Before You Hire A Ghostwriter
“What do you do with yourself?” asks the man/woman.
“I’m a ghost-writer.” I reply with a smile. “What do you do?”
“Oh you’re a writer. Great. I’m going to write a book. You can do it for me” comes the reply.
Ghost-writing is the best job. I love it! I get to learn about some amazing topics, immerse myself in the learning process of it all and then craft a beautiful piece that could change lives (at least that’s what I’m doing on my current piece). There is nothing more rewarding. But of the many people who have expressed interest, only a handful actually progressed to the next stage.
Everyone has something book-worthy brewing inside, but very few will put pen to paper. Many people start and never finish. So I thought I’d take a few minutes to tell you about what people need to think about before they start, and why I probably won’t write their book for them.
1. First you need to discover whether hiring a ghost is the road you need to take. There are some good reasons to do it. If you have some ground-breaking content trapped inside a head that doesn’t do long-form writing well, then this could be your road. If you could write it yourself, but your career is so demanding that you couldn’t find the time then this could be a good solution. Writing a book is a mammoth task. It takes a certain type of person to do it at all, let alone well. It takes many hours obsessing, re-thinking, typing, deleting and re-drafting. The writing bit isn’t for everyone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be the author of a book.
Now I’ll say up front, it’s a rare ghost that would write fiction. It’s not my field, and I know many ghost-writers feel that fiction is an area where the writer and the author need to be the same person. On the other hand, non-fiction is an area where there are many ways to get the content out of the head of the author (the one who owns the intellectual property, created the content and has their name on the cover) and the writer (the one who put it all on paper).
2. It takes a lot more thinking that “I’ve got an interesting life story.” I love hearing people’s life stories. They are precious, heart-wrenching, beautiful, awful, inspiring and everything in between. It’s amazing to hear what people have done, seen and overcome. But just sitting down and writing a life story isn’t all there is. You have to think about some things before you hire a ghost-writer, or even before you put pen to paper yourself.
Think about who you are writing this book for. If you are writing it for your kids and grand-kids, as a beautiful and sentimental heirloom, that is one thing. I am helping my grandfather with this and it’s a project I love. His memories are precious to us and this is of immense and irreplaceable value, just not market value. He doesn’t need to spend money on a ghost-writer, editor, graphic designer or printer. He already knows what the value is – memories that we never want to part with.
A word of caution: If those memories are too painful for you to talk about, give it time. They are probably too painful for you to write about just yet. Let time pass, until you can speak about this for hours without going to a bad place mentally or emotionally. You don’t have to write the book this year.
If you are writing a book for a market, you need to think about why a complete stranger would pick up your book and spend $20-30 on it. Why would they read it? What would they take away from it? I never recommend that a person writes a book solely for a market. The book needs to be written as it needs to be written. But they do need to think deeply about what the book’s angle and value is, and who they are writing it for.
3. The answers to the above questions will decide your budget. Yes, budget. Writing a book isn’t free. Ghost-writing isn’t a hobby. It takes hours, weeks and months. It is a project that gets obsessed about, sweated on and poured over time and time again. So you need to decide how much you will pay your ghost-writer, and whether or not they get a royalty off the sales. Most ghosts have an hourly rate. Some with lower hourly rates will suggest a royalty. Your needs, and their expectations, will decide your budget.
No matter how good the writer, an editor will also be needed. If you are after something that is going to succeed on the market, there are a few levels of scrutiny that it needs to stand up to. The writer, editor and proof-reader need to be three separate people in most circumstances – and I can’t stress this enough: they need to be experienced. Editing isn’t about spelling and grammar. It is about structure, flow, pace, introduction of terms and characters and much more. You can’t do it yourself. You are far too close to the subject. You can’t get a friend who thinks it’s just wonderful that you wrote a book, as they won’t go hard on you. You need someone else to do it. You also need cover art, lay-out, typeset, print quotes, distribution and marketing. It all factors in to the budget.
4. The journey doesn’t stop with the print run. After a ghost is done with your manuscript, it’s all over to you to sell it. Whether you are shopping it around to publishing houses or walking down the self-publishing road, you have decisions to make. How much will you spend on marketing? Will you do the marketing yourself or get someone else to do it? (I recommend the second. It’s difficult to call up a stranger and sell your own book! External agencies can do this must more easily). What are you doing about distribution? Keep this in mind: author visits sell books. So where and when are you going to tour?
These are just a few considerations that need to be brewed for a bit before you decide it’s time to write, or hire a ghost to write for you.
Writing a book is an incredible journey. I love it. Through all the hard aspects of my job, I wouldn’t be doing anything else. I’m just saying there are some thought processes that need to be worked through. It’s not a volunteer job. It’s not a small project, and it’s not as simple as just writing down what’s in your head. There are marketing strategies, standards, hooks, angles, structures and timelines to consider.
If you get a good ghost, they will talk you through a lot of this. Some marketing companies may do it as well. I simply wrote this entry to prompt a few thoughts. It isn’t something that can be done for free. It isn’t something you can do on your lunch breaks.
But if you are committed to the journey and its costs, then writing a book is an incredibly rewarding project to undertake. I hope this helps! If you are looking to hire a ghost-writer, or looking to start writing your own book, I’d love to hear from you. Fire me any questions you have.
Note: Clare is not able to take ghostwriting clients until June, due to her current contracts