Hiring a ghostwriter can be one of the best decisions you ever made. Then again, it can become a horrifying experience, for both of you.
Your ghostwriter speaks for you, putting your ideas out there, whether in a book or a speech, in a way that you wouldn’t be able to do for yourself. Hiring a professional ghostwriter should make things easy, right?
But why do things often go wrong?
After working with many clients, I’ve put together this list of seven ways to get the most from your ghostwriter. Most of these are more important for projects involving a full-length book than a short article, but many of them apply to all projects.
Follow them, and you’ll have a positive experience and end up with the book, article or speech you were hoping for.
1. Have a good idea of the end product in mind before you contact a ghostwriter
Do you want a book about your life story? Great.
But what are you going to do with it? Market it heavily? Or just send it to friends and family?
The ghostwriter may be put in a position to give you some hard truths about the publishing business. If you are not a celebrity, or don’t have a story that is sure to capture the public’s imagination (and don’t be overly optimistic on this), then be ready to consider the possibility that without lots of hard work marketing, your book won’t sell enough to recoup what you spent on a ghostwriter.
So, don’t expect miracles from the ghostwriter…you’re hiring a writer, not a marketer/publicist/salesforce.
2. Be clear and specific when giving direction and feedback
How long do you want your book to be? What are the milestones, deadlines, and payment schedules?
Do you want to make your memoir spicy? Or downplay the emotional side and focus on achievements? These are key things your ghostwriter needs to know.
Once you’ve agreed on all the major points, put it all in writing and have both parties sign it. Tip: make sure the agreement specifies that the copyright belongs to you.
And unless the ghostwriter has a shared byline on the book, such as [Memoir] by [Famous Person], as told to [Ghostwriter]), they can’t divulge what they did for you, except under circumstances agreed upon, such as to provide an excerpt to a potential new client, who signs a non-disclosure agreement. A ghost who won’t agree to these provisions is already not giving you the best you deserve. So just walk away.
Clear and specific also goes when you are giving feedback on the draft manuscript.
“That’s not what I’m looking for” doesn’t cut it.
Try to be specific about what you do want. Give your ghostwriter some examples, such as you’d rather sound more like Katniss in the Hunger Games than Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.
3. Have your reference material and resources organized
If you are telling the story of your life as a professional athlete, then your news clippings file and stats need to be ready for use, in chronological order. The same goes for whatever source material you have.
Whatever it is, you need to have it ready. Photographs, videos, your own writings, a resume, whatever will be useful. For example, if you’re an inventor, some background on the science of what you did will be helpful. The ghostwriter might not use it, but understanding it will be key to presenting your story. Any kind of helpful background material will help immensely.
4. Treat the ghostwriter like a professional
Ghostwriters have skills you don’t have, so value them. If you make changes beyond the previously agreed on edits, then be prepared to pay your ghostwriter for the extra time.
Also, the ghostwriter is the ghostwriter…not your counselor, friend, or confidant. Sure, they will know more of your life than most people. But they don’t need to know current family drama.
Use your time with the ghost to work on the manuscript, the story you want to tell the world.
5. Communicate. And communicate some more
If the ghostwriter asks questions or for clarification, respond promptly. You don’t want to interrupt the flow or bog down progress. If you’ve got your materials in order, this shouldn’t be too hard.
Also, the ghostwriter might ask you a lot of questions that might seem overly detailed or even irrelevant. But they are important.
Many of these questions are aimed at being able to create the setting of the action of your story or the emotions you were feeling (if your project is a memoir), so that the reader feels like they were there, experiencing your journey with you. So be willing to think back and answer as fully as you can.
6. Be courteous
Your ghostwriter is a human being, not your minion or servant. A hired, valued professional. If you want the ghostwriter’s best work, treat them in a way they want to do it for you, not just the money you are paying them.
7. Hire based on your budget
No, don’t go for the cheapest ghostwriter you can find. Sure, you can find someone who’ll charge you $500 for a full-length book. That person probably isn’t a native English speaker. And that’s just the first problem you’ll run into working with them.
Nor do you need a top-ranked ghost who charges upward of $100,000 for a book manuscript. (Unless of course, you are some kind of millionaire celebrity, in which case, I’m flattered you’re even reading this.)
Go back to your goals, and consider what you are willing to invest.
If you can’t commit five figures for a full-length book, then ask the ghostwriter about ways they could work with you. Maybe they could help you develop the book structure and outline, then read over the completed manuscript and give suggestions for improvements, all done at an hourly rate. This would be a huge money saver.
Now you should be able to develop a smooth and productive working relationship with your ghostwriter and tell your story to the world.