From my perspective, taking the fear out of ghostwriting comes down to knowing when to use your subject’s voice or your own. And it should be a half-and-half blend — too much from column A, and the piece can lack structure; too much from column B, and you’re just writing, not ghostwriting.
The Entrepreneur’s Complete Guide to Ghostwriting
You have a book in your head that you need to write. You know it will help you and your business, but you haven’t done it, and you probably aren’t ever going to do it yourself. So, what now?
One common solution that a lot of entrepreneurs use is to hire a ghostwriter. A ghostwriter is someone hired to author a book that someone else will be credited for. Quite simply, you’re paying someone to write your book for you.
Shockingly, there is no comprehensive resource that answers all the common questions about ghostwriting and explains the different options to give authors a framework for making a decision. So, I will attempt to give you that here — a complete examination of all aspects of ghostwriting: the positives, the negatives, the alternatives, where to find writers and how to hire them, so you can decide if you want to use a ghostwriter — and if you do, how to do it right.
Co-Authors vs. Ghostwriters
Here’s the surprising truth: the vast majority of books by celebrity authors are written by ghostwriters or co-writers (approaching 100 percent).
My first full-time, professional writing job was ghostwriting a book for my mentor. I’ve continued doing it, and right now I’m working on two ghostwriting projects: by a Navy SEAL and the owner of a large exercise franchise.
First, it’s not my idea. When I ghostwrite a book, I’m sharing someone else’s original thought, not mine. They came up with the content. Also, most of my clients are fantastic public speakers, people who have been talking about their ideas for ten years or more. My job is just to take their life message and put it into book form. Honestly, it’s a great job, because for each book I write, I feel like I get to sit at the feet of a world class expert and soak up their knowledge.
Second, ghosting allows me to get paid for my writing. Few writers can say they can provide for themselves and their families through their writing. Would I prefer to live off my own work? Sure, which is why I still do my own writing at the same time. However, ghostwriting has been a great way to apprentice myself to the craft, not to mention learn from some pretty amazing people.
Why Become a Ghostwriter + How Much Do Ghostwriters Make?
The biggest reason is that ghostwriting jobs are more lucrative than other jobs like I provide – blog writing. You can grow your freelance writing business or take the next level by going this route.
Another reason why you might want to be a ghostwriter is that once you’re done with the work (and the client likes it), that’s it. There is no need to promote your client piece on social media.
And another big reason to start ghostwriting is that there will be less research overall. Your client has to supply you with the research material. So, you save the time from doing all that research yourself!
Finally, being a ghostwriter can help you and your freelance writing business in many ways. You get to learn how to communicate with clients better and help them open up you. Your writing also becomes better over time since you have to learn how to write in other people’s voice effectively.
Association of Health Care Journalists
Barbara Mantel (@BJMantel), an independent journalist, is AHCJ’s freelance community correspondent. Her work has appeared in CQ Researcher, Rural Health Quarterly, Undark, Healthline, NBCNews.com and NPR, among others. She helps members find the resources they need to succeed as freelancers and welcomes your suggestions.
Wendy Lyons Sunshine is an award-winning writer, editor and collaborator based in Sarasota, Florida, whose byline is in scores of publications including Scientific American and Psychology Today.
Sunshine’s first book, “The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family” (McGraw-Hill), is an award-winner that she co-wrote with two child development experts that has since been translated into multiple languages.
Her most recent book, “Raising the Challenging Child: How to Minimize Meltdowns, Reduce Conflict, and Increase Cooperation (Revell),” is a five-star rated collaboration with leaders of a social services agency.
In this new “How I did It,” Sunshine shares her journey into book authorship and offers tips to journalists interested in collaborating with an expert on a book project. (The following Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.)
How did you come up with the idea for you r first book, “The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family?”
I began freelancing for some local publications, and that’s how I met the first set of authors, Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross. I was assigned to cover the amazing work they were doing in the community, helping turn around really difficult cases with some adopted children who are struggling. By the end of the process, they felt I really understood them, and so they asked me if I would help them write a book to capture their message to share with more people than they could reach directly.
When to Use Your Voice
Generally, people who use ghostwriters are busy doing fascinating stuff. That means that their minds are crammed with interesting information, and with so much on their plates, they may not always be the most organized speakers. They probably didn’t have time to document exactly what they would like to talk about, and they might interject an off-topic fact or two.
The subject’s ideas should be the meat of the piece, but it’s the writer’s responsibility to organize those thoughts in the most logical and effective way. Set the subject up for success by grabbing an anecdote they mentioned in the middle of your interview and moving it up to the opener if you think that’s where it belongs. Similarly, conclusions can come from anywhere — carefully listen for a solid closing thought, and bring it to the last paragraph.
List out the arguments presented, and arrange them in whatever way you think flows best. Odds are, your subject will be grateful for the organization help.
Not many people move from one point to the next with perfectly crafted segues. Instead, they jump back and forth, interrupt themselves, or abruptly change directions.
That means it’s up to you to add the nice transitions. I find that these are easier to provide in your own voice, since everyone has their own way of making arguments flow. Trying to mimic someone else’s segue style might result in a garbled article.
3. Very Necessary Explanations
Some subjects are so embroiled in their area of expertise that it can be difficult for them to break down their arguments for laypeople. The writer should act as a proxy for the audience, and if they think a point could use some clarification, they should circle back to the subject. If the subject fails to deliver an adequate explanation, ghostwriters should then take it upon themselves to provide succinct supporting information — but it should be done in no more than a few sentences.