by Jan King

Have Important Thoughts But No Time? Consider a Ghostwriter

Although you may have many ideas you’d like to see in print or in other media, you may be someone who doesn’t have the time or interest in doing the work yourself.

A ghostwriter is a professional who writes for a living. The ghostwriter takes your ideas and organizes and creates a book manuscript for a fee. When the book is published, your name alone will appear as the author. A ghostwriter might be an independent contractor or part of ghostwriting firm.

It is perfectly legitimate to consider using the services of a ghostwriter to do the writing for you. It is legitimate because the ghostwriter is writing your ideas not his or her own. You are truly the author even if you aren’t the writer. It is similar to running your own company, with your name on the sign outside, yet delegating many important tasks to others, and often more qualified people. Consider that politicians and many others use the services of speechwriters and that is understood and respected.

There are many good reasons to work with a ghostwriter. Sometimes, the most successful people with the best ideas are simply too busy to do the work involved in writing. In other cases, a person just isn’t interested in writing and researching but wants her ideas professionally recorded. Finally, many people recognize that their talents and skills just aren’t in written communication.

Choose a Ghostwriter

When choosing someone to develop and write your ideas, you want to talk to professionals in the publishing industry for recommendations. Here are some questions you may want to ask as you interview a ghostwriter:
How do we get this project off the ground?
How many clients do you have at any one time?
What do you need from me to start our work together?
How much time will I need to commit each week?
How long will it take to get the first chapter?
How long do you expect it will take to write this book?
Can you help me get the book published and marketed once it is written?

Follow the Ghostwriting Process

When you first talk with the ghostwriter, you will discuss the overall topic and get into enough specifics so that the writer can create an outline and estimate the time and cost of doing the work. He or she will also approximate the final length of the book and use any notes you’ve developed to complete this analysis.
The best ghostwriters and ghostwriting firms don’t accept every project. They only want to work on books that have high potential for success.

The second part of the process once you’ve approved the outline is this: The ghostwriter interviews you and begins to any research needed to complete the book. The ghostwriter also works on obtaining any permissions needed to use quotes or statistics from works belonging to others.

The longest part of the process is the writing itself. The ghostwriter should send you an initial couple of chapters as soon as they are written so you can make any early corrections in style or subject before the bulk of the work is done.

Ghostwriters are experienced professionals who dedicate a lot of time and effort to each project they take on.

What Are the Costs of Ghostwriting?

When you consider working with a ghostwriter think through both the time and money involved before you commit.


Some ghostwriters take five to nine months or even longer to finish a book project. This is a breakdown of the steps involved:
Outline, interviews, and research — 1 to 2 months
Writing — 3 to 5 months
Editing and rewriting — 1 to 2 months

Although the author isn’t doing the writing, he or she must usually allocate significant time to this process. Interviewing can take twenty to eighty hours of your time, not counting the additional time involved reading and critiquing the work. The more talented and experienced the ghostwriter the shorter the time involved – both your time and the time to publication.


Ghostwriters usually work for a project fee plus expenses, with prices heavily dependent on how much in demand the writer is and how much research and other work the ghostwriter must do. Fees start at about $15,000 for a shorter book and go up to above $50,000, but for a regular nonfiction work, you should expect to pay $20,000 to $25,000 for the writing, interviewing, researching and permissions alone and about $10,000 for publishing assistance and more for marketing.

Do not work with a ghostwriter who wants royalties. You, the author should also maintain the copyright and all other ownership rights.

I’ve talked to a number of disappointed authors who have had to start over because a ghostwriter wasn’t able to do the job to the author’s satisfaction. With a ghostwriter, you get what you pay for.

It is customary to pay 50 percent of the fees up front (after the outline is completed and the contract is signed) and 50 percent upon final delivery. You can tell if a ghostwriter or ghostwriting firm is successful because they are able to offer financing for your project, but that is rare. Only the most in-demand and successful ghostwriters are able to offer payment plans that allow you to pay over time or with a credit card.

Review Ghostwriting Contracts

It is vitally important to have clear communication in a contract with the ghostwriter before work begins. The ghostwriter likely has a boilerplate contract to customize for your project. You might want to review the contract with a publishing professional you know and trust or have it reviewed by an intellectual property attorney.
Be sure the following is covered:
Ownership and Copyright
Consequences in case of dispute

Ghostwriting Deliverables

At the end of the process, you should have three things:
1. A manuscript in publication submission form that has been line edited, copyedited, and proofread. The ghostwriter will usually subcontract to get these things done. Line editing looks for general inconsistencies in content and format, good structure, and good writing and grammar. Copyediting looks for spelling and punctuation errors, good sentence structure, and any inconsistencies.
2. A great read. You should enjoy reading the book. The material should be logically presented with interesting chapter titles and headings. The book should also have a dynamic beginning and end and should spur you on to read the next section with each chapter ending. The book should also sound as if you wrote it. It should use the words and mirror the natural tone of the author.
3. A hard copy of the work plus an electronic copy in a common word processing software such as Microsoft® Word. Also, the return of any original source documents as well as any interview tapes.

If you work with a prestigious ghostwriting firm, they may be able to handle publishing (independent publishing or finding a reputable established commercial publisher) with their established connections. In-demand firms only take on the clients they think will truly achieve success with their ideas.