To some people, the ghostwriting process seems strange and mysterious. They wonder how a complete stranger can possibly manage to write an entire book when it exists only in their own heads. That it does work might prove the existence of ESP or a collective subconscious — not! The process is actually quite logical. In my experience, it goes something like this:
1) Once we’ve agreed to work together, we sign a standard work-for-hire contract, some aspects of which are negotiable (I read somewhere that a contract, prior to signing, should be regarded as a negotiating tool). The contract sets forth the work that is to be performed, time frames and deadlines, fee and schedule of payment, copyright ownership, and other issues endemic to book publishing. The average 300-page book takes me 3-4 months to finish, and my fee covers, at minimum, a first draft and one revision (sometimes two, depending on certain variables).
(2) Client provides ghostwriter with written information to begin: an outline if possible, or chapter notes–or anything s/he happens to have written on the subject; perhaps s/he suggests other relevant reading material. Next, we meet, if convenient, or schedule a telephone conference if the distance is prohibitive. I prepare a list of questions beforehand, almost as if I were interviewing you for a magazine or newspaper article.
(3) During the course of the writing, more questions typically arise, which I ask via email. I usually send my first drafts of chapters or sections as they are completed to the client for comments, changes, corrections and feedback, which I incorporate into the text.
(4) After the entire book is completed in this manner, I do what is hopefully one final revision. Any further rewriting is negotiable. If it’s not extensive, I’ll probably just do it; but if there’s a great deal of rewriting because the client has a sudden change in vision or direction, we might have to negotiate an additional fee.
First, some suggestions about how you might convey information about your book to the ghostwriter:
1. If you teach classes, your notes are a great start. Review, clarify, and clean them up, then hand them to the ghostwriter. I recently met someone who videotapes all his workshops; any ghostwriter would consider that a godsend. If you do have any audio or video records, save yourself time and money by paying a professional transcriptionist to type them up (it could take your writer weeks to do them, and writers charge more than transcriptionists).
2. Telephone interviews are a fairly efficient way to pass information from one person to another. Yes, face-to-face is best, but the phone will do if distance makes that impossible (and now there’s Skype!).
3. Before even hiring a ghost, write up rough drafts of as much information as you can, then give it to the ghost.
4. Speaking of “Before even hiring…”, it helps to have a clear vision for your book. At the very least, you should know what your subject is, who your audience is and why you want to write it. If you don’t know, you’re guaranteed to run into trouble: the writer will either flail about cluelessly, or will substitute his or her own vision, which could lead to conflict.
This brings me to the topic of what a ghostwriter does and does not do. As stated, s/he does not supply the overall vision for your book. What s/he does, rather, is guide you to discover or to pinpoint it yourself, and offers guidance around decision-making throughout the process. She might make suggestions, or ask you leading questions to push our memory buttons. You must, therefore, be willing to talk openly with your ghostwriter (I know, it’s starting to sound like a relationship with a therapist! I have sometimes felt like one when ghosting.).
In other words, you must actively participate in the project for it to be successful. You do this by
(1) attending regular meetings, either on the phone or in person;
(2) Returning manuscript drafts with feedback and changes in a timely manner. This is probably the biggest part of your job in the ghosting process, and it cannot be avoided. It’s up to you to catch and correct factual or other kinds of errors, and to be sure the book reflects your vision.
(3) Payment. This should go without saying, but some people assume they can ask the ghost to wait for a book deal: NOT! The chief advantage to ghostwriting, as opposed to writing one’s own books, is guaranteed payment rather than dependence upon sales. It’s the reason the ghost gives up the byline and the slim but possible reality of major bucks if the book hits it big. So be sure you can meet your financial end of the bargain. (And don’t forget, under the contract you’re sure to sign, you can be sued if you don’t.)
That’s pretty much it for now. If more ideas pop into my head I’ll add them as they occur.
And here I am, two years later, back again with more on the ghostwriting process. Actually, this isn’t about the process, exactly; it’s a list of the books I’ve ghosted. I can’t give the exact titles (except for the first one below), since I signed confidentiality agreements to not reveal that I wrote them. What follows is each book’s subject matter.
Connecting With The In Crowd: How to Meet, Network and Play With Millionaires Online (With Brandon Wade)
A book of Indian dieting that incorporates spirituality into one’s eating habits
The true diary of a “Sugar Daddy”
A how-to book on teaching children about money from an early age
Another how-to on writing and utilizing a book to help grow a new business
Two books on online dating for niche groups
A short safety guide for online dating
The therapeutic value of acting exercises, incorporating the experiences of a working actress
The trials and tribulations of growing a business from the ground up
Psychological / Personal
The arts ( creative writing; acting; music; visual arts)
I do not ghost books about:
• Highly specialized subjects such as high finance, the stock market, banking, etc.
• Horror or violence
• Politics with which I disagree, such as anti-abortion or anti-gay positions; I’m a liberal
• Mystery: I’m clueless about how to write in this genre.
• Religion: While I’ll write about general spirituality or ‘feel good’ programs (see dieting book above), it’s a fine line between these and fundamentalism, trying to convert others, or strict religious rules and regulations. As an agnostic I couldn’t write these with any conviction or passion.
• Certain kinds of ‘self-improvement’ plans such as making mega-money via questionable methods, dieting to fit certain beauty standards, or manipulating others to get what you want.
I’m willing to travel if my expenses are fully paid.
I can usually start a new project within 3 months, sometimes immediately.
A 250-300 page book takes me approximately 12-16 weeks to complete.
As Daffy Duck used to say, “That’s all folks” — for now, that is!