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Working with a Ghostwriter

Friday, May 6th, 2011

ghostWriting a book manuscript can feel like a Herculean task. Luckily, there are a variety of options for getting your wisdom into print. One of these options is working with a ghostwriter.

Maybe you you don’t enjoy writing, you’re not particularly good at it, or it takes you a long time (when you could be focusing on other things you actually are good at). If any of these things are true, you are a good candidate for working with a ghostwriter.

A ghostwriter takes your ideas and puts them into words on a page. The ideas are still yours — you remain the author of the work — but the actual mechanics of writing are outsourced to a professional.

A ghostwriter typically interviews you to collect the things you want to say. As he does so, he’ll be listening for your voice or style of expression so he can reflect this in the writing. If you have a quirky sense of humor or a precise way of speaking, these things can shine through in your book; a good ghostwriter will make sure they do.

A ghostwriter is called a ghost because he’s invisible. Unless specifically negotiated, the ghostwriter will receive no author credit anywhere on the book.

Ghostwriting is an intensive process for both you and the writer. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you’ll hand off the topic and wake up to a finished manuscript two months later. It usually takes hours and hours of interviews and collaboration to get all of the information that’s in your head into the writer’s hands. Be sure to set aside plenty of time to work with the writer.

Also be sure to have a solid written contract in place before beginning any work with a ghostwriter. A contract will typically include the following:

  • detailed description of the scope of services to be provided
  • statement of the fees and payment schedule
  • timeline for the work to be completed, including any project milestones
  • assignment of copyright in the work to you
  • statement that you are not required to credit the ghostwriter in the book

A ghostwriter should develop all the major pieces of your book, including the preface, appendices, glossary and so on if these elements are to be included.

At the end of the project, ask the ghostwriter to provide a few possible titles and sub-titles for your book. The writer will be intimately familiar with the work and should be able to provide some good suggestions that reflect the book’s content. You may or may not end up using any of the titles, but at the very least they could spark further brainstorming.

In non-fiction, hiring a ghostwriter isn’t cheating. It’s often a smart strategy that will let you and a professional writer each focus on what you do best. It can get you a completed manuscript faster and more efficiently than what you could do on your own — and that’s one big step closer to getting your ideas out into the world.

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You’ll find more advice on developing a book manuscript inside From Idea to Author, a step-by-step guide to self-publishing your non-fiction book.