The Entrepreneur s Complete Guide to Ghostwriting

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How to ghostwrite a book

Ghostwriting is the process of writing a piece of copy under someone else’s name. For example, as a freelancer, you might be hired to write a blog post that’s published under the CMO’s name.

1. Interview the person you’re ghostwriting for.

The most important part of ghostwriting is understanding the material that you’re writing about. As a ghostwriter, you probably write about a variety of topics from industry blogs to memoirs. Before you dive into each piece, it’s essential to talk to the person you’re ghostwriting for and discuss the topic in depth.

Pam Bump, the Audience Growth Manager on the HubSpot blog team, says, “If you can, interview the person you’re ghostwriting for over the phone or on a video call. This will not only allow you to take down all the key details they want to cover in the content, but you’ll also learn more about how they speak or present tips. This can help you write content that naturally reads as if it was written by them.”

2. Make sure you understand the voice of the person you’re writing for.

Jumping off that last point, interviewing the person you’re ghostwriting for will help you get a sense of their voice. We’ll dive into when to use your voice or the client’s voice below, but each piece you write should have a distinct style and tone.

Bump adds, “If you can’t interview them to get a sense of how they talk or present their thoughts, you can alternatively read some of their other blog posts, social media posts, or published works to get a sense of how they write.”

3. Find the themes.

Karla Cook, HubSpot’s Senior Manager of the blog team, says, “It’s important to meet with the person you’re ghostwriting for at the beginning of the project and have a conversation about what they want the written piece to cover. This is their chance to share their brilliant, unfiltered thoughts with you, and it’s your job as the ghostwriter to identify themes, strong phrases, and potential narratives for when you approach producing the piece later on. This is also an opportunity to get a feel for how your subject approaches communicating, and can help inform how you represent their voice.”

4. Be flexible.

Cook adds, “People who use ghostwriters are usually busy, so if you can’t meet with them in person, ask them to record a voice memo or even jot down a few notes in a document to get started.”

Positives of ghostwriting

1. You save time. This is a clear benefit of ghostwriting; quite possibly the main benefit. If you can afford a ghostwriter, that means your time is very valuable. It takes a normal author 1,000 to 2,000 hours to write a nonfiction book by himself or herself. Ghostwriters can reduce that time drastically, taking your time commitment down to 10 hours (or even less).

2. You don’t have to learn how to write a book. One of the reasons it takes so long for many people to write a book is that the book-writing process itself is very complicated and difficult to learn. Book-writing has a very different structure and set of rules from almost any other type of writing or communication, which makes it harder than writing anything else.

3. Your book will get done. This might seem obvious, but bears repeating: Most people who start their books don’t finish them. A ghostwriter, by writing the book for you, ensures that the manuscript does, in fact, get finished.

4. You can get a book without knowing your subject. A good ghostwriter can rely heavily on the author’s knowledge, but doesn’t need to if the author doesn’t know their subject very well. A good ghostwriter can fill in the gaps and ensure that the author’s knowledge deficits don’t hurt the book. Not everyone sees this as a positive, so we’ll revisit this issue under the negatives of ghostwriting.

How to Hire a Business Ghostwriter

Most ghostwriters have standard contracts they use. That’s fine, you probably don’t need to involve lawyers, but there are several deal terms you need to make sure you negotiate properly:

1. Price and payment terms

There are a lot of ways to pay, but the vast majority of good ghostwriters will use a flat fee structure, meaning you are paying a set amount for a defined book of a defined size or scope. There are some that use flat fee + hourly for revisions beyond a certain point. That’s fine too.

As to payment terms, make sure that you are paying in installments and not paying all the money upfront. Those installments can be time-based or tied to specific deliverables. But also expect to pay something upfront.

2. Deliverables (total length, word count, and revisions)

Part of the payment discussion will be what the deliverables are. The very best and most expensive ghostwriters will be somewhat loose with this—they can afford to be when they are charging $100k+ for a manuscript. You are paying them to just handle everything, whatever it takes, and for that price, they will.

This is not true for most ghostwriters, who will often have specific word counts or page counts they want to tie you to, or other very objective ways to limit the scope of work. This all normal and fine, just make sure it’s clear to you, and that it fits with what you need.

Do not let a ghostwriter just go with a straight hourly fee, unless you are cool with them potentially running up their bill. Most of the good ones will have a set price for a specific set of deliverables, and then an hourly rate for time beyond that. This guide gives you a good baseline of what the conventional freelancer rates look like.

3. Rights and royalties

Make sure you retain 100% of all the rights to your book. Not only copyright, but the print license, all film, rights, TV, foreign, and adaptations rights. Do not let any ghostwriter try to keep any rights to your book, ever.

Some of the very best ghostwriters will be able to negotiate a percentage of the royalties, but that is rare and different than owning the rights. This basically means they are getting some of the profits from book sales. If this is on the table, it probably means you have a major book deal with a traditional publisher, and a book agent, who will help you negotiate this.

4. Plagiarism protection

This won’t be a concern with a good ghostwriter, but make sure you are indemnified against them stealing someone else’s content. No good ghostwriter would ever think of doing this, so they’ll have no issue putting in the contract.

5. No subcontracting

Some agencies and even individual ghostwriters will use their credentials to sign you, and even do the initial interviewing, but will pass off the writing to another writer of much lower quality. Do not allow this. You are paying for that writer, they should do all the work (unless of course, you are negotiating a much lower fee for something like this).

6. Termination rights

7. Anonymity

This does not have to be in the contract, but be clear if you want their work on the book to be anonymous and covered by NDA or not. Many ghostwriters will want to claim credit for working on books (and deservedly so), so if you want anonymity, they will tend to charge more for this. This is standard, but the price is negotiable.

Alternatives to Working with a Business Ghostwriter

1. Write it yourself

If the thought of paying more than $15k to save your time is not tenable for you, then quite frankly, your time is probably not that valuable, and doing it yourself is the best course of action.

2. Use a “Done With You” service (book coaches)

There are a lot of people who offer book coaching, or a “done with you” type of service. The basic idea is that they coach you through writing a book, but you are the one doing the actual work yourself.

This is somewhat similar to doing it yourself, except you’re not totally on your own. In fact, a lot of ghostwriters will also be “book coaches” for a much lower fee, which essentially amounts to being a consulting editor on your book. This can be a good deal for many people who can afford some help, but not full ghostwriting services.

3. Use a “Done For You” service

This is a much newer category, and they have a slightly different way to get ideas into books than conventional ghostwriting. There are two companies that I was able to get info on:

Scribe : We created a structured interview process to turn an author’s ideas into a book, and most importantly, it’s in their words and their voice . Whereas ghostwriting is the words of another writer, this service puts your book in your words. We also do all the publishing and marketing, in addition to assisting in the writing.

(Full disclosure: this is my company, and yes, it competes directly with ghostwriters. I’m obviously biased, but the reason we started this company is because at its core, ghostwriting is a broken system, and we figured out a better way to solve the same problem that ghostwriting is trying to solve—namely, getting the ideas of an author into a book, without having to spend so much time doing it. We’ve done over 1,000 books in four years, so clearly this is meeting a need.)

Round Table Companies : I have not used them, but know a few people who have and they say good things. From what I understand, they are kind of in-between a book coach and a done for you service and can vary their service based on your needs.


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