By Michael J. Dowling
Today we’re lucky to have an article on a subject that’s often shrouded in secrecy: ghostwriting. Michael J. Dowling is an author, an editor and a ghostwriter. I’ve gotten to know him both from his comments on the blog and from his excellent newsletter The Write Stuff, which you should take a look at. Here’s his article.
Does the term ghostwriter spook you? Are you unclear about what ghostwriters do and how they differ from editors? Have you wondered how much ghostwriting services cost and how to find a ghostwriter when you need one? This article will shed some light on these and other important issues.
Beware! Ghostwriters are all around you.
Politicians use them to write their speeches; directors of nonprofit organizations use them for their fund-raising appeals; and many, many professionals hire them to write their non-fiction books.
A ghostwriter goes one step beyond an editor. Generally speaking, ghostwriters create writing for the author, while editors shape the writing of the author. Copy editors focus primarily on style (grammar, punctuation, word choice, syntax); ghostwriters also address content and structure.
The ghostwriter’s job is to present your ideas in your voice to accomplish your goals in a manner that enhances your image. When you utilize a ghostwriter’s writing expertise to leverage your subject-matter expertise, the quality of the finished product will far exceed anything you could accomplish alone. You’ll enjoy the writing process more, and you’ll have more time to focus on your primary responsibilities.
Working with a Ghostwriter
Many people are surprised at how easy it is to write a book with the aid of a ghostwriter. A weekly or biweekly phone call of one hour or so moves most writing projects along nicely. As you talk, your ghostwriter can record your thoughts, asking questions for amplification and clarification. Then he’ll take your ideas, along with any other background information you provide (talks you’ve given, papers you’ve written, etc.) and create drafts for your review.
Between calls, you’ll review your ghostwriter’s drafts and prepare new material for your next phone call. The ghostwriter will rewrite the manuscript as many times as necessary until you’re both satisfied. When writing a book, I like to start with the introduction (also called the preface) and the table of contents, because they encapsulate the overall purpose, structure, and content.
As the author and subject matter expert, your name appears on the front cover of your book. Although acknowledging your ghostwriter on the cover is optional, it can be helpful from a marketing standpoint, especially with a self-published book, because it tells people you’ve made the necessary investment to produce a professional product.
Ghostwriting fees vary widely, depending on the nature of the assignment and the qualifications of the writer. They typically start around $15,000 and go up to $40,000 or more. Remember to consider hidden costs when comparing rates. If you have to closely supervise an inexperienced writer, or if you waste time repeating instructions and correcting mistakes, the true costs of the project can soar. And what if you miss your deadline? How much will that cost you? Focus on value, not price.
Key Traits of Ghostwriters
I believe outstanding ghostwriters possess six key traits: proficiency, efficiency, versatility, compatibility, creativity, and reliability. Here are some questions to consider when interviewing candidates:
Does the candidate write clearly, concisely, convincingly, and engagingly? Ask to see writing samples.
Will the ghostwriter meet your deadlines and conserve your time? Ask about how the writing process will be conducted.
Does the candidate understand book publishing, marketing, and distribution, as well as writing? A versatile ghostwriter will be able to shepherd your overall project to increase your success.
Will the ghostwriter serve you in a cheerful, supportive, cooperative manner? Verify by checking references.
Can the candidate creatively organize and present content for maximum impact? Ask about past projects.
Does the ghostwriter consistently deliver on promises? Check references to be sure.
Finding a Ghostwriter
Ghostwriters aren’t invisible. Here are a few suggestions about how to find one:
- Ask publishing colleagues and other trustworthy sources for recommendations.
- Search writing websites, such as Publishers Marketplace, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, or the Editorial Freelancers Association.
- Post your need with online groups (e.g., LinkedIn has groups for ghostwriters, writers and publishers).
- Search online using Google, Elance.com, and other sources.
Writing a book is a significant undertaking that is difficult to maintain alone. A good ghostwriter will get you started on the right track, keep your project moving, conserve your valuable time, assist you in producing an outstanding product, and help you avoid costly mistakes. There’s nothing spooky about that!
Michael J Dowling (www.MichaelJDowling.com) is a ghostwriter, book developer, editor, and publisher who specializes in non-fiction books and articles for individuals and organizations. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School in New York City, where he was a Harriman Scholar. He is the author three books, including Flip Along Fun, an award-winning children’s book, and Boosting Your Pet’s Self-Esteem, a humorus satire of the self-help craze.
Photo by Bert Van den Roye via Stock.xchng