By Kevin Anderson, Editor-in-Chief and CEO of Kevin Anderson & Associates,
Congratulations! You’ve made the monumental decision to collaborate with a ghostwriter. By doing so, you’ve chosen to bet on yourself and your book and made a tangible step toward becoming an author.
But before you sign that ghostwriting contract, be sure to properly prepare yourself—and your ghostwriter—for success.
Writing a book is a months-long process and hiring a ghostwriter is a big investment; I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories about writers failing to deliver what they promise, ghosts ghosting, or similar dream-crushing disasters. Sadly, many of those stories are true.
Over the past decade, as the CEO of a ghostwriting and publishing services firm, I’ve hired and fired literally hundreds of ghostwriters, but I’ve also overseen the successful development of thousands of successfully published books—many of which became huge bestsellers.
Based on that experience, here are just a few tips every author should consider to get the most from their ghost.
Prioritize the Planning Phase
You hired a ghostwriter in part to save you time—and, in the end, it definitely will—but if you want a powerful book that aligns with your vision, you need to invest heavily in the process before a single word is written.
You wouldn’t start building your dream house without drafting a detailed blueprint, and your book is no different.
Allocate 8–15 hours of Zoom or in-person meetings to discuss your project, your style, and publishing goals in depth.
By the end of your planning sessions, you should have established the following:
→ The book’s positioning (the book’s angle, audience, and what makes it unique)
→ The promise to the reader
→ A detailed outline with chapter headings, subheadings, and content descriptions (3–10 pages long for most nonfiction titles, 10+ for narrative books)
→ A strong sense of the primary themes and messages
→ The approximate length of the book
→ A project timeline and schedule for future meetings
→ A general marketing and publicity strategy
→ A plan for targeting agents and/or publishers
For fiction or memoir, you’ll also want to cover:
→ Plot, story arc, and character arcs
→ Setting descriptions
→ Point of view and tense
→ Complete sketches of the main characters
In addition to covering these topics, you’ll want to establish a clear plan and even an interview schedule for the coming months to ensure you both stay on track and are able to give each other the necessary time to do the work.
Do the Prep Work
Your book-planning sessions will be a lot more productive if you do a little preparation in advance.
Help your writer prepare for your meetings by doing the following homework. Be sure to deliver this information at least a week ahead of your first meeting.
- Establish an Agenda: If you don’t already have one, build one and share it with your writer or writing team so that you address all the topics noted above.
- Find Your Style and Voice: Take a look at some of your favorite books. What style of writing most appeals to you? Provide your ghost with a list of books that come close to capturing your voice, style, sense of humor, etc.
- Gather Videos, Recordings, Writing Samples, and Other Related Materials: Give your writer insights into your personality and help them capture your unique voice.
- Share Research Materials: Be sure to share any books or articles that might help shed light on your subject matter. Your writer will want to be as informed on the subject as possible in advance of the planning meetings.
Meet with Your Writer in Person
While video conferences and phone meetings can suffice, meeting in person is by far the best way to connect with your writer and allow them to fully absorb your style and personality.
Choose your meeting location strategically. If you’re writing a business or leadership book, a visit to your office may help the writer understand your corporate culture. If you’re drafting a memoir or novel, visiting the book’s setting may greatly enhance the writer’s ability to capture a sense of the space. Some authors find it beneficial to have their writer “shadow” them over the course of weeks (or even months).
My firm has sent writers all over the world to ensure the ideal situation for producing the book, but keep in mind that travel expenses may not be covered by your ghostwriting contract. You’ll want to ensure that the writer is comfortable with the arrangements, pay, and per diem for onsite visits.
Stay on Topic and Keep It Professional
Authors are sometimes surprised at how well they get to know their ghostwriters during the book-writing process, and it can be easy to digress into friendly conversations on various topics.
But it’s important to maintain professional boundaries so you don’t unintentionally take advantage of your writer’s time. While it’s important to get to know one another and build a healthy bond, spending too much time off-topic will stall the process and might frustrate your ghostwriter, especially if they’re being paid a contract rate and not by the hour.
Dangle a Carrot—Credit, Testimonials, and Backend
Most ghostwriters’ work is entirely confidential, which can make it challenging for them to build their list or reputation.
While incognito writer relationships are perfectly acceptable, offering a testimonial, cover credit, acknowledgment, small percentage of the publisher’s advance or royalties, or similar recognition is incredibly valuable and will encourage the writer to go the extra mile.
If you’re not comfortable with revealing that you hired a ghostwriter, perhaps you can acknowledge them for some other contribution, such as “book consultation,” “editing,” or simply “help with the book.”
Let the ghostwriter know from the very beginning that you intend to provide such a carrot at the end of the project. You may even wish to use it as a negotiation piece to get a better deal for everyone involved.
Do Not Review by Committee
Yes, we know it’s tempting to have your mother’s friend’s third cousin’s author friend review and give her “professional” opinion on your book, along with input from all your friends and coworkers. But be aware that engaging a haphazard community review process will pull your editorial process in a million different directions and almost always end in disaster.
When we do beta testing for full-length manuscripts, we often get 20 completely different takes on the same manuscript, but then we have a single editor review, assess, and consolidate the feedback into a unified assessment based on the reviewers’ combined feedback. A similar approach is needed for giving feedback to your ghostwriter.
Whether you’re a group of C-suite executives coauthoring the book together, or you’re a single author looking for feedback from your 20 closest friends, elect a single point person to review and consolidate everyone’s input.
Always Be Kind
My final suggestion, and perhaps the most important, is to simply be kind to your writer. Be patient with the process—it’s hard to capture someone else’s voice and style, and it can take time.
Ghostwriting is a difficult and often thankless job, and most ghosts are working long hours toiling over simple word choices in an effort to please you.
Yes, you’ve hired them to do a job, but creating art isn’t always straightforward, and being kind and understanding will not only give the writer the confidence to push forward, but it will build respect and motivate them to do great work for you.
Ghostwriting a book is a long and often complex process, but hopefully, these tips will ensure that it’s also a rewarding journey that helps you realize your dream of becoming an author.
Kevin Anderson is the Editor-in-Chief and CEO of Kevin Anderson & Associates, the industry-leading ghostwriting, editing, and publishing consultation firm. With a dream team of bestselling authors and notable former acquisitions editors from Big-5 publishers, Kevin’s company serves literary agents and publishers, as well as authors looking for a comprehensive white-glove approach to building books from the ground up, executing an effective book launch, and navigating the publishing industry.