25 Apr 2018

13 Facts About Ghostwriting Your Ghostwriter Isn’t Telling You

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So, you’ve finally decided to hire a ghostwriter to write your book! Congratulations! However, there are some things you should know about the ghostwriting profession before you hand over any money or sign any contracts.

People hire ghostwriters to write books, blog articles, website copy, brochures, greeting cards, and anything else regarding the written word. In many ways, a ghostwriter is just another type of contractor or consultant. They write your book as a “work for hire” project.

Amateur writers who have difficulty getting their own works published often take up ghostwriting to pay the bills. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s a simple truth.

A ghostwriting project requires project management skills, the ability to communicate and manage a client, interview and research skills, and the ability to get things done on a schedule and a budget. Many ghostwriters are not proficient in these other areas, and because of that their projects tend to spin out of control.

In my ghostwriting career, I’ve written 16 books for clients, and I published over 60 books of my own, some of them in my name and some under various pen names. I’ve worked with dozens of ghostwriters and have been acquainted with hundreds of them during that time.

I’ve learned a few things about the ghostwriting profession, and I want to pass along some facts to you to help you find the best ghostwriter for your needs, and to warn you of concerns that you should have before you sign a contract and pay money to get your project done. For more factors that you should consider, check out 11 Things Your Ghostwriter Doesn’t Want You to Know, which was the inspiration for this article. I felt there was more to say about the subject so wrote my own.

1. Many ghostwriters have never been published

Would it surprise you to find out that most of the books written by ghostwriters have never been published? In fact, most of their books have never even been self published, must less picked up by a traditional publisher.

In fact, many ghostwriters have never even published anything that they have written for themselves, much less anyone else.

I know that seems odd, that someone who claims to be a writer and presumably has written books in the past, has never managed to get anything that they have created into print.

Publishing is the whole point of writing a book. I mean, can you call yourself an author if your work, whether or not it’s been ghostwritten, never sees the light of day?

Many people contact ghostwriters with the intention of self-publishing rather than pursuing a traditional publisher. Often, I’m approached by someone who wants to self publish a book to brand themselves. Entrepreneurs who need to establish their credibility or expertise, or require a book to get speaking gigs and get noticed by the press, don’t really need a traditional publisher. All they need is to be able to say they wrote a book, that it’s for sale on Amazon, and to have a stack of them available to sign at speaking engagements.

Ask prospective ghostwriters how many of their works have been published, either traditionally or self-published.

If a ghostwriter has written books, and none of those actually made it to print, then they failed at the final, most important test of a manuscript: making it available to the public. That’s an important factor that you should consider when choosing a ghostwriter to write your book.

Additionally, ask the ghostwriter if they’ve published books of their own. They should be able to show you their own books for sale on Amazon or other sites. This is important because in general a ghostwriter cannot disclose books that they’ve ghostwritten. The fact that they’ve written and published books of their own can give you an idea of their confidence and their abilities as a writer.

2. Your ghostwriter probably hates your idea

Ghostwriting is a very competitive field, especially when the prices are low. There are many thousands of ghostwriters who will pretend to be able to write a book for you for $1,000, $3,000 or even $5,000. These writers are not confident in their abilities because if they were confident, they would understand that writing a book of high quality cannot be done for those low prices. They also tend to be “hungry for business”, and will accept anything that comes their way regardless of how they feel about the material.

I’ve turned down several projects in my ghostwriting career. In one case, someone approached me about writing a book that would glamorize marijuana use which is not something that I agree with. I turned down the project, even though it was quite lucrative.

You should demand that your ghostwriter be honest with you. By encouraging honesty and being able to have heated discussions and differences of opinion, you’ll get a better book. Believe me, the last thing you want is a ghostwriter who swallows their pride and does whatever you tell them to do. In those cases, you’re not going to get a very good book.

3. Ghostwriting is not easy

Ghostwriting a book is not easyWriting a book, whether it be a brochure or a multi-volume epic fantasy is not an easy task. A ghostwriter who wants your business may make it appear that they have the whole process down pat, but in that case they are probably just conning both you and themselves.

Writing a book consists of several specialties. The first thing you have to understand, is that a ghostwriting project is a project that consists of more than just writing. A ghostwriter must have project management skills, must be able to create and fulfill schedules, set and meet goals and have an honest idea of how long things take to complete.

Think about what needs to be done to write your book. Interviews must be performed, either in person or over the Internet, and research has to get done. The information gathered needs to be compiled, and interpreted, and used intelligently in the writing. All sources must be cited, and the writing must be done using good and consistent formatting. Once the book is complete, it must be revised, edited, and made ready for proofreading.

When you’re interviewing a ghostwriter, ask questions to ensure that they understand the full scope of work that they need to perform. Are they good communicators? Are they asking questions and taking notes? Are they actively engaging in conversation with you or just agreeing with everything you say? Does it appear they are interested in your subject or do they look bored?

Additionally, ask to see a sample of their work, even a few pages. Is the document formatted using standard and consistent styles? By this I’m referring to styles within Microsoft Word, Google docs, or other word processors. When you go to format your book for self-publishing, the use of styles makes the formatting very easy. Changing the formatting of a book becomes a major chose If styles are not used consistently.

4. Some unscrupulous ghostwriters will outsource the work

Occasionally, I run across ghostwriters who actually don’t know how to write. Instead, they accept money from clients and then hire writers to do the writing for them. These writers may not even be fluent in English (or the language of the book) because they come from other countries.

Sometimes you’ll run into ghostwriting firms or agencies. In this case, you’ll find that the person you’re speaking to is not a writer and is not the person who is going to write your book. The book will be assigned to someone else to complete. If this is the case, make sure that you get to interview the actual writer before you sign the contract, and that the contract specifies the name of the person who will do the work. Obviously, things can change (writers can quit, for example) but you should always reserve the right to interview and approve any writer assigned to your project.

Using a ghostwriting firm or agency won’t be a problem if the finished manuscript fulfills your requirements.

Many ghostwriters work alone, and in those cases you can be relatively confident that they’re going to do the work themselves. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that you will get good work, but at least it should be consistent.

Something that you want to be on your guard against is a writer switch happening one or more times during your project. There are a number of reasons why writers might change on a project. Writers quit, pass away, or get reassigned to other projects. The problem is that any switch of writers will result in a change of writing style in your manuscript. I’ve seen horror stories of books that had three or four different writers, and it was quite obvious where each writer took over. These books can have a schizophrenic feel to them.

However, all this being said, there are instances where it’s completely valid for a ghostwriter to outsource work to another person. Outsource editing and proofreading, as those are best done by experts in those areas.

Good candidates for outsourcing include:

  • Proofreading
  • Editing new
  • Cover artist
  • Illustrator
  • indexer
  • Depending on the subject, researchers
  • Marketing
  • Promotion
  • Publishing

Marketing and promotion require a unique set of skills and training, and should always be sourced from someone other than your ghostwriter or ghostwriting firm. Many publishers and writing firms offer promotional and marketing services – avoid those. Find your own marketing and promotion services, and contract with them separately from your ghostwriter or ghostwriting agency.

5. The fact that a book is ghostwritten should be secret but it may not be

How to Operate a Freelance Writing Business and How to be a Ghostwriter

Buy the book explaining how to make a living as a professional ghostwriter

One of the biggest problems faced by ghostwriters is that it’s difficult for them to put together a portfolio of their work. By definition, most ghostwriting projects are under a nondisclosure agreement, meaning that the ghostwriter cannot disclose that he was the actual author of your book.

The fact that a ghostwriter wrote your book must be kept secret unless you specifically give permission to make it public. The whole idea of hiring a ghostwriter is they are going to do the work and get paid up front, while you receive the credit and recognition for the finished product – as well as any royalties.

Make sure the contract that you sign includes a nondisclosure clause or that you have a separate nondisclosure agreement signed by your ghostwriter.

Additionally, anyone that the ghostwriter must consult about your book, such as people being interviewed, editors, proofreaders and so forth should also sign a nondisclosure agreement if at all possible.

It’s common for a ghostwriter to ask clients to include a few paragraphs or even a page or two from your manuscript in their portfolio. Your ghostwriter should ask your permission to do this. Of course, the exception is when the ghostwriter is listed as a contributor to the book.

Any ghostwriter who violates your confidentiality without your permission is not a professional. Additionally, they should not disclose details of other clients during your interviews. If they do, think twice about using their services (unless they have permission from those clients).

Of course, it’s okay for a ghostwriter to talk in generalities about a book that they’ve written. For example, they might explain that they wrote a book about retirement or dentistry or computer safety. It’s acceptable to use general statements as long as the book cannot be identified.

6. Your ghostwriter may not understand legal issues

Writing a book can have many legal ramifications, depending upon the subject matter and how it’s written.

Nonfiction books must be factual, well cited and avoid plagiarism. Even fiction can run into legal issues by slandering people who are recognizable. Lawsuits are common in memoirs, because people may be presented in a negative light.

Low-end and inexperienced ghostwriters are generally unaware of the legalities introduced by publishing a book. I remember one ghostwriter who took on a contract to write a book for a person who had been in prison. The idea was to expose everyone who had a hand in putting him behind bars, and to go into detail about all of their negative qualities. In the book, he exposed a woman is a prostitute, a man as a drug dealer, another as a pimp, and a fourth as a smuggler. Needless to say, there were a large number of legal liability issues introduced by the book’s publication, and the author (not the ghostwriter) faced several lawsuits from people who had been slandered. The ghostwriter didn’t even change the names!

Experience ghostwriters charge higher rates for good reason; because they’ve been at it a while to learn the ropes. They probably have gained a better understanding of the legalities associated with publishing a book.

Regardless of the experience of your ghostwriter, you would be wise to engage the services of a lawyer specialized in these matters to get advice on what you can and can’t write about to stay out of trouble.

7. The advice of a ghostwriter about non-writing related issues is suspect

When you’re working with the ghostwriter, it’s normal for you to ask questions about issues not related to writing. Ghostwriters aren’t lawyers, they aren’t experts in trademark law, and they may not even understand the basics of copyright infringement.

Except in rare circumstances, your ghostwriter probably won’t understand the subject matter of your book. Of course, a ghostwriter is expected to perform research to become knowledgeable enough about a subject in order to write about it, and to interview you, the expert, for details. However, even with that, you will need to double-check what is written to ensure that it is factual and accurate to the subject.

Good ghostwriters will be upfront about their knowledge, or lack of it, on the subject of your book. Keep in mind that it’s normal for a ghostwriter to be ignorant about the details of the topic. Rather than spending the time to find out if they are knowledgeable about it, ask them about their research and interview skills.

8. The contract may not be fair or well written

Ghostwriters are not lawyers, and in many cases they don’t make enough money to engage the services of an attorney. Ghostwriting contracts are often pieced together from examples and templates found all over the Internet. Because of this, they tend to be a hodgepodge of unrelated clauses protecting the ghostwriter.

That’s assuming the ghostwriter even gives you a contract to sign. Amateurs tend to work without a contract, and that’s a sign that you should steer clear of them.

Never enter into a ghostwriting relationship without a clearly written, understandable and balanced written agreement.

I’ve seen some very poor contracts from other ghostwriters. The worst of them simply stated the cost and payment terms – that kind of agreement is worthless.

Treat a ghostwriting project as you would any other type of business relationship. Would you hire a contractor to remodel your house without a clearly written, understandable contract?

Demanding a well-written, equitable contract doesn’t mean that you don’t trust your ghostwriter. A written agreement clarifies how the relationship is to operate, what is expected from each party, and what happens in the event the project is abandoned before the end.

If you get into a ghostwriting contract without a written agreement, both you and the ghostwriter are asking for trouble. Negotiate fair agreements regardless of the pressure to get started.

9. Ghostwriters will negotiate the price

A ghostwriter is a businessperson, and they need to be able to make a living or earn an equitable income from their work. Since most ghostwriters are independent contractors, even if they come through an agency or one of those “book in a box” type businesses, they are always hungry for business. Finding new clients is a challenge for all independent consultants, and understanding this fact can help you during the negotiation phase of a project.

Keep in mind while you’re negotiating that you want your ghostwriter to be highly motivated to finish your book with high quality on the schedule you both agree on. You might be able to negotiate them down far below their asking price, but if you do that will they have their full attention on your book?

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with negotiating rates. You shouldn’t hesitate to discuss the price with your ghostwriter and if you feel it’s appropriate see if they’ll do the same work for a little bit less money.

But always keep that idea of fairness in mind. The ghostwriter depends on you, and other clients like you, to make a living.

Build in a series of payments based on milestones being met throughout the project. Most ghostwriters will ask for a nonrefundable down payment, and it’s common to schedule the remainder of payments throughout a project. Base those payments on deliverables, not dates, if possible.

For a typical project, you can expect to pay 25% up front before any work is done. The remaining 75% should be split up based upon the completion of a certain percentage of work. Let’s say the book is intended to be 12 chapters long; you might schedule a payment upon completion of chapter 4, chapter 8, and chapter 12. This gives your ghostwriter motivation to get the work completed in a timely manner. Remember, they need the money, so define the project to give them incentive to finish quickly.

10. Cheap ghostwriters deliver sub-standard work

Beware of the cheap ghostwriter. A 200-page book of between 20,000 and 30,000 words should cost $20,000 at a bare minimum. If that seems too expensive to you, then perhaps you should reconsider the need for a book.

Allow me to explain the reasoning. Writing a book is a complex task, requiring project management, interview, research and writing skills at a minimum. There is far more involved than just putting words on paper.

Let’s say you remodeling your home, and you’ve received three bids on the project, One for $20,000, another at $21,000, and a third at $17,000. You continue your search for contractors, and you find one who will do the job for $2,000. Sure, he doesn’t have a contractors license, but he sounds like he knows what he’s doing and you find yourself impressed by the way he talks about building houses.

Would you accept the $2,000 bid? If you did so, you’d be asking for trouble and you’d probably wind up hiring one of the other contractors to complete the job anyway – and to fix the mistakes made by the first one.

Cheap ghostwriters are, as a rule, not confident in their abilities. They may be entry-level writers who have been unable to get their own work published, or they could be based in other countries and not speak or write good English (or the language of your book). Additionally, these inexpensive writers don’t understand there is far more ghostwriting than just words. Because of that, your project will be late, the quality will be low, and you will be disappointed in the final product.

Pay a decent rate to your ghostwriter in order to receive the highest-quality product. After all, publishing your book is probably one of the biggest and most important projects of your entire life. Why would you want to risk that by hiring a substandard, inexperienced ghostwriter?

Of course, the price is not the only criteria when choosing a ghostwriter. Just because someone charges a high rate doesn’t mean they’re good at their job. But it is an indicator of their experience and confidence in their abilities.

11. There are no rules for ghostwriting

Believe it or not, there are no rules for ghostwriting. There’s no union, no training is required, there are no standards, and there’s even very little coordination between different ghostwriters. With many occupations you’ll find a certificate hanging on a wall or listed on the website, but that’s not true for ghostwriting.

Well, there are a few ghostwriting certifications, but those don’t really mean anything. Sure, the ghostwriter might have gone through a few classes about the subject, but what does that really mean? It’s not like hiring a doctor, a lawyer or seeing a pharmacist, where there are clearly defined standards, a common curriculum and levels of certifications. Ghostwriting classes are typically made up by a writer or teacher based on their own experiences and knowledge.

One of the big problems with these kinds of classes is they focus on writing and are skimpy in the areas of managing a successful ghostwriting project. As I said before in this article, ghostwriters must do much more than just write – they are project managers, interviewers, researchers, client coordinators, editors, proofreaders, outliners, and must have other specialties depending upon the project.

Ghostwriting is different than normal writing in that a writer is taking your thoughts and ideas and creating a new document or book in your voice or point of view. Many writers don’t understand this, and become ghostwriters as a way to make money because they believe that it’s not difficult to write something for someone else. In actuality, it’s very challenging to write a novel or a book pretending to be another, which is essentially what a ghostwriter has to be able to do.

12. Some ghostwriters are not native English writers

Be careful when sourcing a ghostwriter online, especially from content mills such as Contently, eLance, and eByline. You may find that the writers and ghostwriters responding to your request for bids do not natively speak and write the English language (or whatever language applies to your book.) This is especially true for writers that bid low on your projects.

Don’t get me wrong, just because a person is not native to the United States (or your own country) doesn’t mean he’s not going to create a good ghostwritten book.There are many great writers from all over the world. However, good writers don’t typically come cheap, regardless of where they are from. They are confident in their experience and skills and understand the value that they provide.

It’s usually best to find a writer who is fluent – or even native – to the language in which your book will be written. That way you don’t have to worry about someone who may not understand the subtleties and obscurities of writing in your language of choice.

Additionally, it can be very difficult to work with the ghostwriter who does not speak your language. One of my first ghostwriting projects was to write a memoir for an Afghani politician. His English was poor, and he was from an entirely different culture. Torturous interviews and missed translations were the result. I produced good work for him, but the effort required was an order of magnitude more than a “normal” ghostwriting project.

13. Ghostwriting is a thankless career

Ghostwriters get paid upfront for their talents, but don’t receive credit or even recognition for the book in most cases. Their work tends to be secret, and they can’t use it in their promotions, their portfolio, or as references without explicit permission from you.

For creative people, not being able to tell others about work that you’ve poured your heart and soul into can be torturous. Imagine an artist or sculptor who couldn’t sign their work or even let anyone know they created those art objects.

On the other hand, ghostwriters should be paid well for their efforts – and if there any good, they should be earning enough to make a good living at it. Thus, there are compensations for the secrecy.

The book that they’ve written may never be published – which means the author (the client) will never receive any money for their expenditure. Even if the book does make it to print, it probably won’t make enough money to break even on costs. For this reason, keep in mind that often the main reason for a ghostwritten nonfiction book is not to sell copies on Amazon but to use the book to get press recognition, speaking engagements, and be perceived as an expert.

For all books, whether or not they sell has more to do with how well they are promoted and marketed then with the quality of the book. All you need to do is take a look at the Twilight series or the 50 Shades of Gray books to understand that poor quality doesn’t mean a book won’t sell.

Naturally, since the book will have your name on the cover, you’ll want to ensure it is of the highest quality. After all, it will reflect directly on you since you will be known as the author.

Ghostwriting can be a very demanding career, and most writers have a difficult time with it because of the lack of recognition, and because they don’t understand that it’s a different kind of writing with unique demands. And you know the old saying, “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Many ghostwriters move on to other careers or forms of writing because they can’t take the pressure and lack of recognition.

14. Good Interviews Make Good Ghostwriting

And a bonus tip: The goal of ghostwriting is to get the information that lives in your head out and to translate it into world-class writing. The key to this transformation taking place is an effective interview.

There are a lot of people who will advertise themselves as ghostwriters, who are really just English majors looking to make a bit of side cash. They may have a quick phone call with you, take your ideas, spin up a few thousands words, and send you back something that looks approximately like a book—but they won’t get you the quality you need.

A good ghostwriter will interview you and dig deeply into your subject material. They’ll ask pointed questions, force you to rephrase things until your ideas are crystal clear, and push you for more elaboration—oftentimes leading you to have revelations.

All of those interview skills are critical to getting high-quality, accurate information out of your mind and onto the page. If you’re hiring a ghostwriter, don’t settle for one that can’t interview well.

How do you find a good ghostwriter?

All right, given everything that we’ve talked about in this article, how do you find a good ghostwriter? Is there even such a thing or should you give up on the idea? Is it so difficult to find a writer of this nature that you should even try?

There are many good ghostwriters who will do an excellent job creating a book that you will be proud of with your name on the cover.

But how do you know?

First off, treat them like professionals and be willing to pay them a good rate. Don’t look for a cheap ghostwriter – if you insist on hiring a ghostwriter at the low-end of cost, you’re going to get poor quality, and it’s possible your project may not be completed at all. You should expect to pay upwards of $20,000 for a ghostwritten book of between 20,000 and 30,000 words.

Second, get samples of their work. If they can’t show you work that they’ve done for their customers, insist on being able to see things they’ve published under their own name. Look for published works as samples – even self-published books will work.

Interview your prospective ghost writer, asking some of the questions outlined in this article. Make sure they understand not just how to write, but how to manage a project as well as all the other skills needed to deliver a successful, completed book.

Insist on a well-written, equitable contract (which may be called a statement of work). The contract should include payment terms, contract amount, termination clause, an indemnity clause, an arbitration clause, and an outline of the overall project with deliverables.

Virtually all ghostwriters will ask for a nonrefundable deposit upfront before they begin work. The amount of this should not exceed 25% of the project. Split the remaining amount up into payments, include an option for either party to terminate at any point. If the project is terminated, you won’t get a refund but at least you won’t be on the hook for any additional money. Why continue a project where things aren’t working out?

Any competent ghostwriter will be willing to give you an initial consultation at no cost to discuss your book. Take as much time as you need to go over your goals, limitations, and anything else that’s on your mind. Ask lots of questions and listen to the answers. The ghostwriter should be confident in their abilities without being arrogant, rude or cocky.

Given all that, you’ll be able to find a good ghostwriter who will deliver you an excellent book of high quality.

Leave a comment below – what are your thoughts about ghostwriting?

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Additional Information about Ghostwriting

Richard Lowe Jr

Richard Lowe Jr

Owner & Senior Writer, Copywriter, Ghostwriter, WordPress Implementation at The Writing King
Richard is the Owner and Senior Writer for The Writing King, a bestselling author, and ghostwriter. He's written and published 63 books, ghostwritten 16 books, as well as hundreds of blog articles.
Richard Lowe Jr

@richardlowejr

Author of Focus on LinkedIn, Safe Computing, Surviving Disasters, Help! My Boss is Whacko!, Insider Secrets from a Professional Ghostwriter and many others
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1 Comment on "13 Facts About Ghostwriting Your Ghostwriter Isn’t Telling You"

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Bonnie K. Dillabough
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You know, I should write this same article about choosing a marketing consultant as many of the same issues seem to be pertinent. It is hard to find someone who has the right experience, qualifications and who is on the level.