Ghostwriting is a secretive, thriving industry that has slowly gained more attention over the last several years. With the mainstream controversy created by cookbook ghostwriter Julia Moskin in the New York Times, suddenly, everyone is curious about this field.
If you are interested in hiring a ghostwriter, watch out! There are plenty of wonderful ghostwriters who are professional, but there are plenty of those who aren’t. This is your life, your work, your story. You want to make sure it’s in the proper hands. Here are nine things to consider before signing that contract.
Your potential ghostwriter should be able to give you a thorough estimate for the cost as long as you are honest about length and the amount of work that goes into it. Don’t try to “fool” the ghostwriter by pretending they won’t need to do as much research as is required or making it sound like it’s a 100 page project when you know it’s a 300 page project. Likewise, a professional ghostwriter should be realistic with the costs. Ghostwriters do not come cheaply, and you get what you pay for. I once saw an advertisement for a ghostwriter to write a 300 page book for $250! I can only hope it was a typo, because even with a share in royalties, a quality ghostwriter wouldn’t accept a job like that for under $3000. Remember, you get what you pay for, and if you want professional quality, expect to pay $10-500 per page dependent upon the length, whether or not you are offering a share in royalties, and the amount of research required to complete the project.
Ghostwriting is full of non-disclosure agreements, making it hard for a writer to share their resume. However, they should be able to provide writing samples through articles or blogs they have written that are not confidential, as well as inform you of the type of work they can do.
3. Good Listening Skills
A good ghostwriter should be able to tell your story or convey your information in your voice, not theirs. This requires great listening and interviewing skills. If at any point you feel you are not being listened to or that your message isn’t getting across, find a new writer.
For many creative types, deadlines are a challenge. Ask the writer how they do with deadlines. If they seem distracted or disorganized, check with a reference to see how well they handle getting their work in on time.
It goes without saying that a good ghostwriter is discrete. Nondisclosure agreements can help cement exactly what is and isn’t allowed. Some clients won’t mind if the ghostwriter puts projects on their resumes, but others will. Make sure you are up front with your discretionary expectations, and get them in writing.
Speaking of writing, along with nondisclosure agreements, contracts can help prevent misunderstandings. They should convey the amount to be paid and when, expectations, etc. Seek out legal help for this area, particularly for larger projects.
How long will the project take to complete? While it’s often hard to nail down an exact day, make sure both you and the writer has realistic expectations. No one can complete a 500 page book in a month for under $500. If the writer claims he or she can, or if you expect them to, get out your advil: you’re going to need it. Setting realistic goals up front will keep your expectations realistic and the writer on track.
Watch out for the overeager ghostwriter. Enthusiasm is great, but the overeager, desperate for money writer may not be a good fit. Ghostwriting is more than writing words on paper. It’s your life, your story, your work. You need someone who is honest enough to refer you to another writer if they don’t feel that they are a good fit for your project. Not every writer is good for every project.
There is a misconception that every professional writer must have an English degree. This is not true. I actually have a psychology degree, which has proven far more useful in cultivating listening and marketing skills than an English degree would have been. However, you want to make sure the writer is qualified for the task. A far more useful set of questions to find out educational qualifications is: Where did they go to college? What was their major? How has their major helped them become a better writer? What professional associations do they belong to? Are they members of the Association for Ghostwriters? Have they completed Claudia Suzanne’s Ghostwriting Certification Course? While all of these things aren’t necessary for great ghostwriting, it does help to know what they do and don’t have.