They say that everyone has a book they want to write. Most people either don't have the skill to write a book or don't have the time to do it.
When you're a business owner, entrepreneur, or thought leader, writing a book can be an excellent way to build your brand and reputation. Having a book or two to your name gives you clout and authority, shows off your expertise, and tells others a lot about what you have to say on the subject.
Ghostwriting is a time-honored tradition—the practice of ghostwriting goes at least as far back as 500 BCE. Many famous authors throughout history, including greats like Shakespeare, used ghostwriters for at least some of their output.
Whenever you see a high-profile business owner or celebrity who published a book, and you wonder how they found the time to write it, the answer is usually simple: most of the time, they didn't. Today, a considerable amount of what you read is ghostwritten. Millions of blog posts, hundreds of thousands of authoritative books, magazine articles, and more are all written by ghostwriters.
There's nothing wrong with ghostwriting. Done right, you're simply giving your information, opinions, and expertise to a writer who crafts it into something compelling. You aren't riding on the back of someone else's authority; you're just using a tool (in the form of a professional writer) to convert your raw ideas into compelling writing.
It's not substantially different from how nearly every book has an editor. That doesn't make the writing any less than the author's, right? Well, with a ghostwriter, it's still your expertise, processed into a more polished form.
Hiring a ghostwriter to write a book for you is different from many modern forms of ghostwriting. Ironically, it's because ghostwriters have shifted in the last few decades.
Throughout history, ghostwriters would typically produce long-form materials like books as a matter of course. Today, long-form books are a relative rarity. You're much more likely to hire someone to ghostwrite blog posts for you, which means many ghostwriters have shifted their expertise into the shorter format of a blog.
This shift means that finding someone who writes long-form content like a book can be difficult. Moreover, you may encounter people who seem good at the outset but produce sub-par work - this can waste time and money. In extreme cases, you might be simply unable to find a good ghostwriter and give up entirely on the idea of a book.
The truth is, it's entirely possible to hire a good ghostwriter for a book-length manuscript. You need to know where to look and, more importantly, what to look for.
When you're hiring a ghostwriter, what's the essential quality to look for?
Is it the quality of their writing?
No. Let's be honest here; there are a lot of good, well-renowned books that have mediocre or terrible writing. It's all about the information and how it's conveyed, which can be done in various styles. More importantly, it's impossible to measure writing quality beyond a certain point objectively. Someone who is very casual and very formal can both be excellent writers; the important part is whether that style matches what you have to say.
Is it the price they charge?
No. A good ghostwriter is going to be expensive. A low-paid ghostwriter will be making thousands from you, even from a sheer price-per-word standpoint. While you do get what you pay for, it's very easy to both under-pay and receive bad writing or over-pay and get bad writing. Price is almost entirely disconnected from the quality of the book you end up with when all is said and done. Price shopping isn't worth it. Find a writer who works for you and matches your voice, and pay what they ask; you will be paying a lot one way or another. Most eBook writers will charge you in sprints, usually by chapter or a certain amount of words, so you won't have to pay all at once anyway - this is a long-term project.
Is it whether or not you like them as a person?
No. Your ghostwriter might have very different perspectives, outlooks, or personal qualities than you. They might disagree with you, socially or politically. While you don't want to pick a ghostwriter who hates you and will sabotage your writing, how well you like the person doesn't matter. It's the same way you wouldn't hire a manager just because you enjoy them as a person; you would hire them because of their skill as a manager.
What is it, then?
Fit. It would be best to have a writer who can handle what you give them, work with you in a way that works, and produce a compelling book. How does the writer work? How does their voice capture your voice? How well can they mimic your style if you have one? How well can they convey the information on your topic with nuance, detail, and a compelling narrative?
There's no one website you can go to and find talented ghostwriters. There are hundreds of such sites out there. Most of them won't have what you're looking for, but that doesn't make them bad sites; it just means they cater to a different audience.
Generally, you have four options.
Ghostwriting agencies are content production agencies that employ writers of their own. They're companies that specialize in producing content for other people. They have a whole process; they interview you, extract all possible value out of you, develop an outline, and make a great book with checks and verification.
A ghostwriting agency will be very good at producing quality work because they have an established process that works and numerous opportunities for feedback. It's the most hands-off version of the process. Since the agency handles much of the administration, overview, and editing, you need to submit to a few interviews, be available for the occasional question, and pay them on time.
On the other hand, a ghostwriting agency is likely the most expensive option. Their process, their experience, and the fact that they have a whole team working with you rather than just one writer can make a big difference. Plus, while the bulk of the payment may go to the writer, the agency takes its cut. You can expect to pay the most through this option but have the smoothest process.
There are a lot of different websites out there that offer a marketplace for freelancers and contractors to find new clients to work with. Sites like Upwork, Freelancer.com, and others all provide these services.
These are centralized sites where you can browse hundreds of freelancer profiles to pick the most promising potential writers to pitch with your project. Some of them also allow you to create a profile with your project and allow freelancers to pitch you with their skills and portfolio, which will enable you to choose the best possible writer out of those who apply.
These sites often take their cut, though it will be lower than what you would pay an agency. The writers will also have publicly visible pricing, so you can see what kinds of rates you'd be getting into when you review your writers.
Finding a book ghostwriter can be tricky, as it's a niche subset of a niche freelance career. The biggest downside here is that you're still combing through many writers who are not suited to your task. You'll find writers who may say they specialize in books but don't, or who specialize in ghostwriting but have never written something longer than 3,000 words.
Many of the best freelance ghostwriters have their websites. They have graduated beyond needing to work through freelance platforms and have their portfolios, landing pages, and profile sites. They may also primarily advertise their position on sites like LinkedIn.
The trouble for you is finding them. There are thousands of them out there, but only so many will ever show up on Google. You also have to pitch, communicate with, and vet the writer directly. You'll likely also need to pay other people yourself for graphic design and professional editing.
This strategy can be the cheapest option, but it can also be the most time-consuming option between finding, pitching, and working with a freelancer of this caliber. Also, vetting them can be difficult; most ghostwriting contracts have NDAs associated with them, so the ghostwriter might not be able to say what they've written before and will have only a limited selection for their portfolio.
If you have the time and patience to find a great writer, hiring a freelancer may be the best choice for you.
It can often be more affordable, and you can interview and vet dozens of writers to find the writer that has the best voice for you. By posting a job listing, you'll receive hundreds of eager writers who are more than willing to help you write your book. These are attractive projects to contractors, particularly due to the long-term work and the high price tag, so you might be overwhelmed by the response.
This is both a pro and a con, and if you can get past this step, this will be the best option for most.
Depending on the kind of relationship you want with your ghostwriter, you may or may not have an in-depth pitch.
At the bare minimum, you should be able to present a writer with a pitch that includes:
Remember, a good ghostwriter will be worth the money, but they will charge what they're worth. A non-fiction book in the 100–200-page range – like what you see written by politicians and business owners all the time – can run you quite a bit of money. Anything under $10,000 is likely to be sub-par and may not be worth your time. Many good ghostwriters will charge between $20,000 and $50,000 for that book. Some of the best – ghostwriters whose books have landed on the bestseller lists and who are legitimate experts of their own – might charge upwards of $100,000 or even more.
When you find a potential ghostwriter to hire, give them your pitch; if they're interested, you can continue discussions. Sometimes, a writer won't be available – maybe they have a lot of work lined up already – and other times, they just won't want to work with either you or your subject. That's fine; move on.
If your potential ghostwriter is interested, it's time to talk shop.
Different writers have different approaches and will work in different ways. You want a writer with enough detail and feedback built-in that you can feel confident that they're producing what you want.
You will also want to ask about any special clauses in their contract. What happens if you don't like what they produce and can't get it right? If you sever the contract, do you pay a fee? In extremely high-value cases, you may even want a contract lawyer to look it over and offer feedback.
Finally, you may want to ask for a test chapter or just an introduction. This book is a paid project – after all, even if you don't like how it turns out, it's still labor you ordered – and it can show you how well the author can capture your voice, tone, style, and nuance. It would help if you had a writer who's writing comes off as quintessentially you. Otherwise, your book won't be compelling.
Once you believe you're satisfied with the writer, it's time to work. You will discuss with them the book's overall thesis, the supporting evidence, and everything necessary to develop an outline. Once an outline is produced, you will likely take things chapter by chapter. Most ghostwriting for books and other long projects is paid per chapter, often with an advance. It's never all-or-nothing, especially for high-value projects. The writer wants to protect themselves, after all.
So, work with the writer. Please review the content they produce at each step of the way. Don't be afraid to request revisions, but be wary of being too nitpicky with details an editor can polish or that will be buffed up in a final draft.
Build the book, polish it, edit it, and publish. It's entirely possible to do; you just need to know how to hire a talented ghostwriter in the first place.