Are you itching to become an author? Or maybe you’re just looking to have some content created for your site? You’re not alone: more and more entrepreneurs and business owners want to write a book or, more often, have someone else write a book under their name. This is where a ghostwriter comes in.
What’s a ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is a professional writer who creates copy without using his or her own name. Corporate blogs, social media posts, and even bestselling novels are often created by ghostwriters. Sometimes ghostwriters are freelance writers, used only for a single project. More often, a ghostwriter becomes a member of a company team, writing tons of content under the name of an exec at the company or under no name at all.
Now, it’s important to note that freelance writing isn’t always done by a ghostwriter. Sometimes freelance writers have their name on the work. But, you can hire freelance ghostwriting services.
Also, don’t make the mistake of mixing up ghostwriter and co-author, as the two are very different. While a ghostwriter creates original content on their own, a co-author writes a book or piece with another co-author, using their actual name. That is, unless a book with two co-authors is ghostwritten. (Believe nothing. Except us.)
Why would you want a ghostwriter?
In short, a lot of people simply like the acclaim that comes with being a published author. A book can help you grow your business, especially if you’re running a personal brand, and it can give you more credibility. It could even help your new small business get more customers if that credibility bit pans out. Rather than spend countless hours mastering writing, people who don’t have the time or the skill to write a book do the next best thing: hire ghostwriters.
There’s also the obvious perk: books that sell can turn a profit. (Selling books is tough work, however.)
Hiring a ghostwriter
Ghostwriters are abundant and relatively easy to find: simply do a web search for “ghostwriter” or go to an online freelance site like Upwork or Guru. Granted, this may lead you to a terrible ghostwriter. (Hey, you never said it had to be a good book.)
Rather than hop onto the first freelance site you find, ask your professional network and see if anyone knows a talented ghostwriter. If someone has a connection, great! You can start wining and dining them now.
If not, then you need to take your hunt elsewhere. Don’t discount sites like Upwork or Guru, but also think about running an actual job listing. Take your search to a job board like Indeed or FlexJobs. These will allow for a larger candidate pool than a traditional paper ad and increase your chances of finding the right writer.
Now let’s pretend you have tons of applications coming in. What’s next?
As you can imagine, choosing the right ghostwriter for your work is tricky. It requires extensive planning and a solid idea of what you want. To help reduce your chances of hiring a walking typo, here are some things to consider as well as some questions to ask yourself before hiring a ghostwriter:
What kind of ghostwriting project will this be?
Is it nonfiction, a Kindle e-book, a guest post, or some other type of ghostwriting work? If this is a book project, ask yourself how long (by pages or word count) you want the book to be. Once you know the type of project you can move on to the next question to figure out the next qualification you’re looking for.
What kind of experience will this person need?
Knowing the project type will help you determine the experience or background you’re looking for in a ghostwriter. For example, if you want an e-book, you’ll need a ghostwriter with previous book experience. Are you looking for some ghostwritten social media posts? You’ll want to find someone who’s social savvy.
Writing comes in too many forms to count, so make sure you find the ghostwriter with the right experience to eliminate any additional training and reduce the likelihood of a bad end product.
How long is the engagement?
Is this a one-off book project, or will they be writing your blog copy for months or years to come? If it’s ongoing, consider the price. Someone may seem cheap at first, but when you factor in the number of projects they’ll be tackling each day, week, month, etc. things can quickly snowball.
If you’re doing an individual project, you can get a better idea of what you can afford. Still be mindful of any potential edits and make sure you clarify ahead of time how the ghostwriter handles pricing for edits or revisions. (Not many writers like going through numerous drafts for free.)
What writing style do you want?
Nobody knows you or your brand voice like, well, you. Knowing what voice or tone you want your writing to have is key when looking for potential writers. Every writer has a style, so if your brand is known for a certain tone, you’re going to want a writer that can match that. For example, you wouldn’t want the Taco Bell social media writers handling the copy for Apple. Granted, that would make for an entertaining iPhone reveal.
Does this ghostwriter have samples?
This one can be tricky as a lot of ghostwriters are under contracts and can’t share much of anything. Still, many ghostwriters will have personal samples or outdated pieces that they’re legally free to use. Keep in mind that if a ghostwriter is willing to show you sensitive materials in order to get a job, they will likely do the same with your copy when the time comes for them to land their next client. (Like the old saying goes, “Loose lips sink fake authors” — or something like that.)
What’s your budget?
This one is really important. Simply, how much can you spend? Once again, remember that edits aren’t always free. Furthermore, there can be additional costs that come with a project.
For example, a ghostwritten book needs cover art, plus there could be publishing fees, marketing fees, and so on. Even ghostwritten blog posts will need edits and some kind of design work or visuals. List out every expense you can think of, then go back over them again to make sure you didn’t miss anything. Finally, go over that list again. Getting your budget right is even more essential to your business’s health than getting a great ghostwriter.
Preparing for a ghostwriter
So, you think you’re ready for a ghostwriter? Not so fast, Shakespeare. A little preparation goes a long way when it comes to your first project with a ghostwriter, so let’s take a look at some things you should do ahead of your first meeting.
1. Have a written plan
Before you meet with a ghostwriter (or have a video call with them), make sure you have a nice outline of what you want. Include samples of content you admire to show what you’re envisioning, and give the writer a brand and style guide if you have one. Make sure to clarify the style that you’re going for, the project format, start and end dates if it’s on a tight deadline, and any other details you feel are important.
Have a copy of this plan to give to the ghostwriter. After the meeting you’ll want to see what kind of proposal they come up with, and then compare it to your original plan. Their proposal should essentially be a more fleshed out version of your plan, with an outline and maybe some snippets of writing done. (Everyone loves snippets.)
2. Have a set budget
Plain and simple, go in with a concrete budget. If you want, present a number that’s lower than what you’ll really go up to, but have a hard cap in mind. Make sure any kind of budget includes things like costs for revisions after the rough draft, late fees, and so on. It may sound harsh, but at the end of the day, ghostwriters are business people too and should be accustomed to talking money. This is doubly true if you’re working with an agency.
3. Ask tons of questions
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask questions about the ghostwriter’s experience, types of work they prefer to do, the general vibe they get from your company or personal brand, and so on. For bonus points, ask them to sum up your brand or idea in 60 seconds or less. This is a great way to see if they’ve done their homework.
Also, make sure you ask them about preferred communication. Do they like texts, emails, Slack messages, phone calls, carrier pigeons? Everyone has a preferred communication method, and establishing that upfront will ensure you and your ghostwriter have a healthy relationship. Once things get rolling, you’ll be glad you figured out how to communicate most effectively because you’ll be talking a lot.
4. Get references (if possible)
While you may not be able to view all of the ghostwriter’s previous work for legal reasons, you should be able to speak with some references at least. Ask them to provide some.
Once you’re in touch with these references, find out what it was like to work with the writer. Were they easy to communicate with? Did they take edits well? How receptive were they to the client’s needs? Was the client happy with the final product? And was the writing in-line with the original brand?
Get a feel for the ghostwriter’s work ethic and personality during this step, and listen in for any common complaints or threads between the references.
5. Get it all in writing
If you’ve decided this ghostwriter is “the one,” then you need to get everything in writing. Set solid due dates, make sure all fees are cut and dry, and leave no grey areas. You don’t want anything vague.
A written agreement isn’t just for your protection. It’s also for the writer’s protection. Agree on any revision limits if the writer wants them, and clear up any potential confusion around revision fees. Also, make sure it’s clear who the named author of the piece or any future pieces will be. Will it always be you or will some articles be “authored” by other staff members from your company?
Ghostwriters: not so spooky after all
The idea of someone else writing under your name can be scary. The key is making sure you’re prepared with the right questions, the right project outline, and that you’re prepared to say “no” to writers who aren’t the right fit. It can be easy to say “yes” to the first decent ghostwriter that comes your way. Before you do, run through the questions and steps listed above to make sure you’re getting the writer who’s right for you.
With a little preparation, you can find a great ghostwriter. They won’t always be cheap, but the end result could be supernatural. (Get it, because ghosts.)