Friday, October 30, 2009

Top Ten Questions I Get When I Tell People I’m A Ghostwriter (And my answers.)

1.Oh, do you know any celebrities?

No, and that’s a big misconception about ghostwriters. We’re not just for celebrities anymore. Sure, celebrities still hire ghostwriters to pen their memoirs. But most ghosts are working for less rarified clientele. I write for business people – CEOs, entrepreneurs, management consultants, managers, etc. Other ghosts I know work with doctors, designers, technologists and Wall Streeters. If it’s a section in Barnes and Noble, the ghostwriters are there.

2.Don’t you want to write your own books?

Yes, and I do.

3.How did you get into that line of work?

I was a freelance magazine writer in 2004 when one of my sources asked me if I would work with her on a book. I did. It was fun. And I also had a very strong sense of what I brought to the process. She had great ideas; I could put them in book form. I thought: Hmmm, maybe I can make this a business.

4.What books have you written? Or is that a secret?

I’ve written 12 books. Some of them are a secret, most are not. All ghost agreements are different, but in most of my work, I ask that the client mention me in the acknowledgements. In fact, if you want to find out if a book had a ghostwriter, read the acknowledgements. Waaaaaay down there, after the author has thanked everybody from the publisher to his favorite Starbucks barista, you may find the ghostwriter. That’s the individual thanked for his or her help in writing/editing/creating the book. Once I was thanked for my “help in preparing the manuscript.” Whatever. Just spell my name right.

5.Can you really make a living doing that?


6.How do you get paid?

That’s the questions I often get next because nobody quite believes me when I say I make a living as a ghostwriter (and I do.) Often, I am paid directly by the author/expert (that would be the person whose name appears in big type on the book cover.) Sometimes, I negotiate for a slice of the royalties, but not always. Generally, the bulk of my payment is made before the book even hits the shelves.

7.How does ghostwriting work, exactly?

Every client is different. Some want to be very involved with every word on the page. Others want to write a check and come back in six months to find their book done.

8.Don’t you feel terrible when a book does well and someone else gets all the credit?

No, I feel great. I know that book would never have happened without me. It would still be a great idea, trapped in the brain of a busy person with too much to do to sit down for six months and write a book. I feel very proud when the books I’ve worked on do well.

9.Do you just ghostwrite books?

Books are the main part of my business, but I also do articles, reports, newsletters, etc. And the world of new media has brought new work for ghostwriters. Twitter, for example. I hear there’s work for ghostwriters “tweeting” for clients. Can’t say that’s my cup of tea, but if it helps a ghost make a living, it’s all good.

10.Will you ghostwrite my novel?

No, sorry. I’m strictly a non-fiction ghost. But I’d be happy to make a recommendation for you.


  1. I just thought of another benefit to ghosting--You don't have to market it! Of course, I'm in the middle of marketing my book, so that's probably where that idea came from. But how nice to write a book and actually be able to let it go once it's written!

  2. I'm going to differ and point out that ghosts have to market themselves fairly constantly.


  3. Where did you learn how to write the contract and negotiate the fees?

  4. Re: Marketing
    Actually, I'll say both posters are right. The heavy lifting of marketing a book once it's written usually falls to the author/expert. The ghost can cash a check and wish everyone well.
    But the business of marketing does not escape us. It's a constant battle to market one's self as a ghostwriter. We don't have an obvious marketplace to hang out in to attract work. It's probably one of my biggest ongoing challenges.
    What's more, I find clients often want my advice and help in creating and polishing their platform. So even though I may not have to execute the marketing plan of the books I ghost, I'm often involved in the planning. I find I draw a lot on my background as a reporter -- I covered marketing and advertising for years as a business journalist (before I got into ghosting)

  5. Re: Contracts and fees.
    I wish I could tell you there was a nice, clean, focused text on how to write a good ghostwriting contract. But in truth, it's a little messy. I have created my own contract over the years and I edit and update it all the time with new elements and language that I've come upon through experience.
    All ghosts are different in this area, but I start with a basic fee-for-services contract (examples are all over the Internet) and I adapt it for my needs.

    But this is a good topic: Other ghosts --- how do you handle contracts? Do you have a template? Do you start from scratch each time?