Working With A Ghostwriter

The term ghostwriter means different things to different people. I’ve done different jobs for different situations. No matter what you call it, the point is to produce a useful product that serves the goals of the “author” whose name goes on it.

  • If you turn over written material and someone rewrites it, that could be better called a big editing job (developmental editing). This might cost a few hundred dollars for an article or book chapter.
  • If you are interviewed for 20+ hours and the writer goes away and comes back with a draft, that is what star athletes and other names tend to do. The ghostwriter writes the book, but you have provided most of the material. This type of work pays the best ($100,000 +) because you know the product will sell because of the star’s name. Ghosts also often get credit in these situations (Michael Jordon with Sam Smith in smaller type).
  • If you have an idea, some speeches and a “position” you want to write about, that is probably the most common situation among most potential authors and where the ghost has to research and write the most material. It is also the hardest on the ghost because many different books could be written on most topics. The more you can narrow it down, the better for the ghost, and the cheaper for you. The more material and direction you provide, the lower your costs.

You may be interested to know that one hour of continuous talking is about a book chapter (5000-6000 words). I found dictating was the easiest way to write my first book. Interviews with you will be of some value if you can give ten different speeches on your area. These could cover the 10 chapters needed for the average book.

Most people are likely to have material for only a few chapters in writing or in their heads. In this case, a good ghostwriter becomes a researcher. Gathering material and drafting it is a different job than editing. It’s fairly easy to develop a list of 10 or so chapters and research enough material to write them. You can then input your personal slant on the material. The danger here comes when the ghost has little direction and has to research 50 possible chapters to decide which 10 to write.

I know people who have used editors, like Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame, (or ghosts) and been unhappy with the results. Don’t turn over an entire book project to a ghostwriter or editor without trying them out on one chapter first. It’s a lot cheaper to pay for one chapter you don’t like than a whole book you can’t use.

Ghostwriting a book, or having one ghostwritten, is not a difficult process. Depending on how much material you have, it can take as little as a couple of months. Just make sure you know what type of book you’re trying to produce before you start and that the final product reflects your goals.

A briefer version of this article was published in SpeakerNet News, 9/21/01