How to Become or Find a Ghostwriter for Books
Have you ever read an autobiography written by a celebrity or public figure?
The book probably talked about the person’s childhood and explained what their life was like growing up. You might have laughed at anecdotes from the person’s early career, or gotten chills as you saw a peek behind the scenes at the celebrity’s most well-known moments.
When you close the book at the end, a good autobiography will make you walk away feeling like you personally know the subject.
But what would you think if you knew that the “author” didn’t write the book at all?
That’s what ghostwriting is. And it’s far more common than you might think. Whether you’re looking for someone to ghostwrite a book for you, or you want to ghostwrite a book for somebody else, this blog post has all the information you need to know. Read on to learn how to get started with a ghostwriter.
What Is A Ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is someone who writes a work for the author, as the author without credit. In other words, the ghostwriter writes the author’s story. But the author’s name is the only one on the cover of the book.
For example, the well-known book I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban was ghostwritten.
The book tells the story of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist who focuses on female education. But Malala didn’t write the book herself. Journalist and author Christina Lamb was the person who actually wrote the story.
Some people wonder if ghostwriting is ethical. Is it okay for one person to write a book, and someone else to claim it as their own?
The answer is yes.
Ghostwriting is not plagiarism.
The byline author is still involved in the process; they are also usually the person who comes up with the initial concept or idea. And everything is done by the book: Ghostwriters know upfront, when they sign the contract, that the author will retain the rights to whatever work the ghostwriter produces for them.
After the ghostwriter finishes the book, delivers it to the author, and gets paid, the author owns the material from then on.
Today, almost 100% of books by celebrities are written by ghostwriters or freelance writers. That might be hard to believe.
But when you think about it, the number makes sense. Celebrities are incredibly busy — they’re busy being a professional athlete, a politician, a musician, or whatever it is they do.
They don’t have time to write a book. And even if they did, they don’t have the necessary skills.
Their whole life has been based around acquiring skills as an athlete, politician, musician, or fill-in-the-blank. Many celebrities probably don’t have the first clue how to write a book — even one about themselves!
And that’s where ghostwriters come in.
Difference Between Co-Authoring and Ghostwriting
There’s a difference between the terms co-authoring and ghostwriting. Co-authors get credit for the parts of the book they write or edit. Their name is on the cover in smaller print under the author’s name — think “with John Smith” or “and Jane Doe.” However, ghostwriters normally do not receive any byline.
These two processes work a little differently, too. Co-authoring is typically more collaborative. A co-author contributes their creative vision to the book. Their voice is a part of the story. The co-author also may want to implement ideas for marketing and selling the book. And since their name is also on the cover, they have the right to do so.
A ghostwriter, however, does not help with the book’s concept or creative vision. Their only job is to adapt their voice to the author’s and to write the book exactly as the author wants it written. The author is in control of all decisions about the book’s ideas and tone.
Both options have pros and cons. At the end of the day, the decision really depends on the author and how they want to tell their story — whether they’re okay with someone else helping make those decisions, or whether they have a clear vision and they simply need somebody to put it on paper for them.
There are plenty of jobs out there for co-authors and ghostwriters alike.
How to Decide If and When to Use A Ghostwriter
When it comes to ghostwriters, you’re either looking for one or looking to be one. If you’re in search of the perfect ghostwriter to tell your story, here’s how to decide if you really need one, and what to look for if so.
How to Decide If You Need A Ghostwriter
Do you really need to hire a ghostwriter? Maybe you have a great idea for a book but aren’t sure if you can write your own book yourself.
Truth is, writing a book is harder than it might seem. It takes a major investment of time. You also need to have great writing skills — even if you’re just writing about yourself.
Outsourcing the job to a professional writer who is willing to ghostwrite is helpful because it drastically cuts down on the time involved for you.
You won’t have to spend hours deliberating over how to phrase that sentence or whether to add that comma. Ghostwriters do the entire job for you. And chances are, they’ll be able to write the whole manuscript much more quickly than you ever could. You’re free to focus on your job while they do theirs.
What’s more, ghostwriters are professional writers. They’ve already been through this process several times.
There’s no one more qualified to take your idea and put it on the page. Ghostwriters are excellent researchers and writers, highly skilled at adapting their voice to make your story sound just like you. Working with a ghostwriter is a good idea if you think you might lack the time or skills to write your book.
Where to Look For A Ghostwriter
If you’ve decided that you could use a ghostwriter, it’s time to jump in and start looking for one. But you might feel unsure of where to start.
There are countless platforms online that match up ghostwriters with authors. On freelance marketplaces, like Upwork, you can post a job description for a freelance writer outlining what you’re looking for.
Then, writers who meet your qualifications will apply, and you can sort through the applications before making a final decision. This cuts down on the research time needed from your end — you just sit back and wait for the writers to come to you.
Other websites listen to your needs and then match you up with one of their writers. Agencies like these tend to manage every step of the writing process for you.
While this can be helpful, you won’t have as much freedom as you might find with another option. You’ll also need to be very cautious because there are lots of ghostwriting agencies out there that are scams.
You don’t have to go through a ghostwriter platform if you feel like that’s not the route for you. Try using a professional website like LinkedIn to find a writer.
It’s easy to search for writers, read through their past experiences, and then reach out to see if they’re interested in learning about your project. You can also simply run a Google search to find qualified ghostwriters in your field, although this will take a lot more time and effort.
Finally, there’s a chance you may be able to hire a ghostwriter through networking at local writing groups or industry meetups in your area.
However, while this is worth a shot, you’re probably better off searching online. That way, you can easily search the entire world to narrow down the ghostwriter that’s the best fit for you.
How to Find The Best Ghostwriter
What should you look for in a ghostwriter? First, it’s important to find someone who has experience in your field.
You shouldn’t have to stop and explain industry jargon to your writer every time you use a new word. They should already be familiar with your industry — whether that’s via writing experience, hands-on experience, or both — and feel comfortable telling a story that takes place in this field.
Make sure the writer is someone whom you feel comfortable with and trust. You’re trusting them with something very important and personal. And the two of you are going to be working together on this project for a long time. So it’s essential to connect on a personal level as well as a professional one.
Your ghostwriter should be willing to learn and collaborate. No, you shouldn’t have to teach them the ins and outs of your industry.
But a good ghostwriter will respect that this is your story. You are the expert. And instead of bulldozing over your opinion, they should listen to what you want and to what you have to say.
Talk to the ghostwriter about their process and how they work. How many meetings or phone calls will they want to have? It’s important you both understand each other’s writing needs before diving in.
Are they used to working with authors remotely?
How long does it typically take them to finish the first draft?
Think about the kind of work process you’re envisioning and whether their answers line up with what you want. If you feel like this is necessary, reach out to some of the ghostwriter’s past clients and ask what it was like working together.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is whether the writer can adapt their writing style to capture your voice. You want someone who understands you and your story — someone who can easily put your tone of voice to paper.
This is the best way to ensure your story comes across the way you want it to. During conversations with a potential ghostwriter, you will be able to get a feel for whether or not the two of you are on the same page. Reading other books the writer has written can also help you determine their ability to capture an author’s voice and style.
You can evaluate your ghostwriter’s qualifications by looking at things like how many books they’ve written; the quality of those books (hint: read reviews); and the level of author they’ve worked with (there’s a difference in ghostwriting books for small niche celebrities, and ghostwriting books for people who are household names).
Look through the writer’s website and social media. Make sure they have good references, too. Ideally, you want to work with a writer who has written at least half a dozen books for mid-size authors.
One final note: You might be tempted to go for the cheapest option you can find. But we can almost guarantee that this will not get you the best quality book. If you want your work to be taken seriously and want to pick from a pool of good ghostwriters, just remember that you get what you pay for.
So if you want a professional, high-quality book, you need to be willing to expand your budget and prepare to pay what the best ghostwriters charge.
How to Become A Ghostwriter
Maybe you’re not the one with a story to tell. Instead of trying to find a ghostwriter, you want to become a ghostwriter. There are a lot of benefits to this career field.
You can learn about fascinating topics and work with fascinating people while making a decent chunk of change with book writing or ebook writing. Plus, offering ghostwriting services is an easy way to get started in the field — no need for special degrees or certifications. And once you’re done writing the book, you’re exempt from the more boring parts, like the business side of publishing books.
Sound like a winner? Here’s your step-by-step guide to becoming a professional ghostwriter for books.
Traits Every Good Ghostwriter Has
First things first: If you’re going to be a successful ghostwriter, you need to be a good writer.
This doesn’t mean you have to have a master’s degree in English (although if you do, that’s great). But it does mean you know your way around a pen and paper — or at least, a word processing software. Ideally, you’ve written some books already. At the very least, you should have a knack for storytelling paired with strong research skills.
A good ghostwriter should be able to effortlessly adapt his or her voice to any client. This is an essential skill, but one that takes some practice. Try to detach yourself from your writing; experiment with writing in different voices. Think about whether a person’s tone is more professional or conversational. Take note of any slang, jargon, or catchphrases they use. Listen to whether complex sentences or short phrases are their norm. These details will help you hone in on somebody else’s voice.
Ghostwriters need to be excellent communicators. The process of ghostwriting a book requires a lot of collaboration with the author. You need to be good at interviewing people and asking the right questions to draw out their story. You also need to be able to communicate clearly through many rounds of back-and-forth edits, collaborating with the author to tell their story the way they want it told.
It should go without saying that you also need to be highly professional and self-motivated. You should be able to work well on your own and adhere to deadlines. It’s also helpful to be detail-oriented — you want to make sure you’re getting all the details of your author’s story correct. And part of being professional is respecting your client’s story, having discretion as you work together on a potentially sensitive project.
Finally, in order to be a good ghostwriter, you have to be okay with not getting credit. Remember, your name will not be on the cover of the book you wrote — and that can be a strange feeling to have. To succeed as a ghostwriter, you must be content with working behind the scenes.
Think this freelance writer career is for you? Here’s how to get started.
Write A Book Proposal
Your first step in becoming a professional ghostwriter is to get to know the person you’d like to write for. Follow them on social media and any other channels online where they put out content. Get a feel for who they are as a person, their vision, and their ideas. You should be familiar enough that you feel like you know them even if you’ve never met them in person.
Next, reach out to this person via email and make your case. Outline why they should write a book and pitch yourself as the best option for them to choose. Explain that you admire what they do — get specific so they’ll realize you are familiar with their work — and that you would love to help tell their story. Ideally, you will be able to show them examples of past work you’ve done in their industry or field. If not, highlight any other relevant skills or experience you might have. Your goal is to start building trust, letting this person know that they can entrust you to take good care of their story.
Make Your Rate Clear
If the person is interested in working together, you’ll probably have one or more meetings to feel things out. If you reach the negotiation stage, it’s your job to make your rate clear.
Talking about money can be a tricky subject. But remember, you’re going to put a lot of time and effort into your ghostwriting services, and you won’t receive any credit. So you need to be paid well.
Be clear and upfront with the person you’re writing for. Don’t beat around the bush: Tell them exactly what you charge for ghostwritten books so neither one of you is wasting any time — whether that’s a flat fee or a rate per word.
The exact cost to ghostwrite a book can vary greatly depending on the projected length of the book; the amount of research involved; the writer’s experience level; and many other factors. But generally, you should be charging between $25,000 and $75,000 to write a single book.
Remember, a cheap ghostwriter is never a good sign. By charging the going rate for a ghostwritten book, you will not only ensure you’re setting your time and work at the best price but also establish trust and confidence, helping the author feel sure that you’ll produce a high-quality book. Now, your only job is to deliver.
Collect All Necessary Materials
Congratulations: You’ve pitched your client, they accepted your rate, and the book is a go! Now it’s time to dive headfirst into all of the research you have to do. As a ghostwriter, you will probably find yourself doing just as much research as you do writing.
The process of ghostwriting a book will likely include multiple original interviews with the author. Depending on how close you live to each other, these can be conducted either in person, or over a phone or video call. Brainstorm lists of questions before these interviews to make the most of your time. But don’t be afraid to let the author lead the way or chase a few rabbit trails. It is their story, after all. Make sure to record these interviews (ideally, with two recorders running at once so you have a backup). It can also be helpful to interview friends, family members, or colleagues who are close to your author and were there for the big events in the author’s life.
Next, you want the author to give you anything and everything they can that will help you write the book. This might be ideas, notes, journals — whatever they can find. You might be able to dig up some of these resources yourself by searching for videos or blog posts online that were made by or about the author. Other materials might be things from the author’s personal collection that only they have access to.
Don’t be afraid to ask for more material if you need it. You would rather have too much information than not enough. You don’t want to start writing until you have spent plenty of time researching and reading everything you can get your hands on that’s relevant to the author and to the book. Otherwise, you’ll get bogged down by having to do additional research in the writing process.
Write Your First Draft
When you have all the material you need, assemble it into an outline for the book. Making an outline is important because it helps you organize ideas for your writing journey — which will create a much better end product. Identify the main points of your book and organize them into chapters that make sense linearly. Then add the specific details you want to include in each chapter.
When your outline is complete, you’re ready to dive in and start writing that first draft. Don’t worry about getting things perfect. Just start getting words on the page. Follow your outline as you write each chapter. If you find that you do need more information from the author, simply make a note of what you need and then keep writing. This will allow you to finish your draft in a timely manner without getting distracted.
Creating a set writing routine is another way to make sure the ball keeps rolling. Many writers also set word count goals for themselves, dividing out the total number of words in the finished book to come up with either a weekly or daily word count goal. Having a goal to reach can help you avoid writer’s block as you push through to finish your first draft.
Edit and Write Second Draft
Now that you have all the ideas out, it’s time to clean things up. Let the manuscript sit for a few weeks; taking a break can help you stay motivated. Then come back to it with fresh eyes. Read through the book and make sure the manuscript makes sense. It should flow easily and naturally from one chapter to another. As you complete this read-through, make notes of anything that needs to be fixed. Then settle down to dig into the editing process.
You’ll want to edit both the “big” things, like the book’s pacing, and the smaller things such as grammar. A big-picture edit is called developmental editing. This is the part where you ensure that everything makes sense together — that your ideas are organized well and that the overall book communicates the message you’re trying to get across.
Line editing is the stage of editing where you get nitpicky, essentially taking your book apart line by line. Reading your writing out loud can be helpful as you seek to make sure that each individual sentence makes sense. You can also use an online tool like Hemingway Editor to help fine-tune your grammar. A software like this can act as an extra set of eyes to ensure you aren’t missing anything.
Editing is also the time when you can ask the author for any additional information you didn’t get on the first round of interviews. In the final step before publication, the author will read the book themselves and will be able to correct any little details that slipped through. But for now, simply ask them any of the big-picture questions you might have.
Have the Author Review
Once everything is cleaned up and flows correctly, run the book by the author. They can read through the manuscript in a word processing software like Google Docs or Microsoft Word, which allow collaborators to leave comments directly on the document. Then the author will give you their final approval on the book as a whole.
The author might leave comments correcting small details that you got wrong. Or they might want you to tweak certain parts of the book to make the writing sound more like their voice. In most cases, if you’ve done plenty of research ahead of time to dig into the author’s life and get to know them, the author should be happy overall with the way you portrayed them and told their story.
Remember not to get offended by any notes that the author leaves. After all, their name is going to be the one on the book. So while you’re free to offer suggestions rooted in your knowledge and expertise, this may end up being a customer-is-always-right type of situation.
Add the Finishing Touches
You’re almost at the finish line of the writing process to create a fantastic book. Now, the only thing left to do is to clean up those final edits. Address any comments the author made and do a final pass through the manuscript to make sure everything looks spick and span.
Once the book is written and fully edited, your job is done. At this stage in the process, ghostwriters hand the manuscript over to the author to kick off the publishing process and step out of the picture. But what will happen to the book next?
Some authors choose to go the traditional publishing route. With traditional publishing, the author has to pitch their book to a literary agent. If the agent likes the idea, they’ll take on the book and shop it around to different publishing houses. You might recognize names like Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. These are all traditional book publishing companies.
Other authors self-publish their book. With self-publishing, there’s no need for an agent. The author does everything themselves. Some of the most popular self-publishing companies include Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo, and Xlibris. Other authors use Amazon’s self-publishing platform as an easy way to get their book onto the largest book-selling platform in the world.
Whichever route your author chooses, they still have a lot of work to do to publish the book, create the cover art, market the book, and get it into the hands of readers. But eventually, there will be thousands of people who read and enjoy the book that you wrote.
Being a ghostwriter isn’t always easy. But for the right type of person, it can be a highly lucrative and enjoyable career path — and whether you ghostwrite a book for someone else or hire a ghostwriter to tell your own life story, you get the reward of knowing that people all around the world are reading your story.
Feeling inspired and ready to get started? Check out my 20-Step Author Quickstart Guide. This free resource will help you learn everything you need to know to become a ghostwriter for books and enjoy a rewarding, long-term career as a writer and author.
About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.