Working As A Ghostwriter


Why would someone hire a ghostwriter? For one thing, it might be the difference between an idea floating around an author’s head and an actual book being published.

Ghostwriters… those mysterious creatures who pen other peoples’ books for them, producing content in someone else’s voice. A ghostwriter won’t have his or her name on the book cover – that accolade belongs to the author – but these writers do get to talk to and work with a lot of interesting people. Perhaps you’ve considered hiring one yourself, or becoming one, or possibly you feel suspicious of the whole concept and wonder why an author wouldn’t just write his own book.

When I first started my ghostwriting and book coaching business, I wondered if anyone would be willing to have a professional write in his or her voice. It turns out many writers recognize the serious advantages to this particular way of creating a book.

As an aside, many of our most well-known and revered business books contain acknowledgements for ghostwriter assistance. Examples include Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), Donald Trump (The Art of The Deal), and Richard Branson (Losing My Virginity).

Why would someone use a ghostwriter to write a book?

For a start, it saves authors time – time they can spend more productively on the business tasks only they can do. They don’t have to get up at 5 a.m. to crank out 1,000 words before breakfast every day, they can simply hand the heavy lifting to someone else. This means they can focus on preparing the marketing for their book launch and how they’ll build their expert reputation once it’s published.

In other words, hiring a ghostwriter might be the difference between an idea floating around an author’s head and an actual book being published.

In addition, for many business people, writing simply isn’t a core strength. I’m a big believer in outsourcing whatever you can. For instance, I’m terrible with numbers, so I’ve always had an accountant. She saves me hours of time and makes sure my figures add up correctly so I can sleep at night knowing they’re being taken care of. Conversely, writing articulate and persuasive content might not be an accountant’s strong suit, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a great idea and the expertise to fill the pages of a powerful business book.

But, isn’t using a ghostwriter a bit like cheating?

As a ghostwriter, I can (and will) only write the author’s own thoughts, ideas, and opinions. I’ll also write them in the way he or she would most like them expressed. I make sure the author’s train of thought is expressed in the best possible way – adding my own creativity and writing skills into the mix – and I speak up when I see things going off track. But the book comes from the author, not from me.

In fact, the very process of working with a ghostwriter means my clients have to get crystal clear on their core message and why it matters. This is something I help them with as we plan the book.

How does using a ghostwriter work?

I can’t speak for all of ghostwriters, but this is my process.

  1. I sit down and work out the book’s strategy with my client: what the book’s big idea is, who it is for, how these two factors fit together, whether there’s a market for the book, and most importantly, how it is going to help their business.
  2. We work out an outline, using their content as a starting point.
  3. I interview them via Skype. In these interviews, I draw out the story from my client that’s bigger and better than the one they would have found on their own. Having a warm and trusting relationship is key for this, and it can be an enjoyable part of the process for the author.
  4. The calls are recorded and transcribed. These transcriptions, together with any written or audio material my client already has, form the the raw material for the book. The recordings and transcriptions also help me to capture the tone and language used, so I can write in their voice.
  5. I write each chapter, sending them for feedback as we go along.
  6. We both review, typically creating three drafts in total.
  7. The manuscript is proofread and handed to my client. If he/she wants, I help them publish and market it as well.

And that’s it, really. It seems pretty simple now, doesn’t it? Have you ever thought of working as a ghostwriter?

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  1. This is a really timely article for me. I just did some ghostwriting and have to admit, I heaved a huge sad sigh at the end, to see my characters go and belong to someone else, when I was done. It could be because it was a romance story. I think if it had been a blog article or other type of writing, it wouldn’t have been so hard. For me, I get attached to my characters and stories and don’t think I could send them off to someone else again. But that’s just me.

      • Ginny-wonderful post and extremely helpful to writers wishing to plunge into the world of ghostwriting. I ghost biographies (as well as fiction)and find that in-person interviewing, armed with a recorder, enables me to observe the client’s body language as clues to character, mannerisms, and ‘voice.’
        Good luck with your projects.

  2. This was right on time. I have been helping others write for years and just became open to the idea of ghostwriting. I love the tip on recording and transcribing your conversations. How does that work? What programs do you use?

  3. I was thinking about this for when I retire soon from my lifelong job. During that time, I had a trade book published by McGraw-Hill that sold for over 20 years. I’ve also had over 110 articles published. I had always wondered if writing books or articles for other people could be profitable and produce a steady income.

    • It can be a great way to earn a living Joseph, although you have to be adept at writing in your client’s voice, which is very different from writing your own material the way you like it.

  4. Thanks for these tips! I’m always curious though, how do you figure out what you will charge for ghostwriting?

    • Hi Patti, it’s just like any other service. You look at what the market is doing, figure out what benefit and value you bring to your client, and come to a calculation. Which can of course be amended over time. Whatever you do, don’t base it on what you ‘need’ to live on. Or charge by the hour.

    • Hi Denise. Never, never either of those two. Word count makes you a commodity and percentage of sales leaves you open to all sorts of problems, although it’s up to you of course. I charge for the whole job as I take pride in the finished article and my authors know where they stand from the beginning.

      • But you have to have some way to differentiate between small jobs and big ones. Even people who work piecemeal convert to hourly wage to figure out how well they’re getting paid. I can’t imagine you charge the same for a 30,000-word seminar companion book that you charge for a 200,000-word autobiography.

  5. A brilliant post – thank you very much!

    I’ve done a few ghostwriting projects via. Upwork and Elance, but I’ve found that no one wants to pay even minimum wage. My big question is how do you find clients? I’m all for ghostwriting, but it’s finding people who want ghostwriters that I find most difficult…

    • That’s a topic all in its own right! Most of my clients come from referrals or social media, and sometimes Google. You have to actively market yourself as you’re right, the freelancer sites don’t turn up the jobs which reward us writers for our skills. Good luck.

  6. I have found that when ghostwriting—especially fiction—it is always important for me to only bid on jobs in genres I don’t write myself. Science fiction, romance, fantasy, paranormal? Absolutely not, since these are my own favorite writing genres. Historical, Amish, western, children’s? Sure, why not? And the more information the client gives me for a story, the better, because it means there is less of “me” in the characters and story line. I enjoy playing in other people’s fictional worlds, and if the characters aren’t mine (and they aren’t, if I’m writing in someone else’s “voice”), I find I don’t get attached to them. I made the mistake once—and *never* again!—of ghostwriting a contemporary romantic paranormal romance, for which I signed that pesky NDA. Not only did the other woman put another name on the story when she published it in Kindle (which I expected), she also took full credit for writing it, including comments about how much she enjoyed doing so. As I said, NEVER again! What makes it worse, is I could see that particular story expanding to a novel, and now I can’t write it, because I’ve sold it. (Deep sigh.)

    • I can see your frustration Laura, and as I’m sure you know, ghostwriting entails giving away your right to have your name associated with your work, so if that’s an issue for you in particular genres then you’re right to steer away from them. It’s an interesting perspective only to write in genres you wouldn’t want to tackle in your own name – nice approach.

  7. How would one go about finding out more information about ghost writers and potentially looking into prices and all that stuff?

    • Tyler, I understand your questions, and I answer may of them on my website, I have ghosted 14 biographies for a variety of clients- athletes, businessmen, grandparents wishing to leave a written legacy for their grandchildren and many others. Always use a contract, and never hoist your own ego ahead of your client’s!!

  8. The one recurring theme throughout the piece is ‘business’… I guess that for business books, ghost writing is OK, but if the ‘author’s’ premise is good and the writer’s writing is good, why not share the accolades. Lots of books are credited on the spine as being by more than one person. Why should someone who can’t write be given all the credit for writing a book they didn’t write themselves? Sorry, but that’s just fraud. Give both originator and writer the credit, or don’t publish the book.

    As for fiction, then those books should always be jointly credited if the ideas and the storyline are one person’s while the prose is another’s. The style and the prose are as much part of a novel’s charm as the story. Otherwise, we’d all be ‘reading’ graphic novels where the ‘showing’ is all done with the images, and only the dialogue has any eloquence.

    • It’s up to the author whether they share the credit. A good ghostwriter doesn’t mind being in the background – I certainly don’t. There are plenty of other benefits besides having a name on the cover.

      • That is powerful! I have been wondering why a ghostwriter will want their names on the cover. To me that doesn’t really matter. After all, my books and ideas are bearing my names

    • They get all the credit because they paid for all the credit. (Whether they paid too much or not enough is beside the point.) And the contract says so. If you got a problem with that, don’t sign the contract.

      It’s no different than an engineer’s designs. If it’s what they’re hired for, it’s the employer’s work, not theirs. Some argue that if the idea show up on company time, it belongs to the company. (It can get pretty dicey when an engineer gets an idea on the job that isn’t requested by the employer. That’s why they keep “company logbooks” and “personal logbooks.”)

      I do recall one of my college professors helped a client with a major book–he said he didn’t care how, but he wanted his name on the cover. (When you see “by John Doe, with Jane Smith,” it usually means Jane did 80% or more of the work.)

  9. I have actually done some of this, and learned, the hard way, how crucial it is to know EXACTLY what your customer wants–and how fast they want it done!

    Pricing depends on word count, the difficulty level of working with the manuscript you receive (i.e., are you cleaning up their grammar, or re-writing, from scratch, or just helping them decide what stays in the manuscript, what order it should have, how to build in marketing, etc.?) Most people charge a rate by the page and have a sliding scale, based on the difficulty level, and number of services. This way, the length is already figured into the cost. This way, too, the author can trim a lot of the fat before submitting it and save him, or herself, money. That is also a nice feature for you, because you have to wade through less irrelevant wording, getting you to the next gig more quickly.

    • What you describe is editing, not ghostwriting. With editing, the author hands the editor a manuscript, however rough it may be. With ghostwriting, there is no manuscript. The ghostwriter constructs the manuscript from scratch based on interviews, etc., as Ginny describes.

  10. This is such an important conversation. We want to write. We want to help others tell their stories well and be compensated for it. Luckily one of our foremost ghostwriters, Claudia Suzanne, has deconstructed the process and put together a Ghostwriting Certification Program through California State University, Long Beach. Full disclosure, I’m one of her teaching assistants. Check it out. It’s an intensive and amazing training program.

  11. I’m sold. The big question is, how do you get the gig? Whether being published as yourself or being published as someone else, it seems really difficult. There are millions of us out here writing and it seems the trick is, how to get hooked into the field.

    • Yes Nim it can be tough to get started, but it’s like anything, you have to start somewhere. Why not do some small writing gigs for a low fee just to get some testimonials and referrals, and work from there?

  12. I personally believe in giving credit where credit is due. Sure it is the author’s ideas, but the fact is the author didn’t pen it. It would’ve been better if it’s like, Title of Book by Author, Written by Ghostwriter. It’s different when you hire an accountant to manage your finances, because the accountant gets full credit.

    • The author can thank the ghostwriter in the acknowledgments, but ghostwriting by definition (think: ghost) implies that the ghostwriter is not named as co-author. That’s the gig. Remember: the ghostwriter is paid in full, typically top dollar, for his/her work and then moves on to the next project. The author still has to do — and pay for — the marketing and publicity work to try to recoup his/her investment.

  13. Good article, Ginny.

    Out of interest, where do you stand on a ghostwriter requesting to own joint copywright of the books they work on?

    • Thanks for the question Jody. I’m not sure that’s something I’d want to do unless I wanted a close, ongoing relationship with an author. For my business authors the return on investment for their book isn’t so much what they do with the copyright as the increased visibility and authority the book gives them – so copyright isn’t really relevant. But other ghostwriters might see it differently.

  14. […] For the May edition of our #BBchat Twitter chat, we asked Ginny Carter, business book ghostwriter, book writing coach, and author, for her thoughts on working as and with a ghostwriter based on her experience working as a business book ghostwriter. Ginny prefaced this month’s chat with a guest post on the same subject titled “Working as a Ghostwriter.” […]

  15. I just used a ghostwriter at for your book. I paid $500 for the full book of about 80,000 words. Do you think it is a fair deal.

    yes, I love the final product, and will like to hire thesame writer again, but want to be sure about the price.


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