First, the basics: what is ghostwriting, and book ghostwriting in particular?
Ghostwriting is when the author of a given piece of written work employs a second, unnamed writer to do some, if not all, of the writing for them.
Although the main source of the content (the ideas, the stories, the information itself) comes from the author, the ghostwriter is the one who does the work of putting them on the page in a way that’s publishable and represents the author. In this regard, the ghostwriter serves almost as a technician, capturing the authentic voice and ideas of the actual author and recreating them on the page.
Celebrities, business professionals, political leaders (ever wonder how sitting presidents and government officials can somehow find the time to write a book while they’re still in office?), and really just anyone with extraordinary stories to tell, but who don’t have the time, talent, or patience to write them: all have used and use ghostwriters.
That’s my basic definition of what a ghostwriter does: you can find a multitude of others on Google to get a more well-rounded idea, something I would strongly encourage you to do if you’re considering hiring one. No two ghostwriters are identical, and there are numerous variations on how to work with one.
Four Things You Need To Know About Hiring a Ghostwriter
So, given that you can find most of the basics repeated elsewhere, what can I offer you here that’s going to be of value to you? Well, there are a few things I can share with you that I’ve learned over the past three years, including a few things that directly contradict the advice you’re going to get elsewhere.
Here are four of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as a ghostwriter that I want you to know, followed by a quick note about the kinds of projects I’m seeking right now.
1. Ghostwriting is a partnership, not a transaction
When I’m meeting or on the phone with people inquiring about working with me, I often know exactly how the work will look based on how we interact. It’s for this reason I’m now very choosy about who I work with. I have said “yes” to working with many individuals who I knew in the interview stage would be overly-demanding and stingy, and they turned out to be exactly as expected, if not worse, during the project itself. Such individuals, I have now deemed in this new stage of my business, are not my ideal clientele, and I’ll know that from the interview.
If you’re considering hiring a ghostwriter, think “partnership”, not “transaction”. My job is to get to know you, your voice, your ideas and opinions, your word choices, and a lot of intimate details about your life that are relevant to the book (depending on the book). It takes a lot of vulnerability for both of us to get it right, vulnerability that’s not possible in a traditional client-provider context.
Straight up: you can’t treat me like a furnace repairman or pizza guy, and I can’t be intimidated by you the way I would be with a boss. Rapport, likeability, resonance, and other these fancy words that basically describe getting along very well: this is essential to the process. We’re partners, de facto co-creators, even if my name is nowhere on your book.
2. Be fully committed to the story
Do you have a story that you’re burning to tell, or are you just mostly curious? You would be surprised at how many conversations I’ve had with life coaches, start-up entrepreneurs, real estate agents, and other individuals that seemed serious at first, but then turned out to be window-shopping.
I’ve also worked with people who showed what appeared to be serious interest, to the point that we signed a contract, exchanged deposits, and started the work, but who then abandoned their projects midway. As a man of my word, I’ve told these folks that when they’re ready, we’ll pick up where we left off until completion. However, if I’m already working on other projects, it will likely cause a fair bit of scheduling headaches for me trying to work them in.
(This includes one of my favorite clients, who only paused to get some legal clarification on the direction of the project, not out of lack of commitment. If this person is reading this, you are a notable exception.)
Bottom line: To paraphrase a quote from Eat, Pray, Love: hiring a ghostwriter is like getting a tattoo on your face: you’ll want to be fully committed. If your heart is not 100% into this project, don’t bother contacting a ghostwriter until it is.
3. You can’t guarantee bestseller status in advance
Many prospects ask me if I can help them get on the bestseller list. This is, after all, the cultural story that we tell ourselves: the dream of being a “bestselling author”. Let me tell you what all of those “how to write your book” seminars and self-appointed gurus will not: I cannot guarantee that your book will be a bestseller. No one can, not even the publisher. Period.
Publishers and marketers may orchestrate campaigns and promote books they already deem will be “winners”, and they may often deliver on these promises, but that’s never a guarantee. As with gambling, you can do what you can to increase your chances of winning, but whether you win or not is completely out of anyone’s control.
I’m not saying that bestseller status is impossible. I am saying that the ghostwriter’s main mandate is the manuscript: not the cover design, not the book tour, not the press junket (though many will gladly write press releases for you): always and only the manuscript. Ask your marketing questions of your agent, publisher, or social media marketer.
4. You get what you pay for
According to the 2017 Writer’s Market Guide, the average rate for book ghostwriting is $22,892 USD per project. Interestingly, this is the “as told to” rate, meaning that the ghostwriter’s name appears somewhere in the credits, usually as an “editor” or one of those “without whom, this book could not have been written” peeps.
Also interestingly, there is no “per project” rate in the Guide for books where the ghostwriter gets zero credit, likely because there wasn’t any such data available from their sources, as such deals are usually made in confidence between the author and the ghostwriter (although the average “per hour” rate for no-credit book ghostwriting is $73 USD).
If this seems like a lot of money to you, consider that your ghostwriter is creating an entire book with you that they won’t make a single penny from should it become a runaway sensation: the fee is supposed to be lucrative enough so as to make the project worth the ghostwriter’s time and energy. Furthermore, the work of transcription, capturing nuances of voice and mannerisms in words, revision, and more writing are several freelance services rolled into one. The fee is a cumulative rate for all of them.
Finally, on a more pragmatic note, the $20,000 to $25,000 rate also ensures your ghostwriter doesn’t have to take on a second job at Starbucks or additional projects to pay their electric bill while also working on yours. I don’t take on more than two book projects at the same time: I need to be clear, focused, and present to the story as much as possible. Quality suffers when you freelance on an empty stomach in a cold apartment. It also suffers when you’re have too much work with overlapping deadlines but barely or not enough to pay the hydro bill (that’s my definition of Freelance Hell). Either way, we both lose.
You will definitely find ghostwriters who charge less than this average, and that may work well for them. For myself, after three years and several books, I am raising my prices to a standard $25,000 CAD (which is approximately the USD average) as of Labour Day 2017, with 50% due up front.
I’ve done manuscripts for as low as $1,500, with my highest being not too far from the average, but with my client asking to pay in monthly installments, which created problems of its own. I still had to seek out other work to keep food on the table.
In this new iteration of my professional service, I am charging professional rates, on a professional schedule.
The Projects I’m Looking For Today
I said in my last post that my commitment is to tell remarkable stories, to the best of my abilities, as only I can, involving extraordinary individuals, in positive contribution to the world. What does that look like in practical terms?
To be clear: I will consider all pitches for projects. I like to be pleasantly surprised by a concept or format I never thought of before as well as the next ghostwriter. That being said, here’s how things are looking for me as of this writing (August 2017):
First, I’m shifting away from hard business and entrepreneurial books. I have zero passion for them, as I’ve discovered in my work to date.
Second, I will gladly partner with successful, passion-led coaches, provided they are credible (that is, they have the results that their coaching philosophy says their clients will get) and have truly remarkable personal stories that stand out from the supersaturated market of professional coaches.
Third, and most importantly, I am now seeking stories of high strangeness from credible people, especially those in places of prominence and influence who are no longer afraid of being shunned and ridiculed by their peers for sharing their experiences.
I want to work with professionals who have experienced or are experiencing weird shit, and it’s been killing them up until now not to be able to talk about it for one reason or another. I want to remove those reasons, and partner with them to bring their experiences into the light of day.
What is “high strangeness”? They could be paranormal stuff, ghosts, UFO and UAV encounters, near-death experiences, or just any kind of strange happening that causes you to question the nature of reality (if not your own sanity), but that you feel compelled to share with others.
(That’s right: I’m looking to become a “ghost”writer. Har har har: get that out of your systems now…)
Why am I looking for these kinds of stories? Let’s just say my passion for things that cause me to question my sense of reality is long-rooted….a story I’ll talk about more in Entry #5 of the #i2U Ultimate Blogging Challenge.
If you’ve got a blog for your business and want to try a cool, fun, and authentic-authentic way to promote your services, join the challenge today!