As a seasoned ghostwriter of over 10 books and countless eBooks, blog posts, and website content, I answer this question regularly. Individuals and companies hire ghostwriters for a wide range of projects, but for our purposes here, I’ll focus on full-length books of up to 250 pages.
In a 2012 article entitled Why Writing a Book Is Good Business, Forbes writer Erika Anderson says publishing a book enhances your personal and business credibility and your brand clarity. She also highlights a 2006 study of business book authors, which found that 96 percent reported a “positive, significant impact on their business from writing a book and would recommend the practice.”
I speak from my own experience. After publishing my loosely autobiographical, fictional novel Water Signs in 2008 my business expanded to include ghostwriting, when someone who bought my book at an event called me a few months later about writing his groundbreaking spiritual/political thriller Steps To Salvation. Until then, I’d never considered ghostwriting a full-length book for anyone, but now it’s one of my most popular services.
So, what is ghostwriting exactly?
It is a service where you entrust your concept for a fictional story, or the facts of your own life and experiences, e.g. a leadership/business book, self-help book, or memoir, to a professional writer who gathers relevant information from you, outlines your book, and writes it in your voice. That’s a basic starting point. Depending on the scope of the project, it can take anywhere from a few months months to several years to produce a high quality product. At this juncture in my career, I focus exclusively on nonfiction for entrepreneurs who understand that a book is an effective way to expand their influence, enhance their credibility, and launch new product lines and services.
While I can’t speak for every ghostwriter, I’ve developed my own process after years of experience, which I’ve distilled into seven steps:
- Investigation – I conduct a weekly recorded call with my client where I act as an investigative reporter and ask questions. Why recorded? To make it easier to capture information I’ll need later on as well as the client’s manner of speaking; in essence, their voice. This ensures that when I sit down to write, I’ll be writing as the client — not as me. Depending upon the scope and purpose of the story, the investigative part of the process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. I transcribe each call into a working Word doc and send my client updates each week.
- Collaboration – from there, I collaborate with the client to offer suggestions in terms of content and ensure they’re comfortable including certain things. For example, a woman I once worked with experienced a rape by a family member as a teenager. In the beginning, she was adamant about not identifying him, which I honored and understood. But as the process moved along, she decided to call him out. Either way, including the rape as a turning point in her life was necessary. Particularly when dealing with sensitive topics, the client is in control. My job as the ghostwriter (and editor) is to make professional suggestions based on knowledge and experience.
- Organization – once I have all the information, I listen to playback of all recordings and read the transcriptions to determine a logical sequence. Flow and pacing are just as important as content. Even if you have an incredible story to share, if not well organized, you’ll quickly lose your readers. In the case of fiction, once I have the real-life events, I then figure out characters, plot, and sequencing. Fiction demands a different kind of creativity. Once I know the actual story, I then spend time creating characters and mapping out a plot. I explain to my clients that the fictional version of their story will not mirror real life because it’s not a memoir. Aside from changing locations (dictated by the client), creative license may involve consolidating multiple real-life people into one character, amending the timeline of events for pacing purposes, and creating purely fictional situations to enhance the intrigue.
- Writing – as I said, ghostwriting demands the ability to write in someone else’s voice, which means getting into someone else’s head. The only way to accomplish this feat is by conducting the regular recorded interviews I described in the first bullet. Most importantly though, a ghostwriter must have a genuine interest in other people. Without it, it’s impossible to do the job well. Paradoxically, good writing is a product of pouring your heart and soul into your creation, yet in the case of a ghostwriter, it’s not really your work, so you must maintain a certain detachment while you treat the process as if the end result is your accomplishment. This is especially true if your name will not appear anywhere on the cover.
- Editing – after I’ve completed the manuscript, I review it with my client for content before I send it to a professional editor (I work with several talented people). As with the writing portion of the project, my client has the right to accept or decline any changes for as long as the book is in the editing phase. However, once my client approves the edits and their manuscript moves into the formatting phase, there are no further editorial changes.
- Formatting – since my ghostwriting packages are all-inclusive, once editing is completed, I send the approved manuscript to a professional formatter to design a customized interior. Elements of formatting include fonts, justification, interior photo layout (if photos are included), and table of contents alignment. Formatting for paperback and formatting for eBook involve unique characteristics, e.g. an eBook must be “clickable” to allow the reader to jump to different portions of the book, so both are included in the publishing package.
- Customized Cover Design – yes, readers do judge books by their covers, which is why customized cover design and consultation with a professional is included. If you have a concept in mind, my designer will bring it to life; if you don’t, he or she will happily create a compelling design concept based on the content of the book. I cannot stress the importance of cover design enough. It spells the difference between a reader clicking on your title to learn more and possibly purchase, or passing it by altogether. Come to think of it, the expression of not judging a book by its cover ironically applies to everything except books.
Now that you know how ghostwriting works, hopefully you have a better understanding of its value. Whether it’s me or someone else, your ghostwriter will spend countless hours fulfilling your dream of becoming a published author — or of adding more published books to your list of accomplishments. It demands time, talent, skill, discernment…and even a bit of amateur psychology for a good ghostwriter to produce a product their client can be proud of.