How to Choose the Right Ghostwriter

Unless you’ve worked with one before, you’re probably not sure how to scout someone out. Sure, you can try your hand at Craigslist and content mills, but before you go that way, you wanna talk to a seasoned expert in the field to give you the rundown on our process and what you can expect, am I right?

Start right here, my friend!

The process doesn’t have to be daunting. Ghostwriters are interesting characters. Our opinions and insights are formed by years (in my case a decade) of absorbing the thoughts and feelings of strangers. We’re like sponges. But meeting one you hit it off with right away doesn’t make that ghost any better or worse for you or – more importantly – your project. Ideally, you both should have a mutual level of respect for your project. Now, if that’s missing from the equation or if your preliminary interview doesn’t go well at all, take it as a red flag and check out someone else.

Working on a project (be it book, blog post, or technical piece) with another person means you let them into your head and they, you. It’s the forging of a bond, a deep one that you cannot do without in this industry. You’ll spend weeks or months sharing more with your ghost than you would with your spouse or children. Problems and obstacles will inevitably stymie your progress at some point and you’ll have to work together to overcome those challenges.

The 10 Easy Steps

Each author will ask for and/or need different forms of support. In some cases, we ghosts serve as little more than babysitters keeping the project on target. At other times, we’ll be tasked with duties normally assigned to administrative support staff, like personal assistants. And wherever you and your project fall, make it a point to let your prospective ghost know exactly what we’ll need to do to get the job done. We hate surprises, and the better we can plan out our workload the easier it is to do our jobs.

To help you get there, I’ll break down all 10 steps for you.

1. Set Realistic Expectations

Generally speaking, ghostwriters are not researchers. In the past, I’ve ghosted on projects as part of a team of other ghosts. Each of us was handed a portion of the author’s outline, and we conferred with a separate researcher who specialized in ripping Google a new one to gain access to specific information without being inundated with the usual page or two of useless search results.

For your preliminary interview, your ghost will likely ask you about how much research you’ll need to complete the project. The reason for the question?

Your prospective ghost is asking as nicely as possible whether or not you’ll:

A.) Be hiring a separate researcher to help – by far the fastest and most cost-effective way to go

B.) Conducting any necessary research yourself, or

C.) Dumping it and the writing onto your ghost

If the project is small, a seasoned ghost can estimate the total amount of hours in research to be done before even the writing begins.

Larger projects, like manuscripts, medical reports, case studies, etcetera, can sometimes require dozens of hours of time. Your ghost will likely bill you more than twice what a researcher would for the same amount of time. Save yourself (and your ghost) a headache. Consider hiring an independent researcher specializing in your project’s niche.

If your project is a work of fiction, you’ll have to get nice and specific about what each major scene looks like in your head and what you’d like to have happen with each one. Some novelists will hand a ghostwriter a premise, some background info on the main characters, and an idea about how the book could end. The ghost takes it from there. In other cases, authors will take the time to go over each chapter with the ghost before any research is done or even a word is written in the outline.

What I’m saying is, we’re pretty used to both sides of the gamut. So in this sense, it’s totally up to you how your ghost will proceed.

If you need it, an experienced ghostwriter can help you flesh out your thesis or primary point. Your story line not stacking up? Ghosts as masters at that. We take large amounts of information swirling around in a vortex of entropy and organize it in a way that makes sense to your readers. We’re guides here to serve the best interests of your project.

Make sure you trust them. Not with their discretion so much, but with their knowledge of your industry.  Their advice has to be the best possible avenue to take with your project.

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Take a seasoned pro’s advice, feedback and suggestions for creating a more marketable finished product laid out so it’s easier to like and therefore sell. I’m not saying we’re book doctors. Most of us aren’t. But we’ve seen more than one author fail to heed our advice after asking for it. The results, quite honestly, suck. And what’s worse, they didn’t have to.

We want your project to succeed. No ghostwriter would sign up to complete a project doomed to fail. It’s a waste of resources, time, and emotions. You see, ghostwriters often carry remnants of their past projects around with them. Each one affects the outcome the next one that follows it. And who wants to be Johnny Raincloud or Debbie Downer while working on the next gig?

2. Lay Out What You Want, and Then Verbalize It

Are you looking for someone to fix what you’ve already written? How about someone to take your manuscript to the next level? If you are, you’re more likely in need of a book doctor or an editor.

If you need someone to do most or all of the writing of your work, now you’re in the market for a ghost.

Think about how hands-on you want to be with the project. Are you handing over creative license and asking your phantom to stick to a plan or outline?

Establish expectations and set clear boundaries. Are you open to receiving feedback or ideas from your ghost? If you are, are you working with someone who’s capable of contributing them? Or are they more someone who works better using your content only?

In-person meetings aren’t that common anymore, so if you’re someone who feels a virtual handshake doesn’t reveal as much as a personal one, you can expect to pay for that.

Most ghosts work with clients long-distance. It’s highly effective. But there are authors who want their ghost nearby and available to travel for things like long interviews.

3. Set and Explain Your Goals

What do you want your project to do for the reader? And what do you want it to do for you?

If you’re writing a book, you should know whether you’re going to seek agency representation in hopes of landing a traditional book contract or if you’re more comfortable with self-publishing.

Will your completed project teach readers something that’ll change their lives? Or are you only looking to entertain them?

For you, are you looking to expand your outreach or increase your credibility? Do you want your book to open doors for speaking engagements?

Give it thought. Write it down. Explain how you want the completed project to benefit you. It’s an important factor in determining the project’s overall value.

4. Search Smarter

We aren’t easy to find. And in case you’re wondering, it’s by design.

We like keeping low profiles and are limited in terms of sharing what we do. Matchmaking companies can help you overcome some of the barriers we set as ghostwriters.

Reedsy lets you look at profiles and at specialties. Pick two or three that seem like a fit and reach out.

Make sure your prospectives have an absolutely clear vision of your project before ever quoting you a fee.

5. Interviewing a Ghost

Look for:

  • Strong writing and story-telling skills
  • The ability to process and organize lots of information
  • And talent where voice-capture is concerned

If you have a trusted editor or literary agent, ask that they weigh in and help you narrow down your search. You’re really just looking for someone who can create work that appeals to your ear.

6. Check Out Their Past Work

Odds are, you won’t find anything they’ve ghosted. But most ghosts have a portfolio of professional writing samples they’ve written with a byline. Dig through these credits and see how well some of these have performed along with the names of publications the writer has appeared in.

And check out their website! Their website gives you the best idea of what the ghost is about and what they do. Do they interact with their audience via a blog like this one? Do they keep a page dedicated to ghostwriting?

Some will list the books they’ve worked on but won’t list the role or roles they had within the books. If they don’t do this, don’t be discouraged. Most of the time, we’ve signed so many NDAs, we just choose to omit our ghosted stuff altogether.

7. Can the Ghost Capture Your Unique Voice?

Ghosts are impersonators. We’ve had years of practice learning about the different ways in which writers write. We mimic by using carefully chosen words, your rhythm and pacing to create a version of you that exists in our heads. An experienced ghost with a handful of projects under their belt can create a variety of pieces with different voices.

Don’t use their current projects as a rubric to gauge whether or not they’ll be successful at mimicking you.

Use a trial run and assign the ghost a few pages or a chapter to find out what their capabilities are. They might not nail your voice immediately. That usually takes a few passes back and forth after several conversations with you.

If it’s not working for you after several passes, be honest. The worst that can happen is your completed project’s mismatched voice will create a disconnect between your audience and you.

8. Get Details About Their Process

The author and writer work in tandem. They communicate and cooperate to create what the author needs. Some ghosts spend loads of time with an author at the beginning to ask questions, gather info, and sometimes conduct research. Some disappear for months to draft chapters, submitting each one (or a batch of a few) to you for approval.

Find out whether your writer works well on a chapter-by-chapter, batches of chapters, or entire manuscript basis. Make sure you’re comfortable with that.

9. Work Around Their Availability

Most ghosts are perpetually unavailable. At least, we seem that way.

The odds your preferred ghost will be 100 percent available to take your job are slim. Talented writers are busy and book many projects in advance. Be prepared to wait up to six months for a ghost worth their salt.

Have a shorter project? Writers who specialize in those tend to have better availability. You’ll likely only be waiting a few weeks.

10. You’ll Get What You Pay For

If you take nothing else from this, remember one thing, your budget makes a difference in the outcome of the project. Cheap writers don’t exist. We know our worth and are willing to walk away from negotiations if the money isn’t right.

Of course, you should include your ghost’s fee into your decision-making process, but also consider what the project means to you.

Readers are the best critics, and they’re not known for giving any slack to new or established authors. They know what they like and when they’ve been sold something not worth their time (and money!). Don’t take chances.

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Final Thoughts

Finding a good ghost is a tedious process that’s worth every minute you spend on due diligence. You’re forming a bond that you hope will benefit you in the long run. Take it seriously. Once complete, it’ll last forever.

Looking for a ghost? Tell us about it in the comments section!


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