7 Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Ghostwriter

1. What is a ghostwriter?

As the title suggests, a ghostwriter works behind the scenes. The spotlight is on you, the author. Ghostwriting is a business transaction. Ultimately, you will have full control over the copy. Terms and details are agreed upon before the project is begun. You and the ghostwriter are expected to live by the terms of that agreement. You have a right to expect the writer to conduct herself like a professional. The writer has the right to expect you to explain the concept, provide the information or direction on where to find it, and deliver on what you promise.

2. Why would you want to hire a ghostwriter?

The ghostwriter becomes your voice for one purpose: to express your thoughts and ideas as you wish them to be read by others. You are the expert in your subject matter. Supposedly, you know it inside and out. You can explain it, present it, and analyze it; but whether you can write about it is another matter. Maybe you don’t have the time or inclination to write. Perhaps you don’t even want to. If you are not great with the written word or simply lack the time or desire to write, getting help from a professional ghostwriter is a good idea.

3. What kinds of writing do ghostwriters do?

Well, here’s the good news. They can write anything anyone is willing to pay them to write, from a wedding toast to the next best-selling novel. Here are the most common ghostwriting assignments:

* Business books
* Corporate histories
* Family histories
* Memoirs and autobiographies
* Proposals

4. What will the ghostwriter want to know before he or she agrees to write your book?

About you, the author:

* Why do you want a ghostwriter?
* What do you hope to achieve with the book/project?
* What kind of working relationship do you desire/envision?
* What, if anything, have you done up to this point (research, interviews, notes, transcriptions, outline, writing)?
* What is your experience with previous writers/ghostwriters?
* Do you have a budget? (If so, what is it?)
* Are you just exploring, or are you committed to the project?
* Are you interviewing other ghostwriters? (If so, on what will your decision be based?)

About the process:

* Who’s involved? (how many people?)
* Who’s in charge? (In other words, who is the client?)
* If there is more than one person involved (a committee, for example), is everybody on the same page?
* Who is writing the outline? Who approves it?
* Where is the information going to come from? How can it be accessed?
* Is the first draft to be submitted all at once or in stages?
* What is the editing process (For example, as a section is submitted, is it edited and returned for revision, or is the whole first draft returned for revision?)
* Who ultimately approves the copy?
* What is the drop-dead deadline for the finished manuscript? Does that include revisions?
* What are the payment arrangements (up front, at intervals, upon submission, upon approval of the manuscript)?

About the book:

* What is the subject matter?
* What is the book’s purpose?
* Why are you uniquely qualified to write this book?
* Who is the target audience? How will readers benefit?
* What else is out there on this topic?
* How will this book be important/different/better?
* What void in the market will this book fill?
* How big is the market?

5. What are typical financial arrangements with a ghostwriter?

Here is the terminology you must know:

* Royalties — money paid each time a copy of the book is sold
* Advance against royalties — money paid ahead of time that will be deducted from future royalties
* Royalties plus advance — money paid up front, plus a share of profits
* Hourly rate —time actually spent on the project, billed periodically
* Work for hire (flat fee)
* Fee plus expenses (usually)
* On consignment — promise of a percentage of potential sales, with no guarantees (rarely)

6. How will the ghostwriter be credited or acknowledged?

Acknowledgement in print is often considered part of the fee. The ghostwriter’s name appears on the cover preceded by one of these three words or phrases:
* with – indicates that the ghostwriter has assisted on the project
* and – means both parties have contributed to the material in the book
* as told to – the ghostwriter has transcribed and edited the client’s story or material

If there is no credit line, the client may express appreciation somewhere in the acknowledgements.

7. What do ghostwriters charge?

If you read five books on ghostwriting, you are likely to get five different answers. Books with no credit for work may earn $50,000, plus expenses. A quick trip through Google’s top ten in this area offers two examples. One ghostwriter says a business book starts at $25,000; another notes that a 200-page book will cost between $10,000 and $30,000. What you pay is influenced by other books the ghostwriter has done, her references, and her reputation. It may also depend on who is writing the check. If the client is an individual, the fee is likely to be lower than if it is a corporation.

How do you decide?

There is no simple answer to this question. You need information; the ghostwriter needs information. But objective data is not enough; chemistry and intuition count, too. Do you like this person? Do you trust her? Can you be completely honest with her, and do you sense that she will be with you? Are you on the same frequency? In other words, what is your gut feeling about trusting your book to this writer and spending lots of time with her? If the feeling is positive, you might just have a match.

Bobbi Linkemer is a book coach, ghostwriter, editor, and the author of 16 books under her own name. She has been a professional writer for more than 40 years, a magazine editor, and a book-writing teacher. Her clients include Fortune 100 companies, entrepreneurs, and individuals who want to write books in order to enhance their credibility or build their businesses. Visit her Website at: www.WriteANonfictionBook.com.


  1. M.E. Anders says

    Well-written checklist for those seeking a ghostwriter. Do you have a reverse post for those seeking to become a ghostwriter? I would be interested on that topic, as well. Thanks!