When I see a new book by a celebrity or politician, my first thought is always the same: I wonder what professional writer behind the scenes helped make it happen.
That’s because I am one of those writers. I’ve written hundreds of articles and several books—almost all for other people. Sometimes I’m credited on a piece and sometimes I’m not; clients choose what works best for them. When you see a book “written by John Adams with Grace Allan,” for example, chances are Grace wrote most of the book but John was a close collaborator.
Ghostwriting is a fantastic option for people who have valuable ideas to share but lack the time, energy, or skill to put them into written form. Working with a ghost can have benefits beyond the final content, too. Many ghostwriting clients find that the interview process helps them develop clarity about their methods, business, and brand. Explaining their ideas to someone else forces them to articulate and clarify—something these busy professionals often don’t take the time to slow down and do. Often, powerful written content (like an article or a book) feels like a bonus.
It’s Absolutely Authentic
Here’s the thing: ghostwriting is far from inauthentic. The process of ghostwriting a book typically involves deep engagement by the named author. While, yes, someone else sits down and “does the work” of putting words on the page, the process requires a high level of intellectual involvement from both parties.
When I ghostwrite a book, I strive to embody my client’s voice. I pore over hundreds of pages of interview transcripts, looking for patterns. I piece together ideas. I build on my client’s genius. Although I write the initial words, we are very much co-creators. This is reflected in the fact that most ghostwriting clients leave the process feeling like they wrote the book—only they typically save more than 300 hours of time in the actual writing process.
How It Works
While every ghostwriting project requires a unique approach, here’s what the process typically involves for a book:
- Initial meeting (phone or video conference): The client and ghostwriter meet and see if they have the right chemistry for working together. During this conversation, the ghostwriter often asks several questions to get an overview of the project.
- Proposal: The ghostwriter sends a project proposal. This should be customized to the specific book, rather than a generic “plug and play” template. Once the proposal is signed, the project is a go.
- Book outline: The ghostwriter conducts one to three recorded interviews by phone or video conferencing, which are then transcribed. From those interviews, the ghostwriter puts together a two- to ten-page (or so) book outline, which the client then revises. Typically, they’ll work through a few drafts together until it’s just right.
- Interviews (in person): Over three to five days, the ghostwriter interviews the client, again recording for transcription. This will sometimes result in more than 400 single-spaced pages of transcripts!
- Expanded book outline: After the interviews, the ghostwriter creates an expanded book outline, anywhere from fifteen to fifty pages in length, depending on the complexity of the book. Again, there is some back and forth before arriving at the final working outline.
- Book draft: The ghostwriter then gets to do what she does best—retreat into a writing cave, only to emerge when the book draft is complete and ready to share with the client. This drafting process can take anywhere from three months to a year.
- Author revision: Here’s where the client gets to be as involved or uninvolved as he wants. I encourage clients to “make it their own” by rewording, adding stories, and clarifying ideas. Some clients make thousands of edits and others make two (really, I’ve had that happen).
- Editing and publishing: After the final draft is complete, the manuscript goes through editing and publishing. That’s a whole post in itself, so I’ll stop there.
Assuming everything goes smoothly, the typical turnaround from idea to final draft is around ten to twelve months, but it can go slower or faster based on project needs. I did one short book project in three months, and it was published a month later. Of course, that’s not ideal, but it can be done.
It’s an Investment
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that ghostwriting isn’t cheap. The return, though, is usually many times the investment. While most clients often won’t make their money back in book sales, publishing a (great) book will often yield bigger clients, better speaking engagements, and even entirely new business opportunities. I can say this from personal experience, both from publishing my own book and watching the success of dozens of clients over the years.
So, what does it actually cost? According to Writer’s Market, hiring a ghostwriter for a book that includes the writer’s name—the “with” or “as told to” on the cover—ranges from $22,800 to $80,000. If no credit is given, that range jumps to $36,200 to $100,000. These amounts can slide higher or lower depending on the book’s length and complexity. Hourly rates for shorter content like magazine articles or blog posts are right around $100 per hour. Keep in mind that ghostwriters for hourly projects bill for interviews, e-mails, and phone calls in addition to writing time.
Most professionals break the cost of large projects into three or four payments; you should never be asked to pay the full fee up front. And always be sure to get a complete project bid or explicit hourly fees before starting a project. It’s just good business.
Hiring versus DIY-ing
Should you hire a writer or do it yourself? Here are some questions to help you decide:
- How long have I been saying I’m going to write a book? If the answer is a year or longer, you might want to consider hiring a writer. Most of my clients have been putting off their book for more than a decade, thinking they’ll find time “next year.”
- Does the investment make sense for me? For high-level entrepreneurs, thought leaders, celebrities, or anyone else with more money than time, ghostwriting is an obvious choice. For others, the investment is more of a stretch. If publishing a book will catapult your business or brand to the next level, consider hiring a ghostwriter.
- Do I like writing? Does the idea of writing a book intrigue me? Some people really want to write the book themselves. If that’s you, consider instead hiring a book coach to guide you through the process. A book coach helps put together an outline and create a writing plan, as well as gives feedback on your writing and keeps you on track. Once your book is done, look for a skilled editor to bring your writing to its best.
- How much time do I have—really? Although working with a ghostwriter for your book will save you hundreds of hours of work, it’s still a large time investment. If you’re routinely struggling to keep your head above water, don’t add a book to your pile. Instead, find something (or several somethings) to eliminate first. You can also consider starting small with two blog posts a month or one magazine article per quarter.
This article was originally published as a guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog.