What's It Like Working With a Ghostwriter?
Here's what to know if you're working with a ghost for the first time.
When I’m interviewing a new potential client, the most frequent question I get is simply: “What’s the process like?” Most of the people I write for have never worked with a ghost before and are curious about how it works.
The truth is the process varies depending on the client’s needs. Some people want to meet in person. Some people want to ping-pong emails back and forth. Some want to chat on Zoom.
When Andre Agassi wrote his autobiography, he bought a house up the street from his own and moved his ghostwriter into it for two years (the famed, Pulitzer-winning J.R. Moehringer, most recently known for his work on the Duke of Sussex’s Spare).
As you can see: Every client-ghostwriter relationship is unique.
That said, in my experience, the process usually looks something like this:
The compatibility call: We have a first conversation to determine our compatibility. What are you trying to achieve with your book? Am I right writer to help you achieve that? If not, I’ll point you in the direction of a writer who I think can help.
The legal details: If we decide to work together, there are two practical points to address. First, there’s the work contract—this outlines deliverables, pay, copyright/IP, and terms and conditions. Then, there’s the non-disclosure agreement, NDA. This gives you the assurance that you will be able to take full credit for your work—I can’t publicly claim it as “mine” or my work in any way. That’s the whole point of a ghost!
The book plan: With the administrative stuff out of the way, we can get to the fun part—talking about your book. The first step is to create a book plan. This is a chapter-by-chapter overview of your book’s contents. It usually ends up running about ten typed pages. We create the book plan together, based on one or two 90-minute calls.
Starting the process: With our book plan in hand, we’re ready to start! Our book plan is our guidebook. We tackle it piece by piece. Usually, I have a 60- to 90-minute call with the client, once per week. In each call, we tackle one piece of the book: Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. During each call, I interview you sort of like a journalist would, asking questions based on the book plan and fleshing out your story.
The Introduction and Chapter 1: The Intro and Chapter 1 are the most important parts of the process. They are where we need to hook the reader—and where we establish the authorial voice. I write the Intro and Chapter 1 as soon as we’ve finished discussing the relevant content and pass them on to you for a first review. You provide feedback via Microsoft track changes.
Completing the manuscript’s first draft (the “developmental edit”): Once the intro and first chapter are complete, we move on from there! Usually, the remainder of the manuscript is delivered in thirds. So, if your book is nine chapters long, I’ll deliver Chapters 1-3, then Chapters 4-6, and, finally, Chapters 7-9. After each third is submitted, you have the opportunity to make revisions using track changes. We keep going until we’ve completed the entire manuscript.
Final review of the developmental edit: The developmental edit of the manuscript is complete. Are we done? Nope! At this point, you have the chance to review the manuscript in its entirety. We might move some anecdotes around or re-think the tone here or there. This is our last chance for major changes. Again, you provide feedback via Microsoft track changes.
The line edit: I incorporate all your last revisions from the developmental edit of the manuscript. Then, I go over the entire manuscript again with an eagle eye. At this point, I’m checking for smaller details—typos, grammatical errors, etc.
The copy edit: Yet ANOTHER round of editing! At this point, I usually bring in a third-party copy editor. We get a fresh set of eyes on the manuscript to catch any fine details we may have missed.
The manuscript is complete! Tada! You have a polished book manuscript in hand. It is YOURS! You retain all the rights to your manuscript when you work with me as a ghostwriter. You can start shopping it around to publishers or literary agents—and, hopefully, one day, you’ll see it sitting on the shelves in your favorite bookstore.
How long does the entire process take? It depends in part on the complexity and length of your book. A 45,000-word manuscript could take five to six months to complete, for example. No, it’s not an overnight process—but I want to create a book that both of us can be proud of, so I don’t like to rush it.
If you’re interested in working with me, drop me a line. I’ll set up a free 30-minute call for the two of us to discuss your project. During that time, I can answer any additional questions you may have about the ghostwriting process. No obligations; just information. You can reach me here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for reading my blog! This is a space where I share personal thoughts — an opportunity for self-expression that has nothing to do with my professional writing. None of the thoughts or opinions expressed in this blog should be construed as anything but my own, nor should they be affiliated with any company or person I contract with or write for.
NOW that that's done... I'd love to hear from you about this blog post in the comments!