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“This is my first time hiring a ghostwriter, sorry if I seem a bit scatter-brained.”
I hear this apology during almost every initial consultation or interview that I have with most potential clients: This is my first time hiring a ghostwriter, sorry if I seem a bit scatter-brained.
You know what? It's okay to feel a little bit scattered when it comes to hiring a ghostwriter. It's not as if you do that every day, right? And it's not as if hiring a ghostwriter works exactly the same way as hiring an editor or hiring a social media manager or hiring a housecleaner.
Hiring a ghostwriter is no easy task. Your book, especially your first book, is your baby. It's your brand, your voice, your promise to your readers. And that's not something you can trust to just anyone.
And, to add to the complexity, you can't necessarily ask for certain things that would make it easier on you, right? You may be able to take a look at some of their writing samples, but even that might not tell you exactly how they will adopt your voice.
So, I've put together this list of 21 questions you should ask before hiring a ghostwriter. Should you find yourself thinking about a ghostwriter, try to gather the answers to as many of these questions as possible to help make your decision easier (you may not even have to ask, if the ghostwriter you are considering has a website with an FAQ, they may have these answers available for you there, saving you a bit of time on the interview).
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What is a Ghostwriter?
If you've ever read a celebrity memoir, self-help guide, or political biography, chances are you've read a book that was ghostwritten. A ghostwriter is someone who writes on behalf of another person and receives no official credit for the work.
In other words, they pen your words, but their name isn't attached to the finished product. The process of ghostwriting is often used by busy executives, politicians, entertainers, and other high profile individuals who lack the time or writing skills to produce quality written content.
21 Questions you Should Ask Before Hiring a Ghostwriter
1. Do they have a sample contract available you can read through?
Most ghostwriters work with some sort of contract. Some of them may have drawn up their own contracts, and some of them may be working under a blanket contract from a freelance site such as UPWork or Freelancer. Ghostwriters who have drawn up their own contracts usually make adjustments to each one based on the client or project, but they should still have a copy of a blank one or a template of sorts to show you upon request.
(If you'd like more information about what to look for in a contract, or even what goes into a contract, you can check out this post here by Shaun Connell over at Freelance Writing Jobs for more info and even a few templates to look at).
2. How much (if anything) do they know about the subject matter?
Most ghostwriters make adjustments in their charges to allow for research. The more research they have to do, the longer the project takes and the more they will charge. This is true whether you're hiring for a fiction or a nonfiction project. So you need to know what their baseline is before they get started. This could include actual subject matter itself (for nonfiction) or elements to develop the subject matter, such as developing magic systems, constructing languages, or world building (for fiction).
3. How many other projects are on their plate right now?
Like many other freelance writers, ghostwriters are always on the lookout for their next client — even while working with one. This helps to ensure a steady stream of work. But sometimes it can also lead to a bit of a backlog. By finding out how many projects are on their plate, you can also find out about when they will be able to get started on your project.
4. How do they charge?
This is probably a more important question than even “how much do you charge?” In fact, you don't even want to ask how much they charge — but I'll cover that at the end. You need to know whether or not they charge by the hour, by the page, or by the word, and what they do to calculate those charges.
5. What is included with their fee?
Some ghostwriters charge for the writing and that's it. Some will include edits or revisions, some will include the research, and others will include formatting. You need to know up front what's included with their fees so you know what you'll be paying for.
6. When will payment be due?
Most ghostwriters expect at least a portion of their fees up front. Others will work on a milestone basis. Some will accept payment after completing the work. You will want to know ahead of time how your ghostwriter works so you can make arrangements.
7. How long will it take?
I have to say, I hate this question. Absolutely hate it. Yes, I can pound out a novel fairly quick. I do NaNoWriMo two or three times a year. But that doesn't mean I can whip out your memoir or your novel in under a month. And there's no good way to estimate how long a project is going to take until you're in the middle of writing it.
Things come up that may delay the writing: personal issues, research issues, a computer might freeze. The writing process does not exactly lend itself to deadlines very easily, and I often prioritize quality over deadlines. But, you still want to get an estimate of what their average turn-around is, even if the ghostwriter isn't comfortable specifying a date. What is the fastest they've ever completed a project of a length similar to yours? The longest?
8. What deliverables can you expect?
Will they send you an MS Word file or a PDF? Both? How will the file be formatted? How many copies will you receive? What about the files they may have saved or collected for research? What about your files that you sent them?
9. What happens if the contract gets cancelled?
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we have to part ways. It doesn't mean you hired a bad ghostwriter or that you were a bad client. Sometimes schedules just don't work, communication falls out of sync, or family emergencies get in the way. Understanding what happens to your idea and your research if that happens is an important step to protecting your intellectual property (not to mention, it will help the ghostwriter to know what happens with the work he or she has completed up to that point).
10. Do they handle the writing themselves or do they pass your project on to someone else?
I still handle 100% of my clients, but that's mostly because I'm too anxious that something will get missed or done incorrectly to trust my clients in the hands of someone else. However, I am getting busier and busier and as I expand on my services I am finding myself having to turn down projects before I start juggling too much.
It may not be long before I look into hiring a team of ghostwriters to work with me to help juggle some of this workload. And should that time come, clients are going to want to know up front who is doing the actual work, why that person, and what criteria I used to hire that person.
11. How about communication?
What is the easiest way to get a hold of your ghostwriter? How often can you expect to hear updates? I am horrible at providing updates between milestones. Absolutely horrible. So, unfortunately, many of my clients start to get antsy after not hearing from me for about a month or so.
And I totally understand, I just suck at sending out emails that read “no new progress made. Still working on the first draft.” So it's important to get that type of information ahead of time, that way if communication does slow down, you'll know how to handle it.
12. What other services do you provide?
Most of the ghostwriters I know do more than just ghostwriting. Many of us are authors in our own right, editors, formatters, and even publishers. And as such, there are times when our attention may be pulled in multiple directions. If you and your project need a lot of undivided attention, then you will want to look for a ghostwriter who concentrates on one project at a time.
13. Is there a place where I can see your writing?
Do not ask for a writing sample. Do not ask the ghostwriter to submit to a writing test. And do not ask if the ghostwriter has been published. First of all, none of these things are relevant to your project. Most ghostwriters submit written proposals for projects. If that is not enough to glean the writing ability, ask if they have a website or blog — most of the time the answer is yes.
Some ghostwriters may have their own projects they've written, others may have been published; but neither of these is guaranteed. I've been ghostwriting for 12 years, but didn't start collecting samples of my own writing until the last 8 or 9 years. And asking for them to submit to a test or create a writing sample for you? Well, that's just rude — no ghostwriter should be asked to work for free.
14. Do they have a policy about accepting serial work?
Once you find a good fit with a ghostwriter, it's hard to let that go at the end of a project. Especially if that project blooms into multiple projects. However, as I said earlier, ghostwriters are always on the lookout for their next project. We can't really afford to let one project end without another one on the hook somewhere. So if you think there is a chance that your project may turn into multiple projects, it's good to find out up front how if your ghostwriter will accept both at the same time, will they draw up separate contracts for each, etc.
15. What programs do you use?
It might seem like a given that your ghostwriter has some sort of word processor. But whether or not that word processor is compatible with your word processor is a whole other story. Just last month, I had an issue with a project when I tried to send her an MS Word document to review, and she couldn't get it to open. I had to convert the file over to a PDF so she could review it. And that made things like commenting where she wanted changes made difficult. You'll want to know ahead of time what program(s) the ghostwriter uses so you can be sure the file is compatible with your equipment.
16. What style guide do you go by?
Most of the time, if a client has been unhappy with my writing style, it's been because of things like using the word said as a dialogue tag when they want words like opined, retorted, and confirmed. And while these may not seem like major problems, when you've just completed an 85K word novel, changing these all out is time-consuming and liable to make my head implode. If you are married to a particular style, let your ghostwriter know ahead of time.
17. Can your ghostwriter write other pieces related to your project?
Once a book is done, there is still plenty more to be written: sales copy, marketing plans, blurbs, query letters to agents and publishers. Depending on your plan for that book, there may be five or six miniature writing projects to go along with it. And it might be better to have the same voice heard throughout, which means it might be best if your ghostwriter is available to write these extra projects.
18. What genres/niches is your ghostwriter experienced in writing?
Most ghostwriters excel at writing in multiple genres. But that doesn't always mean they are capable of writing in every genre. Ghostwriters who concentrate mainly on how-to guides and self-help books may not have the same understanding of story structure as a ghostwriter who focuses on fiction stories. Short story writers don't always know how to stretch to a full-length novel. Novelists don't always know how to novelize a screenplay. You'll want to know ahead of time if your ghostwriter has experience in the genre you're looking to have written and if they enjoyed working in that genre.
19. What do they need from you to get started?
If you have already started the research for your project, how should you deliver it to your ghostwriter? Other than signing the contract, what steps need to be done before they can get started? If the project is a memoir, will they need to interview you or your family?
20. How did they get into ghostwriting?
Every ghostwriter gets into ghostwriting for a different reason or through a different way. Each of our journeys is different. But there are a couple of recurring themes through several of our stories. In a lot of cases, ghostwriters started off as authors who then found that they could help other authors write their books. After all, once you've written a book, you are in a unique position to be able to help someone who has never done it be able to do it. So, in a way, that's a very natural progression.
Other ghostwriters get their start from deeper inside the publishing industry. They might not have ever written their own book, but they might have been an editor or worked for an editor or been a proofreader or something else related to the publishing industry, and took that knowledge to help other people write their books. This gives them a strong perspective from the publishing side of writing a book more than the writing side.
Pending on their answer, that'll give you an idea as to where their strengths lie. If they came up through the author path, then their storytelling skills are probably pretty strong and they can probably really help pull everything together creatively for you. On the other hand, if they came up through editing, then their strengths lie more on the marketing side. They'll already know what publishers and agents are looking for, and they can help write your book with sellability in mind.
Either way, this is a huge strength for you and your book. This isn't about whether or not one is better than the other, but rather it will give you an idea of what they can bring to your book that another ghostwriter might not be able to bring.
21. What is their process for learning your voice?
Regardless of who you hire to go straight your book, the end goal is the same: the book needs to sound like you. It needs your voice. Anyone who picks up and reads that book needs to be able to recognize you in there.
The best ghostwriters have a process for getting your voice through their writing. The process itself varies from one ghostwriter to another. Sometimes it entails a series of conversations, sometimes it entails interviews, collecting materials, or watching videos you've recorded.
Whatever their process, ask ahead of time. If they are stumbling over this question, or if they don't really know, then chances are they have not had a lot of experience yet in this facet of ghost training. That does not mean that they would be a bad ghostwriter, and it does not mean that they would not be able to adopt your voice. Just that they don't have as much experience in ghost writing just yet. So if you are looking for someone who is highly experienced, you might want to look elsewhere.
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So, why shouldn't you ask for the cost of hiring a ghostwriter during the interview?
Okay, I know you have a budget to look after. And I know that you need to know the cost before choosing to hire the ghostwriter. I'm not suggesting that you don't ask at all… Just not during that initial interview. Ghostwriters take a lot into consideration when it comes to calculating how much to charge.
- How much research is going to be involved?
- How long (in days / weeks) will it take to complete?
- How many hours will it take to complete?
- How long is the project?
- What deliverables is the client wanting?
- What is the client wanting besides writing?
Most of these factors require having an understanding of the project and of your expectations, which doesn't come about until during that interview when we ghostwriters get to ask you about your project. Asking for a total price puts the ghostwriter on the spot to spit out a number without having all the information, which almost always leads to issues.
Instead of asking for a price, at the end of the interview if you believe you like the ghostwriter, ask him or her to submit a formal proposal including their charges. This will give the ghostwriter the chance to take all the information into account and send you a proposal in writing for you to review before deciding to hire them.
Can't I ask What other Books They've Ghostwritten?
Sure, go ahead and ask. However, they can't tell you and asking them may end up accidentally sending them into a struggle with imposter syndrome and self-doubt.
As soon as someone asks me about clients, my mind starts racing and my anxiety climbs because I know—I know—why they're asking. They are looking for that social proof. They want to see that final element that shows for certain that I know what I'm saying. And as a society we have been trained to trust reviews from others.
If you can find out what else this person has ghostwritten, you can do some independent research — you won't be beholden to their word alone. You will be able to see the reviews on that book, how it has been received, and how well it's doing on the market.
So, ghostwriters understand the motivation behind asking a question like this. But we are tied to our legal obligations to retain our clients' confidentiality. When hiring a ghostwriter, a portion of your fee is to purchase the ownership rights over the finished work. For the ghostwriter to release a statement at any time claiming credit for the finished work would be a huge ethical and legal problem.
But not being able to give that information when asked — not being able to provide people with the specific type of proof that they are asking for — is anxiety-inducing even on a good day. All the thoughts start bubbling through my head regarding what to do if they don't like my answer, and why couldn't the get an idea of my skill based on what I had already shown them. At that point, I'm not thinking about what I need to show you, I'm thinking about why what I've already shown you has failed…
Well, more accurately, how I have already failed.
Of course, not every ghostwriter goes through this thought-process. There are varying degrees of imposter syndrome and some ghostwriters don't face it at all. But they still wouldn't be able to answer this question, so it's better to just skip right over this question and stick to some of the questions I listed above.
The Benefits of Hiring a Ghostwriter
One of the greatest benefits of hiring a ghostwriter is the amount of time it saves you. If you're an entrepreneur, busy executive, or have a full-time job, finding the time to write can be challenging. A ghostwriter can help you create high-quality content without sacrificing valuable time that could be better spent on other important tasks. By delegating your writing needs to a professional ghostwriter, you'll be able to focus on growing your business or pursuing other passions.
Professional Writing Skills and Experience
Another benefit of hiring a ghostwriter is their professional writing skills and experience. Ghostwriters are experts in their craft who have honed their skills over years of writing experience.
They know how to craft engaging content that captures readers' attention and keeps them engaged from beginning to end. With years of practice under their belts, they have developed a keen sense for language, style, and tone that can make your content stand out from the rest.
Confidentiality and Anonymity
Perhaps one of the most valuable benefits of hiring a ghostwriter is the confidentiality and anonymity they provide. As an entrepreneur or public figure, keeping your personal life private is important for maintaining trust with clients or followers. A ghostwriter can ensure that your content is written anonymously so that it's not linked back to you personally.
This allows you to share your thoughts and ideas without fear of being judged or criticized by others who may disagree with your views.
Choosing the Right Ghostwriter
Choosing the right ghostwriter is essential to ensure that you get high-quality writing that meets your needs. Here are three important steps to follow when selecting a ghostwriter:
- Researching potential candidates: The first step in choosing a ghostwriter is to research potential candidates. Start by looking at online directories, writing communities, and social media platforms. Look for ghostwriters who have expertise in your niche or genre and whose writing style aligns with yours.
- Evaluating writing samples and portfolios: Once you have identified some potential candidates, evaluate their writing samples and portfolios. This will help you gauge the quality of their work and determine if they are a good fit for your project. Look for samples that demonstrate strong storytelling skills, engaging prose, and attention to detail.
- Conducting interviews and negotiations: The final step is to conduct interviews with the top candidates on your list. During these interviews, ask questions about their experience, qualifications, process, and pricing. Be sure to also discuss deadlines, revisions, communication channels, and any other requirements specific to your project. Negotiate rates based on the scope of work involved. By following these three steps – researching potential candidates thoroughly , evaluating samples diligently , conducting detailed interviews – you can select the right ghostwriter for your project.
Collaborating with Your Ghostwriter
Establishing Clear Communication Channels
Collaborating with a ghostwriter requires clear communication from both parties. Establishing the correct communication channels is key to success. You need to decide how you will communicate, when you will communicate, and what format you will use (e.g., phone calls, emails, video conferencing).
Some ghostwriters may prefer one mode of communication over another, so it's important to discuss this upfront. Be sure to establish who is responsible for initiating contact and how frequently each party should expect an update on the project's progress.
Defining Project Goals, Timelines, and Expectations
To ensure that your project gets off on the right foot and stays on track throughout its duration, it's essential to establish clear goals, timelines and expectations from the outset. Discuss your overall vision for the piece of writing with your ghostwriter in detail so that they have a good understanding of what you're trying to achieve. Outline any specific targets that you want them to hit (such as length or style), as well as deadlines for different stages of the project.
Providing Feedback and Revisions
Collaboration also means providing feedback when necessary. As your ghostwriter works on drafts of your writing project, it's important that you provide timely feedback regarding what's working well and what needs improvement. This feedback will help guide their work going forward so that they can make revisions accordingly.
If there are any changes or revisions needed after receiving drafts from your writer, be sure to provide clear instructions so they can make these updates efficiently. Remember that collaboration is a two-way street; be open to suggestions or recommendations from your ghostwriter if they feel something could be improved upon or changed in order to better meet your goals.
: collaboration between you and your ghostwriter is crucial to achieving success in your writing project. Establishing clear communication channels, defining project goals and expectations, and providing feedback and revisions throughout the process will help ensure that the final product meets your expectations.
Cost Considerations for Hiring a Ghostwriter
Factors that affect ghostwriting rates
As with any service, the cost of hiring a ghostwriter can vary widely depending on several factors. For one, the level of experience and expertise of the writer can play a significant role in determining their rates.
Additionally, the complexity and length of the project can also impact pricing. Some ghostwriters may charge more for rush jobs or projects that require additional research or interviews.
Another factor to consider is whether you want to hire a local writer or someone who works remotely. While local writers may offer some advantages, such as the ability to meet in person and build a closer working relationship, they may also be more expensive due to higher living costs in certain areas.
How to budget for ghostwriting services
If you're considering hiring a ghostwriter, it's important to establish a realistic budget beforehand. This will help ensure that you find someone who can meet your needs while also fitting within your financial constraints.
The first step in creating a budget is to determine how much you can afford to spend on the project overall. This should take into account both the cost of writing services as well as any additional expenses such as editing and formatting.
From there, you can begin researching potential writers and gathering quotes based on your project requirements. Be sure to ask for estimates from several different writers so that you can compare rates and find someone who offers good value for your money.
Once you've found a writer whose rates are within your budget range, be sure to establish clear expectations upfront regarding deadlines, revisions, and payment schedules. With proper planning and communication, hiring a ghostwriter can be an affordable way to bring your writing project to life without sacrificing quality or professionalism.
Have a Question About Writing or Publishing?
Submit your question directly to me through this form:
Did you enjoy this article? Here are some other posts on writing you may like:
- Get the Most out of the 2022 Writer's Toolkit by Ultimate Bundles
- The Stress of Not Writing… You Must Forgive Yourself
- 15 Borderline Genius Things about Creating Cultures in Fiction You Need to Know Now
- Blog Post Ideas for Fiction Authors
- How to Write Through Stressful Times
Are ghostwriters credited?
The short answer is no, ghostwriters are not credited in the final book – but this uncredited work goes a little bit deeper. According to the world, the ghostwriter was not involved in the book, which means the ghostwriter cannot make any claims on the work: no portfolio, no referrals, no testimonials. This can make the act of hiring a ghostwriter confusing and a little scary.