Considering the attention given to celebrity memoir ghostwriters recently, you might think it would be easy to find a reputable, highly skilled book ghostwriter. Ghostwriters seem to be everywhere!
And yet, it’s not so easy.
Sure, it isn’t difficult to find names of people who describe themselves as ghostwriters, but determining the best choice to work alongside you to craft the thought-leadership book you’re envisioning takes time.
First, you want to confirm the candidates you’re speaking with are actually who they say they are. (You might be surprised at how many aren’t.) And second, you want to feel confident they can write the book type and quality you’re expecting.
There are hundreds of excellent ghostwriters to choose from, but you want a writer who will deliver a top-quality manuscript that sounds like you. That’s actually what differentiates someone who has authored their own book from a ghostwriter—a ghostwriter can write in their client’s voice as skillfully as they write in their own.
Who is a legitimate ghostwriter?
But it’s more than that. One of the biggest challenges aspiring authors face today comes from websites offering discounted ghostwriting services. It’s hard to know which of these companies are legitimate and capable of providing the services they promise – and which are rip-offs in a slick online package. Scammers are everywhere.
That’s why the best way to find an experienced ghostwriter is to ask for referrals from people in your network. As part of my doctoral research, I interviewed 20 ghostwriting clients and learned that referrals are the number one way authors find their scribes.
However, if you don’t know anyone who has recently worked with a ghostwriter, turn to ghostwriting organizations to find talent. These reputable organizations have vetted their writers for you:
American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA). ASJA membership requirements are stringent, making it one of the more difficult organizations for writers to join. Members are skilled; a small percentage are ghostwriters.
Association of Ghostwriters (AOG). The only professional organization specifically for ghostwriters, the Association of Ghostwriters has a free Find a Ghostwriter service that can connect you with seasoned ghostwriters who work independently.
Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA). Members are primarily editors and proofreaders, but some are writers, too.
Gotham Ghostwriters. A ghostwriting firm with roots in political speechwriting and big-picture titles, Gotham pairs clients with skilled ghostwriters listed in its massive database.
Kevin Anderson & Associates (KAA). Hoping to be traditionally published? KAA has a strong team and ties to major publishing houses.
What are red flags when searching for a ghostwriter?
On the other hand, if you’re early in your search and you’ve asked Google to list ghostwriting companies, you are very likely being pointed to businesses that are not going to deliver the well-written book you’re imagining.
Some are outright scams and others simply produce poor-quality work. A few of those companies may produce a rough outline for you, others may tidy up transcripts of interviews or provide simple editing, but many discount agencies don’t deliver complete manuscripts.
Similarly, in many cases, the “ghostwriters” on their staff are unlikely to be writers at all. In fact, many of their “staff writer” listings are profiles hijacked from websites of popular ghostwriters who have no connection to these so-called agencies.
So how can you tell if you’re dealing with a talented ghostwriter and a legitimate ghostwriting agency…or not?
Look for these clues:
Discounted fees. If the first thing you see on a company’s website is a huge discount offer, back away. Legitimate ghostwriting agencies don’t lead with a discount. They don’t need to. They have testimonials, client lists, talented ghostwriters, and references.
Hype. It’s always useful to see how long a company has been in business, how many clients they’ve worked with, ghostwriters on their team, and bestsellers they’ve produced – when it’s all true. When the number of books they claim to publish is in the thousands, or the number of ghostwriters in their database is well over 3,000, question those numbers. They probably fall in the “fiction” category.
Anonymous owners and employees. If there is no “About” section with specifics about who founded the company with their relevant credentials, be suspicious. And be doubly suspicious when no employees are featured. As mentioned, some sites stole the identities of actual ghostwriters to impress prospects like you. That means you should contact your prospective writer directly before you pay for services. You want to be certain these writers truly are on board with your project.
Bestseller claims. It’s common practice for legitimate publishers to showcase books they’ve produced by placing attractive covers prominently on their websites. It’s no surprise, then, that scammers copy that. You’ll frequently see covers on ghostwriting agency sites for bestsellers the company had nothing to do with.
Video testimonials. Some scammers are sharing two or three video testimonials from purported authors. You’ll notice that the videos don’t show their books, they never mention the titles, and when you search the “author’s” name on Amazon, nothing shows up. Don’t take those videos at face value. Be skeptical.
How can you verify a ghostwriter’s identity?
Let’s say you’ve avoided the bad actors and have identified a few ghostwriters who seem to be a good fit, whether they’ve come to you through an association or agency, or you’ve found them through online searching.
You want to make sure they’re who they say they are, and especially that you’re dealing with a human, not a bot. To verify a ghostwriter’s identity, do one or more of the following:
Send an email. If you’ve hired a firm and they assigned this ghostwriter to you, it’s a good idea to independently verify that by reaching out directly to the ghostwriter. In some cases, authors have been told a particular ghostwriter was at work on their book when, in fact, the real ghostwriter had never heard of them. Look for an email address or contact form on the ghostwriter’s website and send a message about your book.
Schedule a Zoom meeting. It’s fairly easy to pretend to be someone else via text or email. It’s much more difficult when you’re on a video conference. When you’re face-to-face, ask basic questions about their experience to confirm they are who they say they are (and that they look like their headshot).
Ask for references. Then get in touch with those authors and confirm they worked together. As the saying goes, trust, but verify.
Request writing samples. Granted, someone can send you samples they didn’t actually write, but if you request published “clips” or book excerpts, you’ll be better able to connect their name with the writing.
Realize that unless you can see and talk to someone, it’s possible they aren’t who they say they are. And you could be ripped off.
How do you authenticate a ghostwriter’s work?
In addition to making sure the writer assigned to your project is a bona fide human, you’ll want to confirm they have the skills needed. I just mentioned asking for writing samples, but I’ll admit that piece can be a bit of a challenge.
That’s because many ghostwriting clients require their writers to be anonymous. In fact, authors often insist on non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that contractually prohibit ghostwriters from revealing client names. As a result, ghostwriters can’t share what they’ve written for those people as work samples.
That’s good news for you if you also want your ghostwriter to be discreet. It’s frustrating for both the writer and the author – you – though, because it limits options.
On the other hand, a writer should be able to describe the topic, type of publisher, and release date. For example, they can reveal that they ghost-wrote a thought leadership book on digital marketing published last year for an industry leader.
In addition, many top ghostwriters produce other forms of content that aren’t ghostwritten – bylined articles or content for their own blog, for example – that they can share with you.
Ghostwriters may also be able to provide references. Some clients are reluctant to allow their ghost to share details regarding their book on social media, their website, or their resume, but are willing to talk to prospects as a reference. Ask if that’s possible.
You can also ask to speak to publishing house editors the ghostwriter has worked with. Even if the editor can’t tell you the title(s) of the books involved, they can confirm what the writer has told you about the project and share their experience working with the writer.
What ghostwriting skills and experience should you look for?
The type of ghostwriter you seek will depend on the type of book you want to write.
Is it nonfiction or fiction, for example?
Any ghostwriter should be an excellent storyteller, but beyond that, each genre or category has its own requirements.
Nonfiction writers in general need to be able to piece disparate pieces of information together in a way that the reader can understand. For a thought leadership book, the ghostwriter must break down big concepts into relatable nuggets.
A memoir needs someone who can delve into personal experiences and shape them into a story that helps the reader reflect on their own life or experiences. A how-to book requires an ability to break processes down into steps.
A fiction ghostwriter, on the other hand, must be skilled at developing plotlines, characters, and dialogue, and weaving all together into an interesting and marketable story. Different types of novels –sci-fi, fantasy, romantic comedy, young adult, and so on – each require different storytelling abilities, however.
In addition to experience writing similar types of books, other criteria you to consider include:
- Years of experience
- Number of books ghostwritten
- Bestseller record
- Commercial successes
- Client types
- Work pace or speed
- Work process
- Preferred communication method (phone, email, text, Zoom)
- Educational background
- Industry experience (if it’s relevant to your book)
Perhaps just as important as these criteria is chemistry. As you meet ghostwriters, pay attention to how you feel when talking to them. Are you enjoying yourself? Do you feel comfortable talking with them? Do you have confidence in their abilities?
This is important because you’ll work with this person for several months, and the last thing you want to do is dread or dislike meeting or working with them over time.
Do you need a local ghostwriter?
Although many authors envision the process of collaborating on a book to require regular in-person meetings and chats over coffee, the truth is that it’s very unlikely that your best choice for a ghostwriter is in your neighborhood.
Don’t limit yourself to writers who live nearby. Because you don’t need to sit across a table or desk from them for them to do their best work. Meeting via Zoom is generally just as good as being in the same room.
Granted, some memoir writers insist on meeting their clients at the start of a project, but then many of them get on a plane or train and head home after a few hours. Sure, J.R. Moehringer is said to have moved into a house near Prince Harry while they worked together for a year on his book but that’s unusual. Also, J.R. received at least $1 million for his services.
Most ghostwriters much prefer meeting via phone or Zoom, gathering what they need from you, and then typing away on the keyboard in their office, rather than in a hotel room or temporary quarters.
If you’re willing to work with someone who is not in your part of town, or maybe even in your part of the country, your ghostwriter options increase almost exponentially. Don’t you want to choose your ghostwriter based on skill rather than convenience or locale?
When is the best time to start your ghostwriter search?
It can take anywhere from several months to more than a year to plan out, write, and edit a manuscript. Which means that if you have a particular deadline, such as an upcoming conference, talk, or convention, you need to work back from that deadline to be sure you have enough time to get the book done.
Then start your search as soon as possible.
Although you may identify a ghostwriter who looks perfect on paper as a collaborator or writing partner, you’ll want to meet with them on Zoom at least once, if not twice, and talk through your vision, their experience, and get a general sense whether they’re a good fit for the work to be done.
Sometimes the ideal ghostwriter on paper turns out to be a mismatch and the person who didn’t really seem to be a good candidate initially ends up being perfect. You won’t know until you meet and observe their energy level, their enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for the topic, their communication style, and their mannerisms.
However, those meetings can eat up a lot of time, especially if you’re trying to interview multiple ghostwriters in a row. Schedule coordination alone can be surprisingly time-consuming.
Why hire a ghostwriter?
Yes, finding a ghostwriter takes time, but the payoff is that when you find someone willing to learn to write the way you talk and communicate, you can feel confident that the quality of the book you’ll produce together will be significantly better than what you might draft on your own.
It will also take less time. Relying on a ghostwriter to shoulder the primary responsibility for writing your book means that you can spend your days in your zone of genius, earning a living doing what you’re best at.
Not only will your book be of higher quality, but it will also be done faster with a ghostwriter taking the lead. Most ghostwriters can generate content much quicker than the average professional, because it’s all they do. Which means that your book can be finished sooner.
If you limit your ghostwriter search to reputable organizations, your odds of finding a skilled writer who will gladly work alongside you to create a world-class book rises exponentially.
And feel free to get in touch if I can help.