All About Ghostwriters

Most people know in general what a ghostwriter does, but are at a loss when it comes to the specifics of working with one. What is the process? How much does it cost? What will I need to do? Here are the answers.

You probably have heard the term ghostwriter and understand the general role of a ghostwriter. But unless you’ve done some “due diligence” or have hired one before, you may not know so much of the specifics of how the “ghosting” process and relationship works. What to expect in terms of pricing methods and costs, payment options, time frames, your role and what you need to provide, the particular skill-sets, expertise, and experience needed in the ghostwriter, and a number of other matters are all important considerations in the process of procuring the right ghostwriter for your particular writing project.

So let’s take a look at some of the particulars involved in the matter of ghostwriters.

Role of a ghostwriter.

A ghostwriter is your surrogate voice speaking on your behalf in written form. As such, his/her role is to express your ideas and thoughts in the voice, tenor, and manner you desire to connect and communicate with your readers and/or audience. The premise and presumption of the project is that you, the credited author, are the actual expert on the subject matter of the book. You know the ins and outs of your perspective on the topic like no one else. You are likely quite adept at verbally breaking it all down and explaining it, but converting it all to written form is a horse of a different color. Probably, a major reason you are looking into the matter of finding a ghostwriter is that you’ve come to realize that writing is not as easy as skilled writers make it appear, that it’s a tremendous amount of work, and that putting it all down in a book requires expertise you just don’t have.

Another important aspect of the ghostwriter’s role is to remain in the background, do his/her job behind the stage, and keep the spotlight on his/her client, the book’s credited author. Ghosts work behind the scenes, and love it so — that’s where they shine!

Reasons for hiring a ghostwriter.

Simply put, usually ghostwriters are hired because the credited author lacks either the expertise, meticulousness, inclination, time, energy, or combination of some or all of those attributes, to be able to compose a well-written, well-organized, well-planned, readable, and marketable book. Writing a book is a huge undertaking that when done right looks easy. If you have the means available to you, and writing/editing is not your main profession, even if you can do some level and amount of writing yourself, an investment in a good ghostwriter, without question, is by far the best and most return-effective investment you could ever make in the book production process. Hiring a professional ghostwriter frees you up to do whatever it is that you do best and are most qualified and equipped to do. A professional ghostwriter is best qualified to do what ghostwriters do. As with so many other arenas, it’s usually best to go with a professional! Ghostwriters are professional wordsmiths who specialize in “turning a phrase” in such a way as to make it readable, understandable, believeable, and inspirational!

Dynamics between a ghostwriter and the author.

The aspects of a ghostwriter’s role already discussed means that a special symbience between the ghost and the author will be required to produce a final product that you, the author, will be happy with. Both parties must approach the project and one another with professionalism, mutual respect, and courtesy. The author-client should be as forthcoming, cooperative, and timely as possible in explaining the concept he/she wants to communicate and in providing everything needed for the ghost to do his/her job properly. Writing (and the self-editing a ghostwriter must also do) is extremely tedious and meticulous work that requires tremendous concentration for long periods, so the more you cooperate with the ghostwriter in terms of abiding by scheduled contact sessions and minimizing impromptu contact the more you will be helping the ghost meet the project’s preagreed time considerations as well as mitigate his/her frustation level. Likewise, the ghostwriter should be timely and deliver on what he/she has promised. Of course, both parties will be expected to abide by the terms and details of the collaboration agreement. Honesty and trust are vital elements to the relationship.

Details a ghostwriter needs.

The following are details a ghostwriter needs to know before accepting an assignment and entering into an agreement to properly evaluate the project.

About the author/client:

  • Your reasons for wanting to hire a ghostwriter.
  • Your expectations in terms of what you want to achieve through the project.
  • Your expectations with respect to the working relationship between you and the ghostwriter.
  • Your previous experience, if any, with writers/editors/ghostwriters/publishers.
  • Whether or not you are interviewing other prospective ghostwriters; if so, when and on what basis you intend to make a decision.
  • Your commitment level to the project, and if  you are committed now or just exploring the possibilities?
  • Your experience and expertise relative to the subject matter.
  • What resources you will be providing the ghostwriter; i.e., research, reports, copies or links to published news stories (digital, online, or print), transcriptions, sources, outlines, writing, etc.
  • Details regarding your budget; eg., whether or not you presently have the funding needed to complete the project and pay the ghostwriting fees and expenses (if applicable) according to the agreement; if so, your willingness to deposit that funding in an escrow account to ensure the funds will be available for the final payment when the script is finished.

About the process:

  • Who is the actual client and any other people involved in the project in any capacity.
  • Who (author or ghost) will write the intial book concept outline and will it be a collaborative effort between the author and ghost.
  • What are the sources and means of access of information and materials to be used in the composition of the manuscript.
  • Specific segmentations of the draft and the timing involved in their submission.
  • Specific details relative to the editing process and who (the author or someone on his/her team) will give final approvals to revisions.
  • Segment and final deadlines.
  • Specific payment arrangements.

About the book:

  • Clear and precise explanation of the subject matter with its main and subordinate points (best explained by an outline provided by the author/client).
  • The specific purpose and objectives of the book itself and what benefits the author/client desires to provide him/her, along with the rationale behind those matters.
  • Projected target audience and benefits the book is intended to provide them.
  • An analysis of the book’s potential relative to the existing genre — how it compares to other books of the genre, how the concept of this book will distinguish itself from similar existing books in the genre, what void in the genre (if any) the book will fill.
  • Projected marketing potential with rationale.
  • Any known special or unique considerations that should be taken into account in the writing process.
  • Possibility or intention to produce an audio book using the script?
  • Possibility or intention to sell subsidiary or foreign publishing rights.

Types of projects ghostwriters typically are hired for.

Most professional ghostwriters can perform just about any kind of writing, because to them writing is writing is writing is writing…. Indeed, most professional ghosts can write just about anything they have the time and inclination to write…and that someone is paying them to write. They probably can write anything from a snippet to a sonnet to a sermon to a speech to a script to a spot to a blockbuster novel. Some typical assignments would include:

  • Journalism pieces (eg., feature stories, articles, editorial copy);
  • Teaching books, textbooks, and educational documents;
  • Curriculum materials, reports, and white papers;
  • Memoirs, family histories, and biographies;
  • Business writing (Proposals, Prospectus, Marketing, Sales, and PR materials, newsreleases);
  • Newsletters and magazines;
  • Technical writing, scientific writing;
  • Internet writing (aka, SEO-writing, e-articles, and web-content);
  • Corporate histories and presentations;
  • Political and other types of speeches;
  • Sermons and motivational presentation scripts and outlines;
  • Broadcast commercial and Program Scripts;
  • Narratives and narration scripts.

Financial arrangements and the agreement.

Basic terminology:

  • Royalties — a pre-agreed percentage of the retail price of each book unit sold paid by a publisher to the author.
  • Advance against royalties — royalties paid by a publisher to the author prior to publication of the book that will be deducted from future royalties.
  • Royalties plus advance — a pre-agreed amount of money paid by a publisher to the author prior to publication of the book and often prior to the completion of the manuscript as partial compensation while the book is being written, plus future royalties (often a reduced percentage) once the book is released for sale.
  • Hourly rate — compensation method based on actual time spent on the project and billed periodically; typically can range from $15 per hour to $100 per hour with a few of the premier ghostwriters charging as much as the equivalent of $200 per hour.
  • Work for hire, flat fee — compensation method based on a specific preset amount of money a ghostwriter charges for a writing project (most usual); typcially can range anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000, depending on the ghost’s expertise, reputation, and experience as well as the book genre and whether the client is an individual or an organization.
  • Work for hire, fee plus expenses — compensation method based on a specific preset amount of money a ghostwriter charges for a writing project plus any expenses the ghostwriter incurs as a necessity to the accomplishment of the project (eg., air-fare, meals and lodging, and other incidentals for required travel (next most usual).
  • “On spec” (i.e., speculation) — compensation method offering no guarantees based entirely on prospective and speculative future royalties once the book is released for sale (very rare).
  • Credit— how the ghostwriter will be credited or acknowledged; considered part of the work for hire agreement and fee. Four options:
    • “with” — indicates ghostwriter has had a significant writing and/or rewriting role in the project;
    • “and” — indicates a collaboration between the credited author and the ghostwriter;
    • “as told to” — indicates the ghostwriter transcribed, wrote, compiled, and edited the client’s story as told to him/her verbally by the principal or provided through written materials;
    • “acknowledgement” — an expression of appreciation on the acknowledgements page when the ghost’s role has been editorial or rewrite.
  • Book Doctoring — basically this is another term for editing and rewriting an existing script or book in order to improve its readability and marketability, which can be done prior to the publication of the book or after it has been published and has not sold as well as expected or is warranted.
  • Ghostwriter-Author Agreement — the legal agreement between the ghostwriter and the author/client, intended to delineate all the details of the agreement for the project.

Types of entities who hire a ghostwriter.

  • Individuals
  • Corporations and business owners
  • Churches and Social organizations
  • Educational entities

Submit A Query

If you have a book project concerning which you would like to submit a query, go to the Query Submission page.

© 2010 Steven Lambert. All rights reserved.

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