Every ghostwriter has their preferred approach or way of working with clients. However, many collaborators follow much the same process when it comes to how they complete their work.
Working alongside a writer to explain your thoughts and then collaborate to decide how best to express them and communicate their significance can feel fulfilling, satisfying, and exciting. You may feel like you have a breakthrough in your thinking after a discussion, or you may feel satisfaction that you’ve made progress in telling your story. Even if you reveal something you’re not particularly proud of or maybe unsure of, talking it through with someone who will not judge you can help unburden you. Many authors describe working with their ghostwriters as therapeutic or cathartic, even if the topic is technical or purely business. Many clients feel very positive about their meetings with their ghostwriters.
However, to have a positive experience it’s important to be honest and upfront in all of your communications. Don’t twist stories or try to tell them in such a way that you come out the hero if you really weren’t. It will disrupt the flow and the message of your book if you’re not honest with yourself and your writing partner, which is what your ghostwriter is. They are working with you to help you write the best book possible and if you don’t tell the truth, the book may fall flat.
Ghostwriters have no interest in making you look bad or embarrassing you in any way. They want to help you write a terrific book and to do that, you need to share information—the more the better. Withholding details or facts will only make their job harder.
Ghostwriters also have no interest in stealing your idea and writing the book on their own. If they wanted to write their own book, they would. Many ghostwriters are also authors. But since your book is based on your thinking, your ideas, and your experiences, the only person who can write it is you.
Trust that your ghostwriter is on your side and you’ll create a much better book together.
What does the process of writing a book look like?
After you select the ghostwriter you want to work with, the two of you will begin mapping out your book. You’ll start by determining how the information should be presented and in what order.
Your first meeting may consist of throwing out every possible idea, topic, experience, and point you want to make. Some ghostwriters take notes and others record your calls. Some will open a Google Doc and share it with you on-screen, so you can visualize all the disparate ideas. Or your ghostwriter may write each topic on a separate sticky note so it can be easily moved around on a big board. How the ideas are captured is less important than the fact that you’re given the chance to share your ideas.
Once you’ve shared all of the major nuggets of information you expect will make up your book, you’ll then discuss with your ghostwriter how much detail each topic requires for you to drive your point home or explain your perspective. Through these early discussions, you may realize that some topics are so broad that they need to be split up into separate threads while others may turn out to be no more than a single story.
What you’re working on at this stage becomes your outline. It is your book’s backbone or blueprint. All books need one. It serves as a preliminary table of contents that guides your information flow.
With the outline finalized, most ghosts start sequentially working through each chapter, from start to finish. Some prefer to complete the introduction last, once everything else is written, because that makes it easier to summarize what’s to come for the reader. Others start with the introduction because it sets the stage for the subsequent chapters.
Many ghostwriters will gather the necessary materials for a chapter by interviewing you, the author. They may also read background materials such as articles and books you supply, watch videos of you speaking or presenting, and/or conduct outside research to better understand the subject matter. They may interview other people. And they use all of this to draft the first and all of the subsequent chapters for your review.
You may go back and forth with suggestions, revisions, additions, and deletions on the first chapter a few times until it’s polished. Since the first chapter becomes a template for the rest, you’ll generally spend more time on it than on the rest of the sections.
Some authors review chapters one at a time as they’re written; others like to assess several chapters in a row instead, and still others wait until the writer completes the book before reviewing and providing feedback. The advantage of the latter approach is that it’s easier to make decisions about moving around stories, chapters, or chunks of text when you have the full draft in front of you.
The disadvantage is if the writer has gone off track, correcting the problem is a lot more work if all of the chapters are written than if it’s caught early. It’s generally best to review chapters as they’re drafted, so that you can confirm your ghostwriter is delivering what you expected, as you go.
Most ghostwriting contracts include two rounds of revisions before the manuscript is ready to hand off to an editor. Your editor will work through a similar process, but because they weren’t involved in manuscript creation, it’s often easier for them to spot holes or content that belongs somewhere else. They are the fresh pair of eyes you hear about.
After your editor reviews the manuscript and provides author queries, which are questions and comments for you to consider, your job is to respond to them. You can certainly disagree with suggested changes, but it’s always smart to at least consider them. In many cases, that outside perspective helps you ensure you’re giving your readers what they need. Editor recommendations are typically worth paying attention to.
Once you’ve addressed all of the editor’s author queries, it’s time for a proofreader and indexer to do their jobs, which is polishing and prepping your manuscript for layout.
Before you get to this stage, however, it’s smart to know what you’re going to do with your finished manuscript. That is, how are you going to publish it?
Ideally, you will have started writing your book with a decision about your preferred publishing outlet. If you wait until your book is drafted, edited, and polished, you risk wasting time getting your publisher up-to-speed at this late stage. It’s much better to select a publisher early in the writing process, rather than at the tail end.
When do you decide which publishing model you’ll use?
You generally have three different publishing paths to choose from: traditional publishing, hybrid publishing, and self-publishing. Working with a traditional publishing house typically requires the most time, while self-publishing requires the least; hybrid publishers are in the middle.
Because of the element of time, it’s considered wise to choose your publishing path early in your journey.
Some publishing insiders believe the author should choose their publishing path upfront, or as soon as possible. Others think the decision can be made later after a few chapters are finalized.
The main problem with waiting to decide is that you lose time. If the book’s topic is time-sensitive and you’re considering approaching a traditional publisher, then time is of the essence because traditional publishing can take more than a year to produce a book.
So, the first decision is to decide about traditional publishing, hybrid, or self-publishing. (Self-publishing is a generic term for working with an independent press, author services company, or assembling your own team of publishing specialists – cover designer, editor, proofreader, and so on.)
What are the pros and cons of traditional publishing?
The major advantage of working with a traditional publisher is that the publisher, rather than the author, funds production costs. The publisher pays for cover and interior design, editing, proofreading, printing, and so on. Publishers also have established book distribution channels and a sales team responsible for promoting your title to bookstores.
Additionally, if you have a large following or reputation, some publishers will pay an advance against royalties that can be used to cover the cost of your ghostwriter’s services.
However, major publishers are increasingly asking authors to commit to a “buy-back” as part of the contract. That means the author agrees to purchase a specific number of copies at the cover price when the book is released. This reduces the publisher’s risk but increases the author’s costs.
Some of the best-known traditional publishers today include:
Many authors opt not to pursue a traditional publishing contract because they don’t want to:
- Research, find, and sign on with a (required) literary agent who pitches the book to publishers
- Prepare the book proposal the agent uses as a sales tool for a nonfiction book (writing a proposal will cost you money)
- Slow down the process; many traditional publishers take at least a year (or longer) to release a title
- Lose control over decisions that include title and cover design
However, for some authors, including scholars and academicians, the credibility and/or prestige of a well-known publishing house is reason enough to pursue such a deal.
What are the pros and cons of hybrid publishing?
Hybrid publishers bridge the gap between traditional publishers with large infrastructures and having to form your own publishing team, which is what self-publishing typically involves. With the help of a hybrid publisher you generally receive more hand-holding, which includes strategizing and consulting, although you’ll pay for that advice. Most hybrid publishers start at $20,000, not including the writing, and can exceed $100,000.
Hybrid publishers take your manuscript draft, have it edited, proofread, laid out, designed, and printed, along with the cover. Some also make arrangements for distribution.
There are a number of solid hybrid publishers out there, including:
Since you pay hybrid presses for their work, you typically receive all of the sales revenue.
However, other business models are springing up, such as at Post Hill Press. At Post Hill, if the publisher offers a contract, the company will cover the cost of production and when the book starts generating sales, it splits the resulting revenue with the author after its costs are recouped.
What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
The biggest disadvantage of self-publishing with author services companies is having to pay upfront for production and printing services. That can start at $15,000 and top $50,000 or more, depending on the services you select. Also, you’ll need to identify all of your separate service providers, which can include but are not limited to:
- Cover designer
- Interior designer
On the flip side, self-publishing allows you to:
- Produce your book sooner
- Control every decision
- Set the cover price
- Save money on a book proposal
- Eliminate the need to pay a literary agent’s commission, which is 15 percent of the advance and all of the future royalties
If you don’t need lots of support or ancillary services, there are many book packagers and producers to choose from. Three my clients have used include:
- Authority Publishing
- Reedsy (which is a publishing marketplace that enables you to find the publishing pros you need)
If you’ve published your own book before or are confident in your ability to serve as the production manager, building your own publishing team could work for you.
What kind of marketing does a traditional publisher do for a book?
One of the biggest reasons authors would prefer to work with a traditional publisher is the misconception that there is a huge marketing operation that will be brought to bear to promote their book.
That is a myth.
Many authors mistakenly believe that working with a traditional publisher means that the publisher handles all marketing and promotion, so the author doesn’t need to. Although that may have once been true, and may still be true for celebrity authors like Brené Brown or Adam Grant who sell hundreds of thousands of copies, the marketing support provided the vast majority of authors is a lone press release announcing the book’s release. That’s it.
The reality is that the author – you! – are responsible for book marketing, no matter which publishing path you choose. Some publishers provide marketing support during the book launch, but it’s usually not enough.
So don’t invest time and money in the pursuit of a traditional publishing contract because you think you will receive significant marketing support. You won’t.
When is the ghostwriter’s work done?
Typically, the ghostwriter’s work ends when you send the manuscript to your editor, whether that person works for a publisher, author services company, or is someone you’ve contracted with independently.
You’ll receive “author’s queries” back, which is the manuscript with questions and suggestions from the editor, a few weeks after turning in your draft. You’re responsible for addressing those notes from your editor. You may ask your ghostwriter to be part of that review process, but unless this is included in the contract, they will charge an additional fee for their time.
Learning how a ghostwriter works – what their writing process consists of – is an important consideration when you’re evaluating several potential writing partners. You want someone who has written other books, so that they can confidently and expertly guide you through it. You want someone who has an established writing process, so that you can work efficiently and effectively in the creation of your manuscript.
But even more important than the established writing process is the ghostwriter’s personality and energy level. You need to like and feel confidence in the ghostwriter you hire. You two will be writing partners for several months, so it’s important that you enjoy the creative process, and that comes down to chemistry.
Whatever their creative process, make sure you like you ghostwriter.