another way that ghostwriting has become controversial is in the medical field. In one scenario, pharmaceutical companies hire writers to draft papers on a new drug. Then, they give authorship credit to a well-known academic in the medical field, thus adding credibility to their product and luring doctors into false confidence in the drug. The medical field, and even the U.S. Congress, have taken measures to try to eliminate ghostwriting for scientific papers.

No one should be hurt by the use of a ghostwriter.

Whether or not ghostwriting is legitimate or shady can be judged by this: Does authorship matter in the work? If the CEO of a tech company is sharing his insight on new tech developments in a magazine, but uses a ghostwriter to craft the article, you’re still getting the CEO’s thoughts.

Ghostwriting in Other Countries

While ghostwriting seems to be legal pretty much across the globe, its reputation suffers in some locations. China, obviously, as it battles the academic cheating scandal, sees it as a form of dishonesty. However, a simple Google search for ghostwriting in China will pop up a large number of companies ready to help you out. The same goes for India, England, and much of Europe.

In France, interestingly, the term for a ghostwriter is negre, which in any other context is considered a deplorably racist term. This association with ghostwriting came about in the 1700s with the rise of colonialism and slavery.

According to Jack Lamar, who wrote an article for NPR on the topic, “The idea was that writing under someone else’s name, erasing your own identity, was thankless servitude on a par with the labor of colonialism’s black subjects and victims.” While that attitude towards ghostwriters may not be as prevalent today, the term still exists.

Ghostwriting is as Legitimate as Construction Work

In nearly any other industry, an agreement that works similar to ghostwriting wouldn’t be given a second thought.

In fact, many famous singers don’t even write their own material. Take country music legend George Strait, for example. Strait has 60 number one hits, but he only wrote a handful of them himself. Instead, other songwriters, like Dean Dillon and Sanger D. “Whitey” Shafer and others, penned the songs and let Strait work his magic with them.

An architect designs a beautiful building, but he doesn’t actually pour the concrete and hammer the nails to build it, right? It’s all about making the best use of your skills.

There are a lot of people out there who, for one reason or another, want to publish a book or an article with their thoughts and ideas. They want their own name on it, too. It just takes a ghostwriter with the right knack for that kind of writing and the willingness to forego receiving credit.

Writers who can accept that kind of an arrangement can build very nice careers for themselves, even if we don’t know their names.

How Much Time Does A Ghostwriter Need to Write A Book?

One of the most common questions new and prospective clients ask ghostwriters is how long their book project will take from start to finish.

For clients that pay by the hour, the thought of a project taking six months or longer can be scary.

We interviewed several professional ghostwriters to ask them about their processes and how long ghostwriting takes them.

Most ghostwriters agreed that the interview process takes a significant amount of time up front, with one to two hours spent per page writing and additional time spent editing, revising, and proofreading after that.

Ultimately, though, there really is no simple answer, as each project is different and requires a different time commitment.

Fortunately, professional ghostwriters have processes in place that they use for each project, which can give you a good idea of how much time your specific project would take them.

Factors That Impact Time Spent Ghostwriting

Time Ghostwriting
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No two ghostwriting projects are the same, even if the projects specify the same number of words or chapters. Some factors that can impact the time spent on ghostwriting a book are:

The Initial Meeting

For ghostwriting projects, the initial meeting between the ghostwriter and client can be an extremely important starting point, setting the pace and expectations for the entire project.

According to The Writers For Hire ghostwriter Jennifer Rizzo, the initial meeting with the client is used “to determine whether they have a certain style or tone in mind, or if they need some examples to help nail those things down. That initial meeting is also when we figure out if interviews should be conducted, who needs to be interviewed for the project, and how/when those interviews are going to be done.”

Once the initial meeting is conducted, both the ghostwriter and client should have a better idea of what the scope of the project will entail, which will help to determine how much time should be budgeted.

Size and Scope of the Project

Sizes and types of ghostwriting projects can vary greatly, from short children’s books to a large, multi-book memoir.

The longer the project, the more time you can expect it to take.

Did the Client Provide an Outline or Draft?

Ghostwriting projects all start in different phases.

In some cases, a client will come to the first meeting with an entire first draft of their book already written. Other times, though, all they have is the initial ideas and concepts of what they want their book to look like.

If an outline or a first draft is provided upfront, this could serve as a starting point for the writer.

However, it can also create more editing work before any actual writing occurs. Not all client-created outlines or drafts are what end up getting used, as phone calls and interviews can alter the initial scope.


Much of the time spent on ghostwriting, especially with book projects, is in interviews.

If the interview subjects are difficult to get a hold of, this can cause delays. And if multiple interviews are needed or conversations drag on and veer off-topic, it could take longer.

Most of the writers we interviewed noted that between the initial interviews and outline process, it can take a long time before any writing actually gets started.

The Writers For Hire ghostwriter Flori Meeks notes that her process for autobiographies starts after she knows what a client’s goals are.

Meeks says that she will develop questions and start scheduling interviews. “That process continues until I have enough information to recommend a detailed book outline. After finalizing the outline with the client, I write the first chapter, have it edited by another member of our team, and send it to the client to get their feedback.”


The amount of outside, third-party research will vary, based on the topic and project scope.

If you choose to create a book about a historical period or a specific scientific fact, it will likely require more research than a book just about your personal life story.


Each writer drafts copy at a different pace, but one type of writer does not necessarily offer an advantage over another.

A writer who completes 250 words an hour may need less time in the editing phase than one who writes 500 words an hour since they take more time reviewing the content as they write it.


Editing is an important part of the process that shouldn’t be overlooked. Rarely is the first draft the one that’s the best.

In fact, most good books go through several rounds of edits before they are ready to be published.

Feedback and Revisions

A ghostwritten book is a client’s story, not the ghostwriter’s. After all, the client is the author. The ghostwriter is just the person who is helping the author get their story on paper.

Because of this, there’s a good chance that there will be some feedback and revisions along the way. This is just part of the process.

However, the more time spent going back and forth, the longer the project will take.


Once the revision process is complete, the document still needs to be proofread before it can be published or otherwise considered finished.

Although it can be time-consuming, proofreading is an essential step in catching style inconsistencies, grammar issues, and typos.

Division of Labor

Clients can be as involved as they want to be with their ghostwriting project.

A client may want to provide a rough draft for the ghostwriter to start with. Or perhaps they just want to hand off the project and see the first draft when it is completed.

And in some cases, clients want to draft certain chapters on their own, while having their ghostwriter draft others.  

There is no wrong way to divide the labor on a ghostwriting project, although the division of labor will impact the amount of time ghostwriters will spend on projects.

Ghostwriting Challenges

Ghostwriters can face many unique challenges compared to other types of professional writers. This can delay a project or cause more time to be spent on the feedback and revision process. Some common challenges include:

  • Difficulty scheduling interviews. Interviews can take time, and clients often have numerous responsibilities to juggle, which can make it difficult to schedule interviews.
  • Not having enough information available. Even with interviews, sometimes it can be difficult to get enough information about the subject. In these cases, ghostwriters often have to do additional research to get the content they need.
  • Lack of sources. Sometimes an assignment requires more sources than the client can provide, and the sources are difficult to find.
  • Insufficient communication. A lack of communication throughout the project can make it difficult to proceed. This can happen when days or weeks pass between responses or reviews of drafts.

Additionally, ghostwriters want to have a good grasp on the subject and the expectations before getting started.

“I’m not a procrastinator but I can be a perfectionist, and I’ll rewrite the intro to something several times before I’m happy with where it’s leading me,” The Writers For Hire’s Barbara Adams says.

The good news is that there are things that clients can do to speed along the ghostwriting process, should that be their goal.

Making themselves available to the ghostwriter for prompt interviews, drafting an outline of sorts that details what is expected, and keeping the lines of communication open can make the entire process faster.

And finally, before starting any ghostwriting project, it is a good idea for the client to discuss the expected timeline with the writer to see if their expectations are realistic.

The Ins and Outs of a Nonfiction Ghostwriting Contract

Have you dreamed of seeing a book with your name on it?

Would having a book published under your name help get your speaking engagements or enhance your personal brand? Do you have something important to say but don’t consider yourself a writer? Do you want a record of your family history? Are you considering running for office?

If so, you may have wondered about hiring a ghostwriter.

A ghostwriter is someone who will create content for you that can be published under your name. A ghostwriter can pen anything from the shortest of blog posts to an article for a magazine or a series of books.

Hiring a ghostwriter isn’t complicated, but the question of “what goes in the contract” can be a little daunting.

Just like in any other industry, the contract will be a written record that clarifies objectives and practical matters from the beginning to make sure you get the result you want.

Your contract doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but it does need to clearly set out your expectations, as well as include clauses for termination, payment, and ownership transference.

That’s because having a book ghostwritten for you is like having a home built. Just like a home, your book is a work made for hire, according to your instructions. And just like when building a home, you need to make the most critical decisions before you get your contractors started.

It would be no fun thinking you were going to get a beach bungalow for large family reunions and ending up with a cozy one-bedroom designed for secluded, romantic weekends for two.

So, What Kinds of Things Should Be Included in the Contract for a Ghostwritten Book?

Final Deliverable

The final deliverable is what you are paying for.

The final deliverable is a manuscript.

It is “the content” that can be published under your name.

A ghostwriting contract typically doesn’t include a cover design or interior design or specific formatting for an e-book or print production.

However, many ghostwriters have connections to publishing and design firms that can help with these services.

This is something that should be addressed when discussing the final deliverable.

In the contract’s deliverables section, you’ll want to include a rough description of the book.

The description can include a working title and the genre of your book, for example, “The History of Arctic Oil Exploration.  A collection of nonfiction essays, each essay being the biography of a person of historical significance.”

Your deliverable should also indicate your book’s length.

How long should your book be? Well, it depends on what you want it to accomplish.

Is it a technical manual or textbook of sorts, to establish your authority?

Is it a romance novel as a gift for your beloved?

Is it a self-help book with a number of pages for readers to fill in answers to exercises?

Is it a memoir of a short period in your life or a longer one?

Once the purpose of the book is established, your ghostwriter can advise you on the appropriate length.

In the contract, the length of a book should be stated as a range of words, along with a rough page estimate for clarity.

For example, 20,000 to 30,000 words is about 100 pages.

Finally, whether or not you choose to explicitly state them in the contract, it’s critical to set realistic goals for your manuscript.

As Dr. Angela Lauria, CEO of The Author Incubator says:

I spent 17 years as a ghostwriter and every single book I was hired to write got done. But what I noticed was that very few were happy with the result the book got them. They told me they wanted a book and I believed them. Writing a book has always been easy for me. But I wanted my clients to be happier. That's when I realized the book was actually supposed to be a path to get them something else. They didn't just want a book on the shelf they wanted the book to create something for them.-Dr. Angela Lauria

So, your first task is to get crystal clear on what you want your book to do for you.

Dan Gerstein, founder of Gotham Ghostwriters notes two common goals:

  1. Your book could position you as a thought leader in business, tech, advocacy, or politics. In this case, your book will serve as the foundation for your authority and help you to secure speaking engagements or sell your services. In some cases the book can be leveraged into workshops and seminars and webinars.
  2. Your book tells a story – a cautionary tale or an inspirational tale to help others. This would include memoir and self-help books.

Remember that book sales rarely make an author wealthy.

You shouldn’t expect to recoup the money you spend on a ghostwriter via book sales.

So, if increased income is the goal, it’s up to you to set goals that will allow you to leverage your book for speaking engagements, or c-suite job offers, or the like.


This part of the contract gets into the nitty gritty.

You may think that the services provided by a ghostwriter would be fairly straightforward.

They write … right?

Yes, but they may (or may not) also proofread, edit, organize, research, and assist with publication of your manuscript.

Expecting your book to be proofread is standard, as are a couple of rounds of edits.

It is also standard that a ghostwriter will fact check easily verifiable claims throughout the book, to ensure accuracy.

A professional ghostwriter with editorial strategy experience will also be able to collaborate with you on determining the “hook for the book” and creating a book outline.

Expect to invest a minimum of 10 to 20 hours of talking time at the beginning of the process to help your ghostwriter to understand your voice and create a structure for your book.

Although proofreading, editing, and organizing may be considered standard, you should still outline these services in the contract to minimize any areas where your expectations could be misaligned.

Then you get to research.

Research is one of the most unpredictable elements of a project so clearly outlined responsibilities on your part and the part of your ghostwriter is crucial.

The subject of the research and the expected amount (in hours) should be specified.

For example, “no more than 30 hours of research total” or “20 hours of research on great white sharks by November 30.”

This way, everyone knows when the work is going beyond the scope of what has been agreed and you can adjust timelines and payments accordingly.

Do interviews need to be done?

If so, you should specify with whom and by when.

If that’s not possible, then you can specify how many hours your ghostwriter will spend tracking down industry experts or celebrities.

In almost all cases, your ghostwriter will also need to interview you.

You should set a number of hours of expected interview time, as well as outline travel expectations and expenses.

Will the ghostwriter need to travel to your home or office?

If so, the number of expected in-person visits should be included, as well as listing of any reimbursable expenses, such as gas or airfare.

Ideally, your ghostwriter should be able to advise you as to how your book might best fit into the market and suggest publishing options.

If you have decided that you will target a traditional publisher rather than self-publish, you may want help with pitching the book to them, and that service can be included in the contract, too.

Your ghostwriter or ghostwriting firm may have helped pitch your book to publishers, but a guarantee that the book will be published will almost never be included in a contract.

Now, one person may not be able to fulfill all these services, so you may want to engage a ghostwriting firm.

Firms can often also assist you with ancillary services such as design, a book website, ebook publishing, and book launch press releases.

Choosing a firm can also help you feel at ease that even sickness or death won’t get in the way of your book getting finished!


The ownership of the work transfers to you completely and the contract should be crystal clear on that point.

You should have full authority to claim you are the author of the book and may take full credit for it.

Since you are the owner, you will have all rights to the work, including film and audio rights, domestic and foreign.

You should see something like the following in the contract, “All rights, title and interest in the following shall be the sole and exclusive property of Author, including:

(i) All materials, including but not limited to Word files, PowerPoint presentations, tapes, completed manuscript, the completed project and/or other product resulting from this effort;

(ii) The content of the subject matter of the book provided by the author;

(iii) Any ideas, works, documentation or notes conceived related to the book;

(iv) All writings by ghostwriter related to or associated with the book; and

(v) All ghostwriter’s work product related to the Book.”

You may also see something that specifies that you won’t be provided full ownership until the amount agreed upon has been paid to the writer in full.


You can decide that the ghostwriter’s authorship can never be made public or you can choose to put the writer’s name as a byline on the finished product along with yours.

This fact should be specified in the contract, for example, “the ghostwriter will keep their role in the project confidential. The author is the owner of the manuscript and holds the right to choose the manner and time of disclosure. Permission for the ghostwriter to discuss the project must be given in writing by the author.”

Per your discretion, the ghostwriter could be allowed to provide excerpts of the work they did to potential clients.

Before they do so, that potential client should sign a non-disclosure agreement (referred to as an NDA).

The contract should also specify that you should be told when an excerpt of the work is used in a portfolio.

This protects your position as author of the work.


There are certain legal protections that you will want to be sure are included in the contract.

In fact, these protections will go both ways.

It’s called “mirror indemnification.”

These clauses in the contract will say that the writer (your ghostwriter or firm) is responsible for anything illegal that they do and you (the author) bear no responsibility for it. And vice versa.

You should be indemnified against any claims and expenses arising from infringement of any copyright or violation of any property rights that may appear in the work.

Likewise, your ghostwriter should be protected from anything scandalous or libelous that you choose to include under your name.

Ghostwriters should warrant that their work “does not infringe any copyright, violate any property rights.”

You should “defend, indemnify, and hold harmless” the other against “claims, suits, costs, damages, and expenses that may be sustained by reason of any scandalous, libelous, or unlawful matter contained or alleged to be contained in the work.”

If you aren’t sure if your content will be considered libelous, consult with an attorney.

Remember that your ghostwriter is not an attorney.

Dan Gerstein notes that this kind of protection was crucial in one particular project that was about a very high-profile controversy where the author was involved in legal issue with the federal government.

Work Schedule

Do you like face-to-face meetings during which you can bounce ideas around with everyone else and leave with a plan of action?

Perhaps your schedule doesn’t allow for that style of working or you find it preferable to receive work from your ghostwriter to look over, take time to consider, and deliver written feedback.

You can discuss with your ghostwriter how you would like the working relationship to be set up and your ghostwriter can sketch out a work plan.

You might include the milestones (with target deadlines expressed as a date range) you agree upon with your ghostwriter.

If you are sure of your desired end date, you can then think backwards with your ghostwriter to agree upon the due dates of the various elements leading up to the finished product (like the first outline and the first draft) to make sure your book is completed by the time you need it.

You could include this work plan in the contract, or it may be something that is less formal but still provides everyone with a comforting structure.

Final Deadline

The expected end date could be a crucial piece of information.

Do you have an event at which you’d like to distribute your finished book, for example? The contract can lay out what happens if things get delayed due to the ghostwriter’s actions.

You might include a clause that sets out a specific amount to be paid to you for each day that expires after the prescribed final deadline.

But remember, the ghostwriter is also entitled to expect you to meet your deadlines.

If you are somehow responsible for preventing the work from being completed, for example by withholding required information or not showing up to a meeting, then your ghostwriter is not responsible for the delay and is still entitled to be paid for the work done up to that point.


When negotiating a price, bear in mind that the final fee should take into account all time spent on the project (for example, primary research and interviews), and not just on writing alone.

The contract should indicate the amount the ghostwriter will be paid for their work, when they will receive payment, and how they will be paid.

You can arrange payment in a number of ways.

It’s possible that part of the payment could be paid in the form of royalties (in exchange for a lower upfront fee, the author may share some of the advance and royalties with the ghostwriter).

But that is very rare.

Many ghostwriters will ask for 50% of their fee up front and take the remainder upon completion.

But it is also common for the fee to be paid in installments at the agreed upon milestones, or monthly based on the amount of time spent by the ghostwriter.


No matter how carefully one prepares, life still happens, and you may find yourself at odds with your writer.

So, the contract should lay out how disagreements and disputes will be handled.

It’s usually sufficient to include a paragraph stating that any dispute, if it cannot be solved by good faith negotiation between the parties shall be submitted to binding and confidential arbitration under the rules of the American Arbitration Association in a particular state, as follows:

“Any dispute arising from this Agreement shall be submitted to binding and confidential arbitration under the rules of the American Arbitration Association in the state of [state] and county of [county], and any award issued in such arbitration may be entered and enforced as a judgment in any court of competent jurisdiction. The prevailing party in any such arbitration shall be entitled to recover attorneys’ fees and costs.”

If your ghostwriter happens to be working in a different state from where you live or do business, you have a choice of states and you may want to consult an attorney to get advice on which state to go with.

Escape Clauses

A complete ghostwriting contract should include an escape clause that works both ways.

Sometimes, it is best to terminate a project when things aren’t working out and cannot seem to be remedied or re-scoped.

An escape clause should include a predetermined “kill fee” paid to the ghostwriter.

This means that the ghostwriter be fairly compensated for services rendered, even if you are unsatisfied with the results.

The Bottom Line

Your ghostwriting contract sets basic parameters, so you know what to expect for your money.

At the same time, writing a book is a creative process.

It is a collaborative process, so don’t hesitate to be honest about what you want the book to do for you and to nurture your relationship with your ghostwriter.

Disclaimer: (Nothing that appears in this article is intended to serve as legal advice; for that you should contact a duly accredited attorney.)

How Common Is Ghostwriting?

Soon after John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage was published in 1957, speculation began over who actually crafted the words behind the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography.

For years, many believed the book was largely written by Theodore Sorensen, Kennedy’s close aide and speechwriter. But ever loyal to his president, Sorensen consistently denied any substantial involvement in writing the book.

It wasn’t until he released his own autobiography in 2008 that Sorensen even hinted at his involvement. And just before his death in 2010, he finally admitted he was Kennedy’s ghostwriter, and essentially the main writer of the book.

What is Ghostwriting?

The term ghostwriting refers to the practice of writing on someone else’s behalf, who then takes most or all of the credit for the work.

Ghostwriters can be hired to write a variety of different kinds of content, including books, speeches, or even social media posts. The ghostwriter doesn’t make any claims of authorship but instead remains behind the scenes.

The ghostwriting process can involve extensive research and collaboration, depending on the type of content.

For an autobiography, for example, it is extremely important for the ghostwriter to match the voice of the author. This can require hours of interviews with the author and his or her family and associates.

A family history would involve gathering personal papers, photos, and interviews with other family members.  

Other projects can be carried out more like research or writing assignments. In the case of Profiles in Courage, Sorensen took Kennedy’s ideas and carried out the necessary research to bring Kennedy’s vision into form.

What Materials Are Written by Ghostwriters?


While many types of content can be written by a ghostwriter, most people associate the term with writing books. These can include a range of genres, such as:

  • Autobiographies
  • Memoirs
  • Business Books
  • Fiction

Examples of Famous Books Written by Ghostwriters:

The practice of using a ghostwriter is believed to date back hundreds of years. Ghostwriter Jennie Erdal wrote in her 2009 memoir, “it might almost qualify as the oldest profession if prostitution had not laid prior claim.”

Examples of famous books not widely known to have been written with the help of a ghostwriter are widespread. Here are a few that stand out:

The Count of Monte Cristo

Written in 1844 by Alexandre Dumas, who is also the author of The Three Musketeers, both books were created in collaboration with Auguste Maquet. While the degree of credit due to him is somewhat disputed, it is known that Maquet was responsible for the detailed research needed and provided Dumas with an outline for the stories.

Jason Bourne Series

Robert Ludlum was the author of several popular thrillers, including the massively successful Jason Bourne series, which initially included three books, published from 1980 to 1990. Eleven more novels in the series were released from 2004 to 2017—after Mr. Ludlum’s death in 2001.

Ghostwriting for novelists after their death is actually a common practice. Other examples include books written for Michael Crichton (who wrote Jurassic Park) and Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame).

President Ulysses S. Grant

On the verge of bankruptcy after finishing his second term as president, Grant was persuaded by his friend, Mark Twain, to publish his memoirs as a means of regaining financial solvency. The plan worked brilliantly, and Grant’s book became a runaway bestseller. Speculation about who actually wrote the book remains to this day. Many believe Twain acted as Grant’s ghostwriter due to the strong prose of the book.

Speeches and articles

For some types of content, using a ghostwriter is almost expected.

It is commonly understood that many politicians and heads of companies or organizations have someone on their staff help write their speeches.

U.S. presidents often have a staff of speechwriters, and they can play an important role during times of national emergencies. John McConnell helped write President George W. Bush’s speech after the 9/11 attacks, and Liz Carpenter wrote the 58-word text that President Lyndon B. Johnson read after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  

Expecting input from a ghostwriter is common for other kinds of informational content, as well.

Thought pieces or blog posts attributed to those in leadership positions are often written on their behalf by a ghostwriter.

Social Media

Actors, musicians, entertainers, politicians, business leaders—many public figures are obligated to stay current on social media. With follower lists reaching into the hundreds of millions, being active on social media is important to their careers.

For the average person, keeping up with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram alone can be overwhelming. For celebrities and leaders with demanding jobs, help from a ghostwriter almost always is necessary if they are to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

It can be a critically important job.

Dan Scavino serves as President Donald Trump’s Social Media manager and is known to compose many of Trump’s posts on Twitter with the president’s input.

Actress Kerry Washington relies on her longtime friend (since seventh grade), Allison Peters to maintain her accounts. She reads all Facebook and Instagram comments and helps compose posts for her friend. 

Academic Writing

This category of ghostwriting is probably the most controversial.

If a student pays someone to write their paper for them, that is outright cheating. The student is being evaluated for the work they are personally able to produce. To bring in another person to write the content for them is deceptive and unethical.

Getting help with editing and proofreading, on the other hand, is not unethical as long as the content remains the work of the author.

In the case of an academic professional, such as a professor or administrator, hiring someone to help with research and writing is a common and accepted practice.

But if a ghostwriter contributes a substantial written portion of a scholarly piece, their role should be acknowledged to avoid any hint of deception.

The Rise of Ghostwriting

The term “ghostwriter” itself implies there is a certain level of secrecy involved in the practice. This makes it challenging to determine the actual number of books and other material written with the help of a ghostwriter.

There has been an explosion during the past decade in personal memoirs, a category of books that makes heavy use of ghostwriters.

According to an article published in the academic journal, Social Forces, the sale of books in the personal memoir category increased by more than 600% in the U.S. (from 1.2 million to more than 8 million) from 2004 to 2016.

The article further stated that nearly half of the memoirs found on The New York Times list of non-fiction best sellers from 2014 to 2019 were written with the help of a ghostwriter. (In these cases, the ghostwriter was acknowledged for their contribution).

Fiction ghostwriting is growing as well. One of the most well-known examples could be the books of James Patterson, the enormously prolific author of over 150 novels. He makes no effort to hide the fact that he uses a stable of ghostwriters to maintain this breakneck pace of publishing. In fact, his helpers are more accurately described as co-authors and given credit for their role in his books.

The Role of Self-Publishing

With the rise of self-publishing, more books than ever are now able to be published overall. Among those taking advantage of this opportunity are many business owners who publish books in order to boost their authority in their field.

Martin Zwilling, the founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, believes one of the best ways for entrepreneurs to increase visibility, credibility, and trust is to write a book. “I can tell you from my own experience…that my first book, Do You Have What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur, did more for my credibility and leads as an adviser than all the marketing and networking I had done previously,” he wrote in an article for Inc.com.

The Stigma of Hiring a Ghostwriter

Theodore Sorensen’s reluctance to claim any credit for his role in writing Profiles in Courage reflected the attitude toward ghostwriting at the time. Most saw it as something of a dirty little secret.

Madeleine Morel, a literary agent for ghostwriters, described how serious the stigma used to be for NPR in 2014. “So if you were a ghostwriter you’d maybe tell your best friend on pain of death never to tell anyone else ‘cause there was a slightly ignominious feature to it.’”

These attitudes have significantly changed over the years. In fact, these days, it is a common practice to give credit to the ghostwriter in the acknowledgments page of an author’s book.

One reason for this change may have grown out of the need to be transparent to an author’s audience, especially if they are a celebrity or other public figure.

Internet celebrity Zoe Sugg (popularly known as Zoella) published a novel, Girl Online, in 2014. The book was largely written by a ghostwriter—but Sugg passed it off as her own. When fans found out, she suffered a huge backlash. They called her greedy and were angry that they had been misled.

Why Hire a Ghostwriter?

To avoid any risk of criticism, the obvious solution is to simply write the book yourself. So why hire a ghostwriter in the first place?

Number one, writing a book is not easy. They can take years to write, and not everyone’s skill set includes a talent for words. Mark Sullivan, the owner-director of the ghostwriting firm, Manhattan Literary, explains. “It takes a lot of experience. Some very capable people want books written but don’t have the time or the expertise to do it.”

In addition, the online world has created an insatiable appetite for new content. It’s not just books and social media posts that need to be written. There are also blog posts and articles, website content, and video scripts—all combined, it is far more than one person could possibly handle without help.

Interested in Hiring a Ghostwriter?

With the acceptance of using a ghostwriter on the rise, it is easier than ever to find one to help you if you are interested in writing a book. You can find more information about ghostwriting here. If you are ready to start looking for a ghostwriter, you can find some tips here about how to hire a writer who best meets your needs.

How to Hire a Ghostwriter

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.

The Ultimate Guide to Self-Publishing Platforms

Two decades ago, self-published authors commanded about as much respect for their work as used car salesmen or politicians.

In other words, no one was taking them seriously.

But over time, stories began to emerge about authors like Mark Dawson, who has sold over 2 million copies of his books. Or Amanda Hocking, who back in 2012 reportedly made $2.5 million from sales of her books. Both authors are examples of the earliest success stories in the self-publishing world.

People started to take notice. And as the success stories continued to grow, self-published authors gradually gained a lot more respect for their work.

Today, choosing to self-publish can make a lot of sense for many authors.

If you are interested in self-publishing, the first step is deciding on a platform for publishing and distributing your book.

The good news is, there are many options available to authors interested in taking on the reins of publishing their book. The bad news is, there are so many options available, it can be overwhelming and confusing to navigate all the choices that are out there.

You will need to consider what kind of support services you are willing to pay for, as well as your your budget, your format, and your plans for distribution.

Types of Self-Publishing Services

There are two broad categories of self-publishing companies: retailers and aggregators. Retailers will sell your book through their own online store. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Barnes and Noble Press are two of the biggest, and most well-known retailers. Authors receive payment directly from the retailer for any books sold.

An aggregator is a company that will distribute your book to several book retailers at the same time. This can give a book wider distribution, particularly to foreign markets.

Some self-publishing platforms  also offer a print-on-demand service, which allows authors to have physical copies of their books printed when requested. It also prevents authors from having to print large quantities of books and carry an inventory before being able to sell them.

Overview of Self-Publishing Platforms


Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

The behemoth in the self-publishing world is Amazon, who owns Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). With 85 percent of the ebook market share, they are hard to ignore.

Amazon makes it very attractive to sign up with KDP. For one, if you just want to explore self-publishing, you can upload your book to KDP and have it available for sale on Amazon within 24 hours. Amazon will take a percentage of your royalties for every ebook sold. Depending on the sale price of the ebook, Amazon pays royalties of 35 or 70 percent.

Authors also have the option of participating in KDP Select, a program designed to help authors promote their books on Amazon. Authors agree to give Amazon exclusive distribution of their book for 90 days. You can also re-enroll in the program as many times as you like. In exchange, you are able to participate in book promotions within the KDP Select program.

One benefit of KDP Select is your ebook will be also made available in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. The program allows Amazon Prime members with a Kindle device to check out one ebook a month for free. If they read your book, you can earn royalties based on the number of pages read. These royalties are in addition to any earned from the sale of your book.

For authors who want to also sell physical copies of their books, KDP has a print-on-demand service through CreateSpace. Acquired by Amazon in 2005, CreateSpace used to be a separate print-on-demand company. In 2018, it was completely merged into Amazon KDP. Authors can choose to have their print books distributed to Amazon only, where they receive royalties of 60 percent, or they can opt for expanded distribution with royalties of 40 percent.

Barnes and Noble Press

Books published with Barnes and Noble (B&N) Press are sold only on the company’s online and physical bookstores. It is pretty straightforward to upload a book into their self-publishing platform, and it’s free. Once you’ve got your book into the system, it’ll be ready for sale within 72 hours. Royalty rates for ebooks range from 40 to 65 percent, depending on the price of the book.

There are no exclusivity requirements to publish with B&N Press. It is also possible to price your ebook for free, which is something many authors use as an effective promotional tool. B&N press also partners with several other services to help authors with editing, marketing, design, and websites.

Another service offered by B&N Press is a print-on-demand service. Readers can opt to purchase a physical copy of the book through the website. For print books, the royalty rate is 55 percent, minus the cost of printing. Getting your book into Barnes and Noble physical stores, however, requires sales of at least 1,000 copies in a year to be considered for placement.


With its modest share of the U.S. ebook market, Kobo could be easy to overlook. But if you have any interest in sales outside of the U.S. (which you should have if you are trying to reach a large audience), then it’s worth considering Kobo. “We are a very global company,” says author engagement specialist Joni Di Placido. The Toronto-based company is particularly strong in Canada, where they account for 25 percent of ebook sales.

“We focus on a lot of markets outside of North America: Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and also non-English speaking markets,” says Di Placido. “We do really well in the Netherlands. Many Dutch readers like to read English-language books.”

Kobo Writing Life is their free self-publishing platform. It’s simple to use and once your file is ready, your ebook becomes available to readers in over 190 countries. They pay royalties of 70 percent on ebooks priced more than $2.99 in the U.S. or 45 percent for ebooks priced below that amount.

The company also offers authors a promotions tool built right into the dashboard of the program. Authors can apply for both free and price drop promotions. Kobo Writing Life also has partnerships with libraries, including Overdrive. This is a free app many libraries and schools use to provide digital content (ebooks and audiobooks) to their users. Authors can have their titles available in the OverDrive library marketplace and get paid 50 percent of the library price the author sets.

Apple iBooks

By using a direct marketing approach to Mac users, Apple iBooks has managed to become the second largest retailer of ebooks in the U.S. To publish directly on iBooks, you’ll need to use a Mac device. Otherwise you will need to go through an aggregator. Royalties are set at a flat 70 percent rate, regardless of the book price.

Authors can publish their ebooks using Apple Author, or you can even publish your ebook using Pages, the word processor that is included on Apple devices. Books are made available to 40 country-specific ebook stores. One unique feature is you can price your books differently in each country and in the local currency. There is no exclusive distribution contract, and authors can schedule free or discount book promotions at any time.

Apple iBooks is attractive for those who are skilled with design and want to create ebooks with lots of images or graphics. The platform offers several templates, such as for cookbooks, textbooks, and even children’s books. They have a drag and drop feature for adding charts and tables, and even audio and video files to an ebook.


For those interested in quick access to a range of markets, this is where an aggregator is very helpful. These platforms will allow you to publish your book, and they will push it to a range of retailers all at once, including Amazon, B&N Press, Kobo, and Apple. All of your sales can then be combined into one report, resulting in one royalty check each pay period, greatly simplifying the process of distribution. You pay a cut of your royalties to the aggregator for this service.

Key factors to consider when choosing an aggregator are price, distribution, and support.


The first to offer aggregator services, Smashwords has been in the business since 2008. They are one of the world’s largest distributors of self-published ebooks. When asked why an author might choose to use a distributor, Jim Azevado, Smashwords’ Marketing Director explains, “A distributor’s greatest value to self-published authors and independent publishers is massive times savings. With a distributor, you format your book once, choose where you want your book distributed and–viola!–you’re done.”

With Smashwords you get access to their wide distribution network that includes Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and many other smaller specialty  retailers. One notable exception is that Smashwords does not distribute to Amazon, unless you have earned over $2,000 on their platform.

To submit your book to Smashwords, you will first need to format it yourself. They provide authors with resources to help guide you through the process, including the free Smashwords Style Guide, which “has become sort of the bible for ebook formatting,” Azevado says.

Authors earn up to 80 percent of the retail price for ebooks sold on Smashwords, and up to 60 percent of the list price for ebooks sold at other retailers. They provide daily reports of your sales from the larger retailers.

One interesting feature is Smashwords Presales. Some authors like this feature because it enables them to offer books to their selected readers before the public release date of their book. The company also offers authors help with promotion through events exclusive to Smashwords. They also have a partnership with Findaway Voices to easily turn your book into an audiobook.


Estabished in 2012, Draft2Digital has emerged as another major aggregator for self-published authors. They do not have the largest distribution network, but they do distribute to Amazon. Their network also includes the larger retailers such as Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, as well as a partnership with Findaway Voices for audiobooks.

The company strives to distinguish itself as one that provides excellent support to its authors. “We want to give people a venue to self-publish with support, empowering authors to control their path forward,” explains customer services representative Alexis Grey.

One notable feature Draft2Digital offers is they will format your book for both ebook and print at no charge. Some authors prefer to work with Draft2Digital for this feature alone. The company takes 10 percent of the retail price of the book, no matter where it is sold.

Draft2Digital also offers authors access to Universal Book Links (UBLs). Having your book widely available is great for potential book sales. But when an author wishes to promote their book (on their website or through an email, for example), they need to provide the link to the retailers. Many choose to simply include a link to Amazon and maybe one or two other retailers. But with a UBL, authors can just offer one link. This will take customers to a page showing all the retailers where their book is for sale. Instead of having to manage a separate link for each retailer, UBLs consolidates them all into one place. 


Entering the aggregator market in 2015, PublishDrive is fairly new to the scene. But that hasn’t stopped them from quickly establishing themselves as an option worth considering. They have relationships with over 4,500 publishers and 400 stores worldwide. They distribute to the major retailers: Apple Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Books.

Their expertise in international distribution is one of their notable features. They have a few stores in Eastern Europe and have headquarters in Hungary. If you are interested in reaching some niche foreign markets, PublishDrive is equipped to help you.

PublishDrive also differs from other aggregators by offering a subscription pricing plan, something no other company does. Authors can pay a flat $100 monthly fee, after which they keep 100 percent of their royalites for any books sold (minus the retailer’s portion). Authors also have the option to pay 10 percent of their revenues if they prefer not to pay a subscription.

The company also provides marketing support to its authors. Authors paying the subscription fee are given some Amazon Advertising credits (basically allowing you to place ads for your product on Amazon) so they can give this approach a try. PublishDrive also allows authors to set price promotions and provide review copies.

Print on Demand Aggregators

The final category of self-publishing platforms are those services that specialize in providing a print-on-demand (POD) option. For any self-published author just starting out, having the ability to print books as they are sold saves on both money and hassle. A few of the more well-established companies are discussed here.


Founded in 2011, Bookbaby has a wide distribution network, including the large retailers Amazon, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, in over 170 countries.

For those who like the idea of a platform that offers support with all aspects of the self-publishing process, Bookbaby offers comprehensive packages. These include the steps needed to get your book ready for publication, such as editing and design services. They also have distribution packages for both ebooks and print books, and offer a print-on-demand service. Bookbaby can also help you with marketing.

They offer a number of different packages as well as individual services. Their most comprehensive package, which costs $1,699, includes cover design, formatting, 25 print books, distribution, a Facebook ad campaign, and a listing in the BookBaby store, Bookshop.

They also don’t take a portion of your ebook sales. Instead, Bookbaby charges a one-time fee of $299 per title. Authors then receive 100 percent of their sales after the retailer’s commission. For sales made through Bookshop, authors earn 85 percent royalties.


IngramSpark’s roots date back to 1996 when Ingram created Lightning Source, which services mid-to-large size publishers. IngramSpark was created for self-published authors in 2013. Similar to the other platforms, IngramSpark will distribute your ebook to the larger online retailers such as Amazon, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

The reason IngramSpark deserves serious consideration is because it is a part of the Ingram group. Authors have access to Ingram, which is the world’s largest distributor of print and ebooks. They are connected to 39,000 bookstores, libraries, and online retailers in more than 150 countries.

Their print-on-demand feature is one of the most valuable features available to self-publishers today. “There is a lot of flexibility in our system,” explains IngramSpark founder and director Robin Cutler. “The pay-as-you-go model allows authors to make their book available to Ingram in a way where they don’t have to carry any up-front costs.”

For those interested in the best quality print books, IngramSpark offers a premium level of printing. Also, if you are interested in getting your book sold in brick-and-mortar stores, when you use IngramSpark, your book will also be included in Ingram’s wholesaler database. “It will look just like any other book in the system,” Cutler says.

The company also provides a key feature, their book returns option. “Most booksellers will require returnability to stock a book on their shelves,” says Cutler. Authors aren’t required to accept returns, but no returnability is one of the main reasons a bookstore will refuse to carry a self-published book.

IngramSpark charges a 53 percent commission for sales to bookstores and 30 percent to online retailers, minus book production costs. There is also a $49 set-up and $12 annual fee. 

A Word of Caution

While the self-publishing world has many excellent and reputable companies offering services to help you, there are some scammers out there. It is very important that you research any company carefully before signing up with a service.

Many experienced authors advise against using what are known as “vanity presses.” These are companies whose business model is to make money not from book sales, but from the authors directly. They tend to push their products on their customers, make claims they can’t deliver on, and generally end up costing authors a sizable sum while providing little support.

If you are not sure about the legitimacy of a publisher, ask around. “Try not to fall victim to short-term scams that promise thousands of readers in a matter of weeks or months,” advises Smashwords’ Marketing Director Azevedo. Author forums are a good place to check, or simply Googling a company can reveal those with questionable practices.

Choosing a Self-Publishing Platform

Deciding which platform to use to self-publish your book will again depend on your goals and constraints. If you simply would like to have a completed book to satisfy your own creative needs and are not viewing it as a commercial endeavor, you should probably go with the easiest option. That would likely mean using a retailer such as Amazon KDP or Barnes & Noble Press, which are free to use, and allow you to quickly create your book.

If you have a vision of selling a significant number of books, or need the ability to widely distribute your book, then you should consider going with an aggregator.

Keep in mind that you can also choose to use more than one service. Many self-published authors will use Amazon KDP because they have the lion’s share of the ebook market. But they will also sign up with an aggregator to have access to a wider distribution network. If you are interested in having print copies, then look for platforms that offer print-on-demand. And if you hope to see your book sold in brick-and-mortar stores, you should explore using IngramSpark.

The Art of Technical Ghostwriting

One of the most challenging aspects of technical writing is communicating effectively with a subject matter expert (or SME, commonly pronounced as one word “smee”).

SMEs have the knowledge that the technical writer must extract and translate into useful publications, such as documents, videos, webinars, classroom courses, and marketing collateral.

In some cases, the technical writer conducts interviews with a SME to gather the appropriate information. In many other cases, the technical writer proofreads, edits and restructures documents that a SME has authored.

This process is similar to a writer who converts the rough draft of a celebrity’s autobiography into a publishable book. In this regard, we can think of a technical writer as a technical ghostwriter.

To succeed in this process, the technical writer must be able to understand and assimilate what is often highly complex subject matter.

However, a more important prerequisite for success might be the ability to manage interpersonal communications.

According to Sandra Williams, a long-time senior technical writer and instructional designer with Hewlett-Packard Inc., “effective communications with SMEs is more about managing the relationships than about procuring the material.”

So for the purpose of eliciting information from SMEs, technical ghostwriting may be considered more of an art than a science.

The following are methods that some of my colleagues and I have found useful in our many years of practicing the art of technical ghostwriting.

Managing Communications with SMEs

You may be wondering how a technical ghostwriter can improve your chances of obtaining highly effective marketing and training deliverables from your SMEs. Here are a few tips and tricks, my colleagues and I have found useful:

  • Timing is everything. I once worked with a SME who was very busy throughout the day until about 4 P.M. By then the SME was so tired, he would need a Mountain Dew (his favorite soft drink) for refreshment. So, I would schedule our meetings for 4 P.M., and I would bring two cans of Mountain Dew along. It might sound a little corny, but we had much more effective information exchanges thereafter, than we had before I knew the SME’s routine and preferences.
  • There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to SME communication. The writer should determine the SME’s preferred form of communication and use it as the first option when contacting the SME. Some people respond more readily to e-mails, some to text messages, some to phone calls, and some to in-person visits. Of course, at times SMEs will be unresponsive, especially when they are busy or under deadline pressure. Many technical writers have experienced a SME avoiding them, so writers should be persistent and resourceful. Sandy Rogers, a Principal Technical Writer with Hewlett-Packard Inc., likes to tag a SME on Skype so she is most likely to make contact at a mutually convenient time.
  • SMEs are more likely to help the writer, if they like the writer. It’s human nature.  An effective writer uses people skills to foster personal relationships, so that SMEs are more likely to prioritize their mutual projects. Sandy Rogers puts it like this: “I like to personalize my interactions with SMEs. They are people too, and they have interesting lives, both in and out of work. I usually begin an interview by asking how they’re doing in general, and also how they think the project is going. This provides an opportunity for them to vent any frustrations they may have, or to take a moment and reflect on a personal story. I find that this approach tends to improve rapport and makes it easier to elicit the project information that I need.”  Sandra Williams agrees: “No matter how much I need a review done, I try not to open a conversation by asking if anyone has looked at the material yet. I always ask how everyone is doing first.”
  • A little bragging goes a long way. Many SMEs have had poor relationships with unqualified writers in the past.  Especially when working on a new project, a writer should consider providing the SMEs with a summary of their qualifications and competencies. For example, Sandy Rogers started her career as a Call Center technician. She has detailed technical knowledge to the circuit board level, as well as first-hand knowledge of typical customer service issues. Sandy finds that this experience sets a comfort level with fellow technical professionals. She is able to speak the SMEs’ language in addition to translating their specifications into effective documentation.
  • There is no substitute for proper preparation. The writer should be fully prepared before a meeting with a SME. The writer should know exactly what to obtain from that meeting. The preparation should include a meeting agenda and objectives. The writer should mark up any manuscript drafts to notate those areas that require further discussion.
  • SMEs have feelings too. Good technical writers must have tact in their tool bags. With diverse multicultural work forces, English is very often not a SME’s primary language. It might not be their secondary language either. In these cases, avoid being overly critical of the SME’s grammar or wording. The writer can function as a coach and as a mentor to help those SMEs become more conversant in English. It will be appreciated, it will make the writer’s job easier, and it will result in more effective content.
  • Focus on mutual goals. Another important attribute for an effective ghostwriter is to be positive and encouraging. Even those of us for whom English is our primary language know how discouraging it can be to work long and hard on an assignment without any positive feedback. A positive attitude encourages the SME to persist in what can be a lengthy and sometimes tedious writing process. A good writer constantly reminds a SME that the finished product is more of a credit to the SME than to the writer.
  • Templates are tools, not substitutes for SME-writer communication. Many of our clients use standardized templates to encourage SMEs to provide all of the required information, especially for technical specifications. A template works well to focus a SME on furnishing all of the significant details. It can also relieve the writer of some of the restructuring and reformatting that might be necessary in the absence of any such turnkey solution. Very often, however, due to time constraints and deadline pressure, a SME will not prioritize the writing function. In these cases, rather than adding more pressure for a SME, Sandra Williams might offer to complete the template herself. “I’ll schedule a convenient time for us to sit down for an interview, and I’ll use the template as a guide to get the right information. This saves time in the document conversion process too, as I’ve already asked many of the questions that I would have had if I was reading a spec the SME wrote.”
  • Consider mini reviews. While it is a constant temptation for writers to try to secure lengthy blocks of uninterrupted writing time, it can be more efficient for some SMEs to write and review smaller pieces of content at a time. Otherwise, reviewers can get bogged down or discouraged reviewing longer tracts. Moreover, it is often difficult for reviewers to set aside a solid block of review time, so “chunking” the content into smaller review cycles can encourage more effective feedback.
  • It’s all about the SME. Rather than trying to push all SMEs into providing large amounts of information upfront, a considerate writer will take each SME’s personal circumstances into consideration. For example, years ago I wrote a detailed, somewhat verbose message to introduce myself to a far-flung SME whom I had never met.

I received the following verbatim response from the SME:

That was the very succinct response, and that’s what we did. I wrote and the SME read.

Over time, we were able to overcome the geographic, linguistic and cultural differences between us to create a useful set of documents that contributed to the successful release of the product.

The role of the technical writer

At the end of the day, the technical ghostwriter is an advocate for your customers and end users.

Technical SMEs are highly skilled professionals who are motivated to develop the best possible products, but that is their priority: product development.

Without the role of the technical writer, the end user experience can easily get lost in the development process.

The celebrity ghostwriter translates a subject’s life experiences into an enjoyable story.

The technical ghostwriter translates complex technical content into cogent and effective instructions that make technical products easier to learn and easier to use, while enhancing the user’s ability to integrate those products into their own work and life experiences.

In sum, the technical ghostwriter is telling the story of the fabulous products the SMEs are developing.

Technical ghostwriting is the art of procuring SME source material, in its myriad forms, and transforming it into highly readable and effective documentation, marketing collateral, and training guides.

That’s it in a nutshell.  That’s what we do.